‘Playbook’ mailbag: Can Yates lead Texans deep into playoffs?

The Texans know they can beat the Bengals. They’ve already done it once this season. But can they do it twice with rookie T.J. Yates at quarterback?

Jose Banda Garcia, on Facebook, asked us to look at Yates — the Texans’ 5th-round pick — and rate his chances in these playoffs.

After watching the tape of Houston’s Week 14 win in Cincinnati, it’s apparent the Texans found a favorable matchup with their play-action bootleg versus the Bengals’ free-flowing group of linebackers.

But we don’t think Yates can sustain the offense at a high level for multiple rounds of the playoffs. There is a huge drop-off from Matt Schaub to Yates when it comes to producing explosive plays and efficiency from non-playaction throws.

(Note: A throw is “efficient” if it gains four or more yards on 1st-and-10; on second down, the pick-up has to equate to half, or more than half, of the yards-to-go number, or four yards on 2nd-and-7); on third down, you have to convert for a first down.)

In Yates’ last four full starts he has an efficiency percentage of 47.82 on his play-action passes. Compare that to Schaub’s last four starts when the Pro Bowl quarterback was 54.05 percent.

Those numbers aren’t too dissimilar. The real difference is that Schaub averaged 13.11 yards per completion on those throws, while Yates only averaged 8.97 yards per completion.

Because of his limitations as a thrower, the Texans have molded their passing game as an offshoot to their monster running game by rolling Yates out on boot plays and giving him half-field reads to work the short to intermediate areas of the field. They will flood one side of the field with a running back in the flat, a tight end on an intermediate crossing route and a wide receiver deeper down the field. Yates then reads high to low and most often hits his shorter options.

That’s a stark contrast from Schaub, who, with his ability to read defenses and his stronger arm, can sit inside the pocket and hit a receiver 30 yards down the middle of the field with consistency.

This point becomes more evident when you look at the drop-off from Schaub’s efficiency numbers on non-playaction throws compared to those of Yates. In his four games, Schaub is 51.85 percent efficient on those throws. Yates, on the other hand, is 38.33 percent efficient on the same throws.

For that reason, the Texans have to gameplan around what Yates can do. Against Cincinnati, he was efficient on eight of his 13 play-action throws for 128 yards, completing six for first downs and one touchdown. Yates hit for 9.85 yards per completion against the Bengals, a boost brought on by the over-pursuit of their linebackers on zone-run action.

Yates has a chance to duplicate this earlier performance versus the Bengals this weekend. But unless he shows an ability to push the ball down the field — with and without the benefit of play-action — it’ll be difficult for the Texans to drive deep into the postseason.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show – airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (AFC) and 9 p.m. ET (NFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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