The battle of the quarterbacks will go to Flacco on Sunday

January 09, 2012|Mike Preston

Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates can't Tim Tebow the Ravens.

He has some charisma but not the big play ability of Tebow, which is why the Houston Texans won't beat the Ravens here Sunday in an AFC divisional- playoff game.

The Ravens and Texans are similar and have the same formula for winning, but Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has more experience, a bigger arm and more big play ability than Yates, a rookie who has started only six games.

If this was Flacco versus Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers or New Orleans' Drew Brees, then those teams have the edge. But Sunday, it will be advantage Flacco and the Ravens.

"In a game like this where both teams like to run the ball and the defenses will dominate, a quarterback gets five chances to make plays," said Joe Theismann, who is an NFL Network analyst and former Washington Redskins quarterback. "Of those five chances, if you capitalize on three, that team will probably win.

"This is the time for Joe to separate himself from being a good, solid quarterback and taking it to the next level. People don't talk about Joe [Flacco] as the bride, but the bridesmaid. This is his chance to step up to the plate again, and this time I think he gets it done."

Agreed.

Yates, out of the University of North Carolina, has played well for the Texans filling in for injured starter Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart . He completed 82 of 134 passes for 949 yards during the regular season, but played his best game in the Texans' 31-10 wild-card win against Cincinnati Saturday completing 11 of 20 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown.

But that was against the Bengals. Houston had nearly 200 yards rushing versus Cincinnati, but it won't be that easy against the Ravens. The Ravens will be more disciplined and have better gap control to seal off the cutback lanes. They'll take away some of those long, first-down runs and put Yates in more third and long situations.

"It's a bigger challenge for him," Theismann said. "Baltimore has a much better D. The Bengals were horrible on the edge and they didn't offer much run support. Houston will be able to run the ball, but not like last week. And if the Ravens can get Yates in some long situations………."

Former Ravens receiver Derrick Mason, who played with Houston this season before he was released in December, agrees with Theismann, but he doesn't expect to see Yates panic. In fact, he doesn't think the Texans will blink regardless of what happensand will stay with the run as long as they don't get too far behind.

According to Mason, the Texans are committed to running.

"That's been their style all season and Houston always has always found a way to rise up for big games," said Mason, who plans to retire once the season ends. "Even if they have some first down runs of two or three yards, I don't see them giving up on the run. T.J. won't get rattled. He has a certain calmness about him, and this team will stay disciplined.

"Sunday was his best game of the year," Mason said. "He did a much better job than in the previous two weeks when he looked tired. Now, he looks rejuvenated."

Yates will have to make more plays Sunday than he did against the Bengals, and there is uncertainty about how he will respond. Unlike Denver quarterback Tim Tebow who can make more plays with his legs than his arms, Yates is more of a conventional passer. Plus, Tebow won two national championships at the University of Florida.

Yates had the crowd in his favor last week at Reliant Stadium, but it will be different with 70,000 screaming against him at M & T Bank.

"People say that Seattle is the loudest place to play, but Baltimore is right up there," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "Their defense is already fast off the ball, but they are even faster when you can't hear."

Said Mason : "That stadium is very tough to play in and I've witnessed it on both sides. It was extremely difficult when we [Houston] were here last time, and it wasn't even a playoff atmosphere. That crowd gets that defense amped up and when they make a play, it gets even louder."

Yates hasn't been in this situation before, but Flacco has the past three seasons. Going into this post season, he appears more composed and confident than ever because the Ravens have found their offensive identity.

The offense is centered on running back Ray Rice touching the ball either as a receiver or runner 25 to 35 times a game. Flacco doesn't get a lot of opportunities like earlier in the season, but he has capitalized on most of them in the second half because of accuracy.

Mason doesn't expect the Ravens to change.

"In all their losses, Ray Rice didn't get to touch the ball 25 times and afterwards there were all these reports from you guys about him not getting enough touches," Mason said. "[Offensive coordinator] Cam Cameron understands now that this is one game elimination, and no one wants to hear those excuses the next morning on why Ray Rice didn't touch the ball."

The stage is set. The Ravens have the No. 3 ranked defense and the Texans are No. 2. Houston is ranked No. 2 in rushing with running back Arian Foster, and the Ravens are No. 10 with Rice. Both teams have strong, physical offensive lines.

So, it appears this game will come down to quarterbacks, Flacco versus Yates.

And Flacco wins, and so do the Ravens.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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