Ravens defense ready to pressure Yates on Sunday

January 11, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

You're rookie T.J. Yates and Sunday you play in the biggest game of your life.

Just a few weeks ago, you were the No. 3 quarterback on the Houston Texans depth chart. But this being the NFL, the other two guys were chewed up and spit out and now you'll be The Man when your team plays the Ravens in an AFC divisional playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium.

You'll trot onto the field for the first series with the rest of the Houston offense and 70,000 fans will send up a wall of noise so loud it could make your ears bleed.

Then you'll break the huddle and come to the line of scrimmage and staring back at you will be Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata and the rest of that punishing Ravens defense, all snorting and snarling and looking to chew you up, too.

Which brings us to the million-dollar question: how are you going to react?

Right now, nobody knows.

"Nobody knows (if) you're going to keep your composure, especially when you got dogs running after you without leashes," Ravens safety Bernard Pollard said Wednesday. "And that's the biggest thing about this defense. Our front seven's gonna go.

"I'm not sitting here saying that quarterback isn't ready. But at the end of the day, when you got somebody on your tail, you ain't thinking straight."

Dogs running after you without leashes – that's absolutely beautiful. It's almost lyrical. But that's the kind of welcome the Ravens have planned for Yates, who could be in for a long day unless the Texans can get Arian Foster going and take some pressure off their young quarterback.

Yates has been one of the great stories of this NFL season, if there's even another football story out there that can compete with Tebow-mania.

A fifth-round draft pick out of North Carolina, Yates was the backup quarterback to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, which basically means you don't worry about needing a shower on game-day.

Then the Texans' freakish run of bad luck continued. They'd already lost their best defensive player, linebacker Mario Williams, and their best receiver, the great Andre Johnson, to injuries.

Now Schaub went down with a foot injury in Week 10. Two weeks later, Leinart was lost to a season-ending collarbone injury. Suddenly, Yates wasn't the goofy-looking kid on the sideline holding the clipboard and wearing his hat backward.

He played well the rest of the way, too, completing 82 of 134 passes for 949 yards. And in his first playoff game ever, he was 11-of-20 for 159 yards and a touchdown in the Texans' wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals last week.

But that was in front of the home crowd at Reliant Stadium. And that was against the sorry Bengals, who looked so pitiful and confused they all but gift-wrapped that win for Houston.

Now we find out if T.J. Yates can do it against the Ravens.

Now we find out if he can keep his composure and be effective Sunday against a defense ranked third in the league overall, and a defense ranked third in sacks with 48.

I asked Ray Lewis yesterday if the defense could tell right away how a young quarterback was going to react to a hostile environment.

"I don't know," he said at first. "You can probably only tell by how hard you hit him. And if you get to him early. You really can't tell, man."

Then he paused and seemed to choose his words carefully, not wanting the wrong sound bite to end up on a sports highlight show and inflame the Texans.

"We understand that they have a rookie quarterback," he went on. "But we also understand they are the No. 2 rush offense in football. Without going past that first, we know we have to deal with it. They have a good offensive line with two very talented running backs.

"The first time we knew that," he said, referring to the Ravens 29-14 win over the Texans at the Bank in October, when Schaub was healthy. "So whether it's Matt Schaub or T.J. Yates, that's what we have to deal with."

What Yates has to deal with is the deafening noise at the Bank, which can make calling signals feel like you're screaming underwater for 60 minutes.

But mostly he has to deal with those metaphorical Ravens dogs Pollard was talking about. The dogs running after him without leashes. The ones that don't let you think straight.

Could be a long day for T.J Yates Sunday.

A very long day.


Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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