NFL Nation: T.J. Yates

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will address the media Thursday, the last day of the team's three-day minicamp.

He'll talk about what the offense accomplished through the week. He'll praise the play of the players around him and probably single out impressive undrafted rookie receiver Bernard Reedy.

And Ryan certainly will have positive things to say about his new teammate, quarterback T.J. Yates, even if he's not too familiar with him. Yates was acquired in a trade with the Houston Texans on Wednesday in exchange for linebacker Akeem Dent.

Here's what Ryan should say: "With the revamped offensive line in front of me, I'm confident I'll play in all 16 games and the playoffs because we plan to be back in the postseason picture."

Yes, Yates makes for a cute storyline. He's the local player from Marietta, Georgia, who is coming home to add some stability behind Ryan. He earned a little name recognition as a rookie after helping Houston to a 31-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2011 playoffs -- the Texans' first-ever postseason win.

But if the Falcons have to turn to Yates, Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree, rookie Jeff Mathews or whomever the backup quarterback might be, they'll probably be in trouble.

The Falcons obviously weren't content with the backup situation. It was evident immediately after last season concluded. There were whispers about the need for a veteran quarterback. There was even talk about Luke McCown returning to the Falcons if he didn't re-sign with the Saints, but he stayed in New Orleans.

Head coach Mike Smith made those quarterback-depth concerns clearer this week when he declared the backup job "wide open" after Renfree got some second-team snaps. Davis had the role last season and got injured in the one game he played at Tampa Bay, when the Buccaneers routed the Falcons and the coaches pulled Ryan to keep him from getting killed.

The Falcons also knew they couldn't go through another season watching Ryan getting banged around like a pinball. That's why they spent money in free agency and brought in starting right guard Jon Asamoah. That's why they drafted Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M to start at right tackle.

Those investments, plus the hiring of offensive line coach Mike Tice to bring toughness up front, were all about keeping Ryan upright and healthy during the 2014 season.

Sure, it's great to have solid insurance. Maybe Yates will provide it, although he still has to come in and prove himself after losing out to Ryan Fitzpatrick in Houston. Whatever happens, acquiring an experienced quarterback with a playoff win under his belt in exchange for a linebacker who no longer seemed to be a key member of the defense was a worthwhile tradeoff.

It should be an interesting competition for the backup role, and Davis should come out firing Thursday, if he still has a chance to remain the backup.

But again, the focus for the Falcons should be all about Ryan. Experts such as former NFL executive and ESPN analyst Bill Polian believe Ryan is a Super Bowl away from joining the elite. The Falcons were one step away from the Super Bowl two years ago. If Ryan is healthy and protected and has his full arsenal of receivers, including Julio Jones, then the Falcons have a chance to extinguish last year's dismal 4-12 showing.

They shouldn't be counting on their backup plan.
The day after the Houston Texans' three-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks last season, I asked then-Texans coach Gary Kubiak if Matt Schaub could have used an audible out of the play that resulted in a pick-six by Richard Sherman that might have altered the course of the season. Kubiak said no.

Last week Schaub told the Bay Area News Group that he is enjoying having more freedom in the Oakland Raiders' offense.

It's a sentiment current Texans quarterbacks understand. Those limitations placed on Schaub, the inflexibility of his options, were simply part of the system Kubiak ran.

They aren't part of Bill O'Brien's system. And the one quarterback left on the roster who spent the longest time playing for Kubiak loves the change.

"The quarterback's in complete control," T.J. Yates said. "We're doing everything up front, we're setting the protections, setting the mike, we have a lot of options to go to depending on the pass formation or the pass concept. ...We have a lot more freedom in this offense, and I think it's going to benefit all of us."

That freedom is part of why intelligence is something O'Brien values at the position.

Yesterday, O'Brien termed the competition as being "wide open." Today he was asked what he looks for in a quarterback and mentioned leadership, work ethic and accuracy. The Texans have never had a truly open competition before, and that fresh start that comes with everybody learning from zero is exciting to Yates, too.

"It's very refreshing for me because new coaching staff, new offense ... everybody's getting reps with the (first team), everybody's getting reps with the (fourth team)," Yates said. "I'm looking forward to keep progressing with this offense because it is a very fun offense."
IRVING, Texas -- Because Tony Romo is 34 and because he is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year, just about everybody believes it is time for the Dallas Cowboys to find his replacement.

ESPN NFL draft Insider Todd McShay said it. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said it. A lot of fans have said it. A lot of others have said it.

If the Cowboys draft a quarterback, then it must be early in the draft. At least, that’s the general philosophy of Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery when it comes to taking quarterbacks.

"I just did a little study. It's very interesting," Emery said in this ESPNChicago story. "That developmental theory doesn't hold a whole lot of water. There's entire classes of quarterbacks, since '06, I went back and looked at from Jay [Cutler's] on -- when people say developmental quarterbacks, OK, so who has gotten developed? There isn't a single quarterback after the third round since 2006 that has been a long-term starter. So you're either developing thirds, and most of them have been wiped out of the league. So to get a quality quarterback, you've got to draft them high. That 2012 class is a blip on the radar that's unusual, highly unusual.

"Most of the starters in this league come from the first and second round. So that's where you need to take a quarterback. So when you talk about quarterback every year, they have to be somebody that you truly believe will beat out the second and third quarterback that you perceive on your roster. And if not, history shows that you shouldn't make that pick."

From 2006 to 2013, there were 59 quarterbacks drafted in Rounds 3-7. Only two are top-end starters: Russell Wilson (third round, 2012, Seattle Seahawks) and Nick Foles(third round, 2012, Philadelphia Eagles). And Foles might have more to prove, but he was Pro Bowl-worthy in 2013.

The best of the rest: Bruce Gradkowski (sixth round, 2006); Matt Flynn (seventh round, 2008); Curtis Painter (sixth round, 2009); Ryan Mallett (third round, 2011); Kirk Cousins (fourth round, 2012). Other considerations: Colt McCoy (third round, 2010); T.J. Yates (fifth round, 2011); Tyrod Taylor (sixth round, 2011).

The odds are stacked against a team looking to develop a quarterback. Teams are not a lock to carry a third quarterback on the 53-man roster these days. The Cowboys have not done it since 2011, when they had Stephen McGee (fourth round, 2009). There just aren’t enough snaps to go around in a season for a quarterback to develop. The pressure on coaches to win means they want guys who can help carry games if a starter goes down, part of the reason why the Cowboys have gone with Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna and Kyle Orton as Romo's backups.

Maybe the Cowboys will draft a quarterback in the middle to late rounds this week. The odds of him turning into Wilson, Foles or Tom Brady (sixth round, 2000) are remote. He’s more likely to be Andre Woodson (sixth round, 2008), Mike Teel (sixth round, 2009), Jonathan Crompton (fifth round, 2010) or Nate Enderle (fifth round, 2011).
ORLANDO, Fla. -- This morning's agenda at the NFL meetings included a media breakfast for the AFC coaches. I sat in on Bill O'Brien's hour with local and national media in which he discussed a lot of things but mostly the draft.

I'll get a little more in depth on what he talked about later, but first a few nuggets:
  • O'Brien, general manager Rick Smith and quarterbacks coach George Godsey will all be at Johnny Manziel's Pro Day on Thursday. This is separate from Texas A&M's Pro Day, one O'Brien called his "Johnny Day." While O'Brien likes having private workouts with quarterback prospects, when I asked if he has one with Manziel he said he doesn't think so.

  • Despite all the talk about what a bad Pro Day Teddy Bridgewater had, O'Brien thought he had "a decent day." He liked seeing the work Bridgewater had done to improve footwork and mechanics.

  • He'll meet several times with various prospects and what he's looking for from meeting to meeting is improvement. Did the guy learn something in the time between?

  • The plan right now is to take backup quarterbacks Case Keenum and T.J. Yates to training camp.

  • Asked about Jadeveon Clowney's work ethic, O'Brien said what's important is how he plays when it counts. "When the game's on the line, Jadeveon plays hard."

  • O'Brien loves watching J.J. Watt on film.

  • He values the ability to think quickly in a quarterback. O'Brien will ask for a lot of pre-snap decision-making.

  • Derek Carr's brother will have no impact on the Texans' evaluation of Derek Carr. "When we're thinking about a player, we're thinking about that individual player." The expansion Texans selected David Carr with the top overall pick of the 2002 draft and lasted five seasons before being waived.

    - O'Brien had dinner with Bills coach Doug Marrone last night. They laughed about how far they'd come together since their days at the bottom of Georgia Tech's totem pole. "We were laughing about, can you believe this?"
Sanders/WattUSA TODAY SportsAce Sanders and the Jaguars' receivers must pick up their play against J.J. Watt and the Texans.

HOUSTON -- Oddly enough, it’s the team with the worse record that enters this game with the better vibes.

The Jacksonville Jaguars finally won a game two weeks ago, whereas the Houston Texans are trudging through what’s now an eight-game losing streak, the longest in franchise history.

For Houston, it’s been a matter of finishing. The Texans have led at halftime in each of their past three games. They regularly gain more yards than their opponents. They just can’t finish with wins, having lost by one, three, three and five points in their past four games. Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss.

Ganguli: So, Mike, do you think the Jaguars have shown signs of improvement lately?

DiRocco: In certain areas, yes. They've been much better against the run since the bye week, holding the Titans to 83 yards and the Cardinals to just 14. Their special teams have improved, too, especially the kickoff-return unit. Since bobbling several kicks against the San Francisco 49ers, Jordan Todman is averaging 34.7 yards on his past seven returns. Outside of those two areas, though, improvement is hard to find. The running game is still struggling. Since rushing for 90 yards against San Francisco, the Jaguars have totaled 86 in the past two games. The passing game really misses Justin Blackmon, too, because teams are concentrating on stopping receiver Cecil Shorts, and the rest of the receivers just aren't good enough right now to carry the offense. The pass rush managed three sacks against Arizona but overall has been ineffective. Couple that with a secondary that includes three rookies and you can see why they're struggling against the pass, too.

Speaking of struggling, what has been the biggest reason for the Texans' surprising stumble this season? Is it quarterback play? Injuries?

Ganguli: Special teams, turnover margin, quarterback play, injuries and red zone efficiency on both sides of the ball are all to blame. The Texans' kicker, Randy Bullock has really struggled. He made a 51-yarder on Sunday -- his first field goal from 50 yards or longer this season. Overall, he’s made only 65.4 percent of his field goal attempts. The Texans currently have their starting tight end, running back, strong safety and middle linebacker on injured reserve. They might get tight end Owen Daniels back in a couple of weeks, but not having him has been bad. The Texans' offense and special teams have turned the ball over at a high rate -- and that’s not just on former starting quarterback Matt Schaub, though Schaub has been a big factor. Pick-sixes aside, Schaub wasn’t actually playing too poorly before he got benched for Case Keenum. He had one game that was top-to-bottom bad: the Texans’ loss in San Francisco. But a pick-six is such a big play that his really hurt the Texans. That’s not something anyone predicted heading into the season. Well, maybe someone did. Certainly not me.

Speaking of quarterbacks, what did it take for the Jaguars to finally give up on Blaine Gabbert?

DiRocco: Gus Bradley says the team hasn't given up on Gabbert, but it's pretty obvious it has by the fact that Chad Henne is starting even though Gabbert has recovered from a hamstring injury and has been healthy for weeks. It was typical Gabbert when he did play earlier in the season: some really good throws, some terrible throws and a few "what the heck was he thinking?" throws. He just hasn't been consistent enough, and he's had three seasons. The other issue is that he can't seem to stay healthy. This season alone he had a sprained ankle early in training camp, fractured his thumb in the preseason, missed two games because of a cut on his hand and left the Week 5 game with a hamstring injury and hasn't played since. He also missed the final six games of the 2012 season with a forearm injury.

Tania, what is Schaub's future in Houston? If he's out, are Keenum or T.J. Yates viable long-term solutions or will the Texans go after a quarterback in the draft?

Ganguli: Schaub’s future in Houston is murky at best. He knows that. His teammates know that. As I said earlier, people did not see this coming. The Texans' handling of Yates indicates they don’t think he’s the future. I don’t think it’d be smart to go into next season with only Keenum as a starting option given the unknowns that remain about him. So far, he hasn’t been able to react well to defensive adjustments against him. It’s entirely possible he gets better at that, but I just don’t think you know for sure yet. I could absolutely see the Texans drafting a quarterback. It’ll be a pretty deep class, though there doesn’t seem to be a knockout like Andrew Luck.

Let’s finish up with defense. The lack of a pass rush has been a problem in Jacksonville for so long. Why has it been ineffective?

DiRocco: The bottom line is the players aren't anything but average. It dates back to 2008, when the team drafted Derrick Harvey in the first round and Quentin Groves in the second to improve the pass rush. They were both busts, and the Jaguars have been chasing those picks ever since. They signed Aaron Kampman to a free-agent contract in 2010, but he arrived coming off a torn ACL, and he went on to suffer another tear, among more injuries. The Jaguars claimed Jason Babin off waivers from Philadelphia in 2012, and he has 4.5 sacks in 15 games with them. Andre Branch, last season's second-round pick, has just three sacks in 23 career games. Upgrading the pass rush will be one of the team's biggest tasks in free agency and the draft this offseason.

This obviously isn't the kind of season the Texans expected. How has the locker room been? Do you get the sense of any problems, and is it a case which another few losses (especially one to the Jaguars) could make things get nasty?

Ganguli: The locker room is frustrated, but right now, the Texans are closing ranks and taking an us-against-the-world mentality. We saw a bit of frustration within the team when Schaub yelled at Andre Johnson on the sideline for stopping his route near the end of the Texans' loss to the Raiders. Johnson yelled back and then walked off the field before the official end of the game. The team didn't need him anymore at that point because Oakland was simply kneeling to the finish, but it was a surprising move from a guy who doesn't normally show his frustration like that. Still, Johnson and Schaub both downplayed the argument, saying they were fine with each other. I thought Johnson's comments on Wednesday supported that. He talked about how "you hate to see" what Schaub has gone through this season, especially given their long history together. This is a pretty good locker room. I think if they were going to turn on each other, they would have had plenty of reasons to do so already.

Yates/KeenumUSA TODAY SportsThe Texans chose QB Case Keenum (right), a local product who holds several NCAA records, over the more experienced T.J. Yates to start.
HOUSTON -- Case Keenum smiled and his eyes glinted as he talked about how cool it would be to fulfill a lifelong dream.

T.J. Yates spoke solemnly about the task at hand, having been in this position before, knowing his status as the team's backup quarterback was in danger.

"Case just has sort of like an aura about him," Andre Johnson said. "When he’s out there, he’s real excited, having fun. T.J., he just goes out there and plays. He takes more of a business approach to it."

The Texans went with the fresh-faced Keenum over the the more experienced Yates. Gary Kubiak announced the decision on Thursday, saying the Texans were struggling and needed a spark.

"His eyes got really big," Kubiak said of Keenum's reaction when he was told. He'd completed the transition from practice squad quarterback to third stringer at the start of this season, when he's been inactive all year, to the precipice of starting his first NFL game.

See what Keenum can do, some said. And the Texans have done just that. As they work through this week and go forward, the Texans can take lessons from another team's quarterback situation.

On some level, I hesitate to begin this discussion, because Keenum and Tim Tebow have as many differences as similarities.

They were both heralded college quarterbacks who put up big numbers and won games. They are both players for whom the local NFL fan base has clamored given the struggles of the starters in each town.

On the other hand, Tebow was a first-round draft pick and given the benefit of the doubt, despite some obvious red flags, since he was a Heisman Trophy winner and a national champion at the University of Florida.

Keenum, meanwhile, was considered just a system quarterback and too small to play in the NFL despite a record-setting career at the University of Houston. He went undrafted and spent his rookie year on the Texans' practice squad, learning. He has grown into a better passer than Tebow ever was with better football acumen, too.

While it's impossible to compare the two players, it's useful to compare their situations.

Right now, the Texans find themselves in need of a jolt, and many people, including Kubiak, think Keenum will provide it.

There came a time in the fall of 2011 when the Denver Broncos needed a jolt.

Their starting quarterback, Kyle Orton, appeared to lose his confidence and seemed unlikely to get it back. They were 1-3 and down 13 points at halftime to the San Diego Chargers. The new, post-lockout coaching staff finally gave in to the most popular third-stringer in town, a once-prolific college quarterback.

"You heard it every single game, 'We want Tebow,'" said Texans linebacker Joe Mays, who was with the Broncos at the time. "We kind of knew something had to shake. The fans, they do have a little bit of a say-so when it comes to what the team does. I felt like when we [weren't] winning, we were losing all those games, Tebow’s going to have to play sooner or later. We felt it coming, especially with the way Orton [was playing]; he didn’t really play too well. We were losing games. That didn’t help anything."

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellFan favorite Tim Tebow provided the Broncos with a spark en route to a playoff run. Could Case Keenum do the same for the Texans?
Denver lost to San Diego but won seven of its next eight games with Tebow as the starter. The Broncos lost the final three games of the regular season, beat the Steelers in the playoffs and lost to the New England Patriots 45-10 in the divisional round.

Some saw Denver's playoff run as proof of Tebow's quarterback ability. The Broncos did not. They began shopping him during that year's NFL combine in February, gauging interest from at least one team even before the Colts cut Peyton Manning. Once the Broncos officially signed Manning, they traded Tebow to the New York Jets.

But this fact remained: The change to Tebow energized the floundering Broncos. And the element of surprise that came from an offense that changed for Tebow helped Denver. It didn't matter that he wasn't a long-term solution. What mattered was what he changed immediately.

"I’m not sure if the atmosphere changed. We just realized whoever the quarterback was going to be, we had to stick up for him," Mays said. "We had to play for him, and we had to believe in him. That’s going to be the same thing here with Schaub being out this week."

The Texans need a jolt right now. Keenum is hugely popular in Houston. Like Tebow, he was outplayed in the preseason and training camp by the man who won the backup job.

There are things the Texans can learn from that situation.

Even though Orton hadn't lost the locker room, just like Schaub still has his teammates' support, change helped. But change came in a situation where Denver felt it had nothing to lose.

Today the Texans chose between two quarterbacks between whom the skill gap wasn't wide. But one of them had a shaky outing against the St. Louis Rams, throwing two interceptions, while another is a spirited unknown.

Like Denver two years ago, the Texans have nothing to lose by making this move.

What they gain will be worth watching.
If you want a clear delineation between wins and losses for the Houston Texans, you can find it in red-zone efficiency.

In the Texans' first two games, their only two wins this season, their offense entered the red zone seven times and scored touchdowns every single time. Since then the Texans have scored touchdowns on only 2 of 12 red-zone trips.

John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Information looked into the breakdown of the plays for me.

He found that of the 53 red-zone plays the Texans have run, 28 have been passes and 25 have been runs. Only 10 of those passes have been thrown into the end zone. That means 35.7 percent of the Texans' red-zone pass attempts have been thrown into the end zone, ranking them 19th in the NFL. Only 18.9 percent of the Texans' red-zone plays overall have been passes into the end zone, ranking them 17th in the NFL.

Here's what happened each week:
  • In Baltimore, the Texans' first red-zone trip began with an illegal-substitution penalty on the Ravens that converted a fourth-and-4 and took the Texans to the Ravens' 18-yard line. Then came a 10-yard Arian Foster run, followed by a run for negative yardage and two incomplete passes. Their next red-zone trip also was aided by a Baltimore penalty. Once inside came a 4-yard run, a 3-yard run and then a pass for negative yardage before the field goal.
  • Against the Seahawks, the Texans' first red-zone trip ended in a Matt Schaub interception. Their second resulted in a touchdown and their third a field goal. That field goal came on a drive that began at Seattle's 19-yard line. Schaub threw four passes and completed one of them. Foster ran twice for a total of 7 yards.
  • The one and only red-zone trip against the 49ers ended in a missed 45-yard field goal. The drive had stalled because of a holding penalty on Owen Daniels. That knocked the Texans to a third-and-11. Then Daniels false-started, and the ensuing third-and-16 was too much for Houston to overcome.
  • Of the Texans' six red-zone trips against the Rams, four came when the Texans were already down by 25. Two ended in T.J. Yates interceptions, one ended in a touchdown and the last ended with the end of the game. The Texans' two first-half red-zone trips ended in field goals. The first stalled with a third-down false-start penalty on right tackle Derek Newton, then a 7-yard pass on third-and-9.

Getting there is the first challenge, but the lack of red-zone productivity explains why the Texans' offensive yards per game ranks seventh in the league, but their points per game rank 26th.

Locker Room Buzz: Houston Texans

October, 13, 2013
HOUSTON -- Observed in the locker room after the Houston Texans' 38-13 loss to the St. Louis Rams:

More tests for Schaub: While reporters spoke to backup quarterback T.J. Yates about, among other things, his anger at hearing fans cheer the injury to quarterback Matt Schaub, Schaub walked out of the locker room barefoot and left to get more tests done on his leg. He did not return and was unavailable to reporters. Schaub appeared to roll his ankle late in the third quarter when he was sacked by Rams defensive end Chris Long. Coach Gary Kubiak said he had "a little bit of everything on that one leg."

Watt not admitting defeat: Defensive end J.J. Watt held court in the middle of the locker room and, after about five minutes of queries, was asked by one reporter if the playoffs and Super Bowl were still a possibility for the Texans. "I mean, we're not mathematically out of it, are we?" he said curtly. "I didn't think so."

Jackson confused by penalty: Cornerback Kareem Jackson remained confused after the game about a 40-yard pass-interference penalty called on him. He said he relied on his technique and did exactly what he was supposed to do.
Ray McDonald, Matt Schaub Ed Szczepanski/USA TODAY SportsThe Texans have lost three in a row and Matt Schaub has thrown his fourth pick-six in four games.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The mind is a funny thing, especially in sports.

It can subvert or bolster ability and skill. Confidence can change a lot, so can the lack of it.

After a thorough 34-3 drubbing at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers Sunday night, the Texans rushed through their postgame obligations, and no players spoke at the podium. Instead, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub stood at his locker searching for the answers everyone else sought, speaking softly and deliberately. He was asked about his confidence. Schaub's head swayed slightly before he answered.

"Obviously, it's tough right now," the Texans' starting quarterback said honestly. "After what we've been through tonight, going back to last weekend and even the week before. I am very confident in my ability and everyone in this locker room."

Schaub left the game just as he began it -- with the public confidence of his coach and his teammates. Texans coach Gary Kubiak said Schaub is still the Texans' starting quarterback. But this time, it followed a game in which Schaub became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw a pick-six in four consecutive games. Sunday night, he threw it on his first pass. This time, it came during a three-interception performance that could have been four. This time, for the first time in a long while, Schaub never looked comfortable.

The Texans do not need a perfect quarterback to make a deep playoff run or even win it all. They do not need Schaub to be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. They do need him to turn back into the player he was early last season and late in San Diego and late against Tennessee this season. They need him to be the guy who got them a 20-3 lead against the Seattle Seahawks.

Can he?

That answer lies in the answer to this: What is Matt Schaub's mental state?

That is what this is about. It is not about his ability but whether Schaub can mentally move past four bad quarters. Kubiak mercifully removed him from Sunday's game at the end of the third quarter with the Texans already down 24-3 -- allowing T.J. Yates to finish Houston's second prime-time game of the season.

"I think it was time for him [Yates] to get some reps," Kubiak said. "Obviously, Matt took some hits and made some mistakes. And I just told him I was going to put T.J. in the game -- and we're going to go from there and talk about it after the game or throughout the course of the week and see where we're at."

Schaub finished with a passer rating of 32.2. He completed 19 of 35 passes for 173 yards and three interceptions. San Francisco safety Eric Reid dropped a fourth would-be interception. Schaub was sacked only once, and on that third-quarter play, he scrambled forward into the pressure, creating some where there was none.

All of Schaub's interceptions in San Francisco were on passes that traveled fewer than 10 yards. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman's pick-six was on a short throw, too.

"Maybe it's something they see on film," receiver Andre Johnson said. "Something they study on film and figure out and maybe something that we're doing offensively that we may not know we're doing."

The way Schaub carried himself this week indicated he had left behind his dismal finish to the Seattle loss. He knew it was bad and was ready to move on from it, but it seemed like his latest pick-six brought back the ghosts.

"The corner fell off of Keshawn [Martin] and jumped the route. He made a good play," Schaub said.

San Francisco corner Tramaine Brock kept the ball after his first NFL touchdown.

"We really didn't see that in film during the week," he said. "But we always call '55' and run a trap. But we really didn't know that was going to come right then."

Kubiak said Sunday that this better be rock bottom for the Texans, who are now facing their first losing record since the end of the 2010 season.

Schaub insisted rock bottom was here. He talked about how hard they all worked and how hard he personally had worked.

"I'm better than I'm playing," he said.

You know what? He is right.

But if he cannot rewire himself mentally, it will not matter how good he can be. For the Texans, all that matters is what he actually does. His mind will determine that.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- This is a make or break season for Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

Either he proves he can be a consistent starter who could develop into a franchise quarterback or the Jaguars will give up on the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder and look for a quarterback in the draft.

The Jaguars took Gabbert with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 draft, believing he would become a quarterback that could lead the franchise to a Super Bowl. He obviously hasn’t developed the way the team had hoped, and entering his third season he has completed just 53.8 percent of his passes for 3,876 yards and 21 touchdowns with 17 interceptions.

His inconsistency -- in his 24 starts he has completed at least half of his passes 16 times (and also a 17th game in which was injured went 2-for-2) but has also had seven games in which he completed less than 50 percent of his passes -- looks even worse when compared to the other 11 quarterbacks who were drafted in 2011.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesBlaine Gabbert is just 5-19 as the starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
More importantly, his record as a starter is 5-19 (.208). That's the worst record among the 12 quarterbacks taken in the 2011 NFL draft. Six, including Gabbert, were taken in the first two rounds and those are the players against which he should be measured, so here’s a breakdown:

Cam Newton (No. 1 overall by Carolina): Newton had a fantastic first season, setting rookie records for passing yards (4,051) and rushing yards by a quarterback (706). Those numbers lasted only a season, though, as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III broke them last season. Newton is 13-19 as a starter after going 6-10 as a rookie and 7-9 last season. Career stats: 590-1,002-29, 7,920 yards, 40 TDs; 1,447 yards, 22 TDs rushing.

Jake Locker (No. 8 overall by Tennessee): Locker played in five games as a rookie but won the starting job entering last season. He missed five games and parts of two others because of two shoulder separations and led the Titans to a 4-7 record in the 11 games which he started. He completed 56.4 percent of his passes for 2,176 yards and 10 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in 2012. Career stats: 211-380-11, 2,718, 14 TDs.

Christian Ponder (No. 12 overall by Minnesota): He started the final 10 games of his rookie season (going 2-8) but helped lead the Vikings to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth last season, though, he missed the playoff game with a deep triceps bruise. This, too, is a make-or-break season for Ponder. Career stats: 458-774-25, 4,788 yards, 31 TDs.

Andy Dalton (second round, No. 35 overall by Cincinnati): Dalton is by far the most successful quarterback of the group, having started every game the past two seasons and leading the Bengals to a 19-13 record and two playoff berths. Each season has ended with playoff losses to Houston, but it was the first time since 1981-82 the franchise has made back-to-back playoff appearances. Career stats: 629-1,044-29, 7,067 yards, 47 TDs.

Colin Kaepernick (second round, No. 36 overall by San Francisco): Kaepernick was a relative unknown until he replaced Alex Smith (concussion) in Week 10. He led the 49ers to a 5-2 record to close the regular season and playoff victories over Green Bay and Atlanta to reach the Super Bowl. He threw for 798 yards and four TDs and rushed for 264 yards and three TDs in the postseason. Career stats: 139-223-3, 1,849 yards, 10 TDs.

Here's a look at the other six:

Ryan Mallett (third round, No. 74 overall by New England): He has played in four games in two seasons in mop-up duty in relief of Tom Brady. He was the subject of trade rumors early in the preseason but remains with the Patriots. Career stats: 1-4-1, 17 yards.

Ricky Stanzi (fifth round, No. 135 overall): Spent two seasons with the Chiefs until being cut last week. He is now with the Jaguars as the No. 3 quarterback behind Gabbert and Chad Henne. He has never appeared in a game.

T.J. Yates (fifth round, No. 152 overall by Houston): He started the last five games of the regular season and two playoff games in 2011 when Matt Schaub was out with a Lisfranc injury. He led the Texans to a 3-4 record in those games, which included a 31-10 victory over Cincinnati in a wild-card game that was the first playoff victory in franchise history. Career stats: 86-144-4, 987 yards, 3 TDs.

Nathan Enderle (fifth round, No. 160 overall): He spent the 2011 season with the Bears but was waived after the season. He went to training camp with the Jaguars and spent time with Tennessee in the offseason. He signed with San Diego on July 31 and was among the Chargers cut last week. He has never appeared in a game.

Tyrod Taylor (sixth round, No. 180 overall): He has played in 10 games in relief of Joe Flacco. Career stats: 18-30-1, 197 yards.

Greg McElroy (seventh round, No. 208 overall): The former Alabama standout started one game for the New York Jets last season, going 14-for-24 for 185 yards with one interception in a 27-17 loss to San Diego. He was released earlier this week. Career numbers: 19-31-1, 214 yards, 1 TD.
HOUSTON -- Thursday will offer the final word for the Houston Texans' backup quarterbacks.

Case Keenum, the former record-setting University of Houston quarterback, is expected to start for the Texans in a preseason game in which the starters will rest. T.J. Yates will play next. They could even alternate quarters.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak has given both quarterbacks a very fair chance to make their cases. Yates' numbers were better Sunday against New Orleans in the Texans' third preseason game: He threw nine passes and completed seven, and one of the incomplete passes was dropped. Yates also threw the Texans' only passing touchdown.

"I think T.J. has answered a challenge in a lot of ways," Kubiak said. "He has been pushed and it has made him better as a player. I think we maybe go back a couple weeks in camp and T.J. struggled a couple days and he and I had a big sit-down talk about just his approach and what we’re doing. And since then he has been really, really good."

Yates' play outshined Keenum's on Sunday afternoon.

"We put ourselves in a chance to win the ballgame there, and I missed a few throws," said Keenum, who went 10-of-14 for 79 yards. "Missed one really important throw there on fourth down. You know I’m disappointed. I’m competitive and I want to win. Preseason or not, I want to go win. We had a chance to go tie it up and go into overtime. You know, you learn from it, go watch film, and we had a guy, Lemon ran a great route and I’ll hit it next time."

Keenum will attempt two things Thursday in Dallas. First, he will try to overtake Yates as the Texans' backup quarterback. His chance of that is looking slimmer and slimmer.

But Keenum will also try to force Kubiak to keep three quarterbacks instead of just two. Last season the Texans initially kept three quarterbacks on their roster. After cut-down day, Houston remained with starter Matt Schaub, Yates and veteran journeyman John Beck. Beck didn't last the full season, and Keenum remained on the practice squad.

Last week Kubiak said you find a way to keep good players. What they'll have to decide is whether Keenum is more valuable than keeping a deeper group at another position. After all, if things go as they're supposed to during the season, the Texans shouldn't need too many quarterbacks.

Observation deck: Texans-Saints

August, 25, 2013

HOUSTON -- Sunday afternoon was the first view most people had of the Houston Texans' shiny new punter Shane Lechler.

Until Sunday, Lechler was sidelined as he recovered from a hamstring injury in his plant leg. He knew there would be a lot of eyes on him, wondering how he'd fare in his first game in Houston, the first of his career not as an Oakland Raider. And so, something happened to the 14-year veteran that hasn't happened to him in a while:

He got nervous for a preseason game.

"I got out there and went through the basics mentally," Lechler said. "You're like, make sure you catch the snap. There's a lot of people looking at you (to) see how you handle your first ball. That ball actually carried a little farther than I wanted it to. Luckily it checked up perfectly. I was nervous and anxious and excited at the same time."

Lechler punted twice, netting 52 yards per punt. One of those was downed at the 2-yard line, giving the Texans field position that led to their first touchdown. The New Orleans Saints never got past their own 6-yard line and went three-and-out on their next drive.

What started to become very clear in the Texans' third preseason game was that their specialists have really improved.

Second-year kicker Randy Bullock, who spent last season on injured reserve, notched touchbacks on all three of his first-half kickoffs. He also made field goals of 21 and 55 yards. It impressed Lechler, who spent most of his career with one of the best kickers of all time in Sebastian Janikowski.

"I think when you talk about Janikowski, that's probably one of the best that's ever done it, in my opinion," Lechler said. "I think at Randy's stage of his career he's probably a little bit more accurate than Janikowski was as a rookie."

Other observations from the Texans' third preseason game:
  • I haven't talked enough about undrafted rookie outside linebacker Willie Jefferson. That will change this week. Jefferson signed with a team that drafted two players at his position (Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams) but quickly surpassed both of them. After Sunday's game, safety Danieal Manning said the most impressive thing about Jefferson is how well he is able to incorporate what he learns in the classroom to the field. "He put pressure on them ever since he got in -- he's definitely holding up," Manning said. "I'm glad he's a part of this team." An important thing to remember about Jefferson is that this is only his third year playing defense. His ceiling is higher than some of the other rookies.
  • T.J. Yates' numbers this week looked similar to his numbers last week. He completed seven of nine passes, though one of his incompletions was a drop. He had the best passer rating of the three quarterbacks at 137.5 and also threw the fewest passes of the three. I'd bet you see more of Case Keenum next week against Dallas, where Kubiak will have to make a final decision on how many quarterbacks to keep. The Texans carried two on the active roster most of last season and had Keenum on the practice squad. But Keenum is making it very hard for Kubiak to cut him.
  • Fullback Greg Jones showed why the Texans signed him on Ben Tate's one-yard touchdown run. "Me and Greg are always talking," Tate said. "He wants to know how I'm thinking, and I'm asking him what he is thinking. ... I was with him on the touchdown run. I was right there with him."
  • The Texans' defense contained the Saints offense until New Orleans got its screen game going. "You know, they resorted to going to screens and stuff like that," Texans defensive end Jared Crick said. "I think that was probably due to the pressure we were putting on." Whatever the cause, it worked. On the Saints' first touchdown drive, Drew Brees threw screen passes to Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas. Ingram took his catch 29 yards. Thomas nearly got tackled by Texans linebacker Joe Mays, but he escaped Mays' grasp first, then Texans safety Shiloh Keo inadvertently blocked Mays on his second effort to get to Thomas. That resulted in a 51-yard touchdown.
  • Speaking of Crick, he might have made a case for himself to start in place of Antonio Smith in the Texans' regular season opener. Crick had the Texans' only sack of the game, ending a Saints drive, and tied for the team lead with four total tackles.
  • Saints rookie Kenny Stills got the best of the Texans' starting cornerbacks on the same drive. Once with a one-handed catch on the sideline with Kareem Jackson on him. Another time, he got away from Johnathan Joseph for a 14-yard touchdown catch from Saints backup Luke McCown. "It was just a double-move, work on it all the time," Stills said. "Got the corner kinda sitting on the outside and was able to get inside and the ball was there."

HOUSTON -- Last season it was against Miami that Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt had his swat-ridden coming-out party.

Sure, Watt had already started to become a star as a rookie, when he returned that interception for a touchdown against the Bengals in the 2011 playoffs. But he tipped three of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill's passes in the 2012 season opener and completely changed the complexion of the game.

It seemed like a series of flukey plays. We all learned shortly thereafter that tipped passes by Watt were no fluke.

This time around, in their preseason meeting, the Texans opted to limit Watt, who departed the game much earlier than most of his defensive teammates. Watt said that was the Texans' plan heading into the game. He played two snaps.

"I like not showing everything I'll have during the season," Watt said.

He also said he felt like a caged animal.

"I missed the whole preseason last year," Watt said. "So I'm not worried about missing a couple snaps here and there."

Here are a few more observations from Saturday night's game, which the Texans won 24-17:
  • I've gone as long as I can without mentioning the backup-quarterback battle. Case Keenum played first after starter Matt Schaub and T.J. Yates played next. Keenum had a solid outing. Statistically, he threw 18 passes, completed 11 and threw a beautiful 38-yard touchdown pass to Lestar Jean midway through the second quarter. Deep balls have been one of Keenum's strengths this preseason. He finished with a respectable 150 yards and a 106.2 passer rating. Yates looked better when he came in next. The Texans ran the ball a little more with Yates in at quarterback. He threw half as many passes but completed 7 of his 9 attempts. He was smooth under pressure and played like a guy with more experience. Yates finished with 84 yards, a touchdown and a 142.6 passer rating.
  • DeAndre Hopkins caught two passes for 22 yards before leaving the game with a concussion. Texans coach Gary Kubiak doesn't seem overly concerned about Hopkins. "I don't know exactly what play it happened on, but I thought something was wrong," Kubiak said. "I told [receivers coach Larry Kirksey] to get him out of there and then we checked him out. He's fine now, he's doing fine. But we're obviously going to put him through the protocol."
  • An underrated matchup in this game from an entertainment standpoint was Miami offensive lineman Richie Incognito vs. Texans defensive end Antonio Smith. Last year when the two faced each other, Smith complained about Incognito's tactics; he said Incognito twisted his ankle. The film supported the fact that Incognito was doing something to Smith's ankle. The league responded by fining Smith, not Incognito, a hefty $21,000 for kicking Incognito. The fine was later reduced after Smith appealed, contending he had no choice in order to get Incognito off his leg. Tonight they met again and grappled a bit. Incognito grabbed Smith's facemask during one play and held on, then at one point appeared to swing his arm at Smith. Smith, clearly frustrated, ripped off Incognito's helmet and swung it at him. Asked about the meeting after the game, Smith said, "Next question. I kind of took a blow to the head. I can't remember."
  • The Texans have a strange attraction to tight ends from the University of Wisconsin. And it's working out pretty well for them. "It's great, it's great," said Owen Daniels, the elder statesman of the Wisconsin tight ends. "We've got three on the roster right now. Myself, G and Byrnie. It's great having those guys contribute." G, of course, is Garrett Graham. Byrnie (and I have no idea how that nickname is spelled) is Jake Byrne, a first-year tight end. Graham had a fantastic game and is going to be a really good player for the Texans this year. "Oh, he's picked up where he left off last year," Daniels said. "He helped us out a lot last year. This year he's going to get more opportunities to make plays without James [Casey] being here. He's grown a lot the last couple years. You see what he's doing out there, he's working really hard."
  • After a disappointing training camp, fourth-round draft pick Trevardo Williams seemed to release some frustration in the fourth quarter when he notched sacks on consecutive plays. Williams and fellow outside linebacker, third-round pick Sam Montgomery both fell behind during camp. Two undrafted rookies, Justin Tuggle and Willie Jefferson, jumped ahead of them on the depth chart. Tuggle started and played nearly the entire game. Kubiak talked after the game about Williams needing something to regain confidence. "Sometimes as a rookie you are just swimming in information. When you just throw them out there, sometimes their talents take over."
  • This quote from Kubiak stood out to me and is not good news for cornerback Brandon Harris, who was a second-round draft pick in 2011: "I would say Bouye, Roc and Brandon, that is a very competitive environment going on right there." Harris played a little bit of safety Saturday night after the Texans lost safeties Shiloh Keo and Eddie Pleasant. Now he's apparently competing with A.J. Bouye, a standout undrafted rookie, and Roc Carmichael, who was inactive for the first 10 games of last season.
HOUSTON -- A question to Houston Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates about Case Keenum's status in Houston, elicited a smile from Yates and a “hometown hero.”

“Everybody knows he's got a lot of fans in this town,” Yates said. “He's done a lot for (his) school. He's one of the most prolific college quarterbacks in college football history. He's got a lot of history around here. Got a lot of fans. It's good for the football team.”

Does that make things awkward for him?

“No, I don't really think about it,” Yates said. “Just go out there every single day and compete against the same guy.”

With Matt Schaub out Monday and Tuesday morning (Kubiak said Schaub had a death in his family), the Texans got a better look at both Yates and Keenum. Preseason is a time when observers get excited about a team's backup quarterbacks, especially in an environment where the starter has caused some angst. But let's be clear on one thing: Schaub's starting job is not in danger.

“They want to eventually get an opportunity to be a starter (for) one of 32 teams in this league,” quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell said. “They're here with the Texans and I think that's their goal. And they know that they're not real close to doing that right now.”

That's not an overly bold statement at this point.

Keenum, the former University of Houston quarterback, spent last season on the practice squad, after John Beck beat him out for a roster spot. Beck was cut shortly thereafter, but Keenum remained on the practice squad as he learned the intricacies of the Texans offense and how things change when you aren't in the shotgun constantly. He came into camp this year with a better handle of the Texans' offense and more confidence.

Yates, in his third year out of North Carolina, has also taken a step since last season. But his health has had something to do with that, Dorrell said.

“He had a nagging injury that bothered him most of the season last year, that tendonitis in his elbow,” Dorrell said. “I just think he's a different player. He throws the ball, he has great velocity. He can make all the throws. I know his confidence is a lot greater this year than last year because he's healthy. Case, he's just gotten better because he's learned our system. … I'm pleased with both of them.”

It's important to keep perspective when listening to praise or critiques of players. In this case, improvement is good for both, but isn't wise to overanalyze. Overall, Yates has played better than Keenum, and since the Texans have decided to switch their order of appearance Saturday, they'll have equal samples by which to judge them.

Observation deck: Texans-Vikings

August, 9, 2013

When Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates threw up what seemed to be a jump ball, the ensuing play revealed exactly why the Texans loved DeAndre Hopkins in this year's draft.

Well covered by Minnesota defensive back Bobby Felder, Hopkins leaped, secured the ball, then came down with his first NFL touchdown.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak often says that Hopkins is at his best on contested catches. It's something he thrives on during practices when the Texans' starting cornerbacks don't give him much room.

Even better for the Texans was that the touchdown play came very shortly after an uncharacteristic drop by Hopkins. He wasn't happy with himself for that play, but didn't let it linger long.

A few more observations from Friday night's game:
  1. I wrote earlier today that quarterback Case Keenum struggled in Wednesday's practice and my feeling was the backup quarterback job was Yates' to lose. That wasn't a feeling based on just that practice, of course. While I still think Yates is ahead, Keenum had a really nice game in Minnesota. On Twitter, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle suggested Keenum should be first off the bench next week against Miami. It's a good point. Keenum looked good, but he did it against worse players than Yates did. Flipping the two to see how Keenum does against second-string defenders could allow a more accurate assessment. Against the Vikings, Keenum completed 13 of 18 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. Yates completed 13 of 21 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown.
  2. Earl Mitchell will take over as the Texans' starting nose tackle this season, and if tonight was any indication, the Texans are getting a serious upgrade at the position. Mitchell, another player in a contract year, led the team with four tackles in the first quarter, three of them for loss and one of which was a sack. He was constantly in the backfield early in the game.
  3. The Texans' punting and kicking on Friday was greatly improved, even though Andrew Shapiro, not Shane Lechler, did the punting. Shapiro's second punt was downed inside the 10-yard line. Coverage, however, struggled at the start of the game when Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff 50 yards.
  4. The Texans don't do live tackling in practice, and at times it showed. A short pass by Vikings backup Matt Cassel turned into a 61-yard touchdown catch by Zach Line when three different Texans defensive backs missed tackles.
  5. Minnesota's first series ended with Houston safety Shiloh Keo intercepting a Christian Ponder pass. Keo has had a good training camp, but the players who made that interception happen were two linebackers fighting for a starting role: Joe Mays and Darryl Sharpton. Sharpton broke through to pressure Ponder as he released the ball, and Mays disrupted receiver Jerome Simpson's route. The pass bounced off Simpson and into Keo's arms.
  6. Running back Cierre Wood helped himself. The undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame came into Friday night's game second to Dennis Johnson in the battle to be the Texans' third running back. Wood had 10 carries for 59 yards, including a 20-yard run. Johnson had seven carries for 11 yards, though he had four carries for 14 yards in the first quarter.
  7. Oh, and the Texans won 27-13. Don't care? Good. You shouldn't.