CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

After Further Review: Yates passes first test, but it only gets tougher

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T.J. Yates has tape.

NFL coaches have it. And they've dissected it and evaluated it.

T.J. Yates has tape.

When a quarterback plays for the first time, which Yates did last week for the Houston Texans, it gives the eye in the sky a chance to see what he can do, rather than just hear about it.

There is history.

So with Yates scheduled to start this week against the Falcons, I thought it wise to evaluate his tape from last week against the Jaguars, when he took over for the injured Matt Leinart.

Here's what I saw: A poised rookie who did scan the field when he made throws and made good reads on several of his passing plays. He also has an arm that is good enough, even if he didn't really make any deep throws against the Jaguars.

Here are some of the highlights from the tape:

 First-and-10 from Jaguars 45: Yates took a three-step drop and got the ball out to his first read, tight end Owen Daniels, who won against man coverage for a 5-yard gain. Simple. Easy. Accurate.

 Second-and-5 from Jaguars 40: Yates took a shotgun snap against a four-man rush and man coverage. He took a five-step drop, planted his foot and fired a strike to Jacoby Jones for 10 yards and a first down. Yates did look to the middle of the field before throwing to Jones on the right side to help hold the safety.

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 First-and-10 from Jaguars 30: Yates fumbled a shotgun snap. But instead of panicking, he picked it up and threw high and out of bounds with no penalty. He showed no sign of panic.

 Second-and-10 from Jaguars 30: This is where he had his best throw of the day. Facing a zone blitz with five rushers, the Jaguars dropped end John Chick into coverage. Yates took the shotgun snap, calmly scanned the field, and waited for Daniels to run across the formation from left to right. Yates waited as he did and as soon as Daniels cleared Chick, Yates hit him for a 24-yard gain. That was the poise of a veteran.

 First-and-10 from Texans 18: Play-faked to Arian Foster, turned his back to the defense, spun around, set his feet and fired a strike to Andre Johnson for a 13-yard gain. Johnson worked to a soft spot of the zone, and the throw had to be anticipated and it had to be accurate. It was both.

 Third-and-8 from Texans 22: Leading 20-13 with 3:21 left, the Texans needed a first down to wrap up the game. Some coaches would shy away from letting a rookie throw in that situation. Gary Kubiak did not. With two receivers lined up to the left and Daniels also on the end of the line on the left side, all three ran routes against what looked to be man coverage. But as Kevin Walter pivoted off an in-route to an out, Jaguars corner William Middleton came off his man and anticipated the throw. Yates saw it, pulled the ball down and then found Foster as he snuck out of the backfield on the left side. He calmly hit him for what was a 5-yard gain. The Texans punted, but there was no turnover and a smart play was made to avoid it.

There was some bad for Yates, including throwing behind Johnson on a slant when he was open and taking off to run too soon on one play, but for the most part he looked calm and in control.

It will be interesting to see how this rookie plays against Atlanta when he makes his first start Sunday. There is a lot to like from his first game.

Film Study (10 things I saw on the tape)

1. I've praised Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer all season. He has been one of the top left tackles in the game. But Bears defensive end Julius Peppers abused him last week. Peppers had two sacks, but it was far worse than that. He beat him with an inside move on the game's first play to set the tone, even though he didn't get to Carson Palmer. His first sack came on a bull-rush when he pushed Veldheer back into Palmer and then reached around to dump Palmer as he tried to move away. On another play in the first half, Peppers came up the field and used his left arm to knock Veldheer to the ground before hitting Palmer just as he released the ball. That showed Peppers' strength. His second sack came when he jumped inside of Veldheer with a swim move and got to Palmer. Veldheer did block him some in the run game, but he had his worst game trying to handle Peppers. There was another play where Peppers made a smart, good play to mess up a screen pass.

2. With the offseason signings of safety Daniel Manning and corner Johnathan Joseph, Texans safety Glover Quin kind of gets lost in the shuffle. He shouldn't. Quin impressed against Jacksonville last week with several impressive plays. On a screen pass to Marcedes Lewis, the Jaguars appeared to have a big play set up. There was tackle Guy Whimper in front of Lewis with only Quin in the way. Quin ducked under the lineman and limited Lewis to a short gain. On another play, he tripped up Maurice Jones-Drew as he was getting ready to run for a big gain on a short pass. Quin finished the day with seven tackles and one pass defended. This former corner, one of four starting in the Texans secondary, is a good player who seems to be getting better.

Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley has helped the Broncos defense round into a winning group. (Getty Images)  
Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley has helped the Broncos defense round into a winning group. (Getty Images)  
3. Here are three reasons the Denver Broncos defense is much improved the past six weeks. One is the play of defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley. He has been a force at times, and was really good against the Chargers. The second thing is the improved play of Von Miller. Early in the year, he looked confused at times on tape. Now he's playing much faster because it's clear he knows the defenses better. And the third reason is the improved play of rookie secondary players Chris Harris (nickel) and Quinton Carter (safety). Both Harris and Carter played well against the Chargers last week, although Carter was caught out of position and missed a tackle on a long pass play. Both seem surer of what they're doing, which really helps the secondary.

4. What's wrong with the Chargers offense? The receivers didn't win against the Broncos. Denver doubled tight end Antonio Gates some and put Harris on him at other times. That left the outside receivers in man coverage, and they had a tough time winning. Champ Bailey did another good job on Vincent Jackson. The Chargers miss Malcom Floyd in a big way. Jackson, by the way, is an unrestricted free agent. He is still good, but I'm not sure he wins against man coverage the way he has in the past.

5. I love valuable players who don't get a lot of attention. In Oakland, that's fullback Marcel Reece. This former college receiver isn't your prototypical fullback. He is a decent enough blocker, but it is his work in the passing game that makes him valuable. He sneaks down the seam with ease and he also does a great job as a screen back. He had a big play like that against the Bears on Sunday when he went in motion from right to left, set in the backfield, and then acted like he was blocking the defensive end. He pivoted around him, took a short pass from Carson Palmer and turned it into a 47-yard gain. In the third quarter, he lined up wide left as a receiver and caught a slant against man coverage for a 12-yard gain. Reese is becoming one of Palmer's favorite toys in the offense.

6. Saints left guard Carl Nicks went to his first Pro Bowl last season (he owes me a 12-pack because I bet him he would) and he's on his way to his second. Nicks was outstanding against the Giants in both the run game and in pass protection. After the game, Nicks asked me if he thought he would go to the Pro Bowl again. "You bet," I said. "As a starter?" he asked. This time, he should.

7. Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga went into last week's game against Detroit without having given up a sack. He got beat for one by Cliff Avril on one play and got called for holding on another. Bulaga has been a good player at right tackle when he hasn't missed time with injuries. But Avril seemed to get the better of him last week. When right guard Josh Sitton went down, it further hurt the line. But with the way Aaron Rodgers gets the ball out, it's still tough to sack him.

8. A little more than a year ago, I was propping up Packers cornerback Tramon Williams, long before it became chic to think he was a top-level player. You can even look it up. Williams went on to have a great postseason and this looked to be his time to break out. But Williams was bothered early this season with a shoulder injury that forced him to miss a game. He wasn't the same player when he returned. He was last week. Williams shadowed Calvin Johnson and did a great job on him. Whenever Johnson was lined up wide, Williams had him in man coverage. Johnson caught four passes. With Williams back playing at a top level, the Packers pass defense should continue to improve. The guy who needs to step up his play is nickel corner Sam Shields, who has been picked on a lot this season.

9. With Falcons left tackle Sam Baker having back surgery during the team's bye week, he can only be used as a backup. That means Will Svitek is in as the starter. Svitek isn't as good as Baker when he's healthy, but he did a nice job on Jared Allen last week, holding him without a sack. The Falcons did help him by doubling him some and chipping with the backs, but Svitek did a nice job. Allen has to be better than he was.

10. In his first game back from a hamstring injury, the Texans' Johnson had two catches. Part of that was because he was playing with two backup quarterbacks, one seeing his first game action in Yates. But you have to give the Jaguars credit for helping to take him away. Backup corners Ashton Youboty, signed just a week ago, and William Middleton did a nice job in coverage. The Jaguars did double Johnson a lot, but considering they had two backups starting at corner, you would have expected more from Johnson.

Hot Tub

1. Ravens DT Haloti Ngata: After several so-so games where he was blocked, Ngata had his best game against the 49ers. It might be because he has recovered from the deep bruise on his thigh.

2. Jaguars MLB Paul Posluszny: He was all over the field vs. the Texans, helping to force a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and sniffing out a screen and tackling Foster for a short gain.

3. Bucs CB Aqib Talib: He had a pick for a score and did a great job in man coverage against the Titans.

4. Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil: He hasn't had the explosive sack season some expected, but he was very good against the Chargers. He was explosive and pushed the pocket several times.

5. Cardinals RB Beanie Wells: He looked as good as he has been against the Rams last week. He was decisive in his cuts and popped through the holes. That type of play is why the Cardinals picked him in the first round.

Cold Tub

1. Eagles WR DeSean Jackson: He dropped two touchdown passes and another pass. He's killing his value on the market.

2. Jaguars RT Guy Whimper: He has been a backup most of his career, and the past month has shown us why.

3. Browns WR Greg Little: He kept dropping passes all day. He needs better concentration.

4. Lions QB Matthew Stafford: Is it his injured thumb keeping him down? He sure isn't playing like he did early this season.

5. 49ers RT Anthony Davis: The Ravens abused him. The thing is, he had been playing well until that game.

Three and outs

Three candidates for the Jaguars coaching job

1. Jay Gruden, Bengals offensive coordinator: He has worked wonders with Andy Dalton, and Blaine Gabbert needs someone like him.

2. Jeff Fisher, former Titans coach: He once called Jacksonville's stadium his own when he coached the Titans. Now it could be.

3. Joe DeCamilles, Cowboys special-teams coach: He worked in Jacksonville and is highly regarded in the building. He could follow the John Harbaugh path: From special-teams coach to head coach.

Three college quarterbacks who could be a lot like Yates (mid-round picks) and have a chance to play

1. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State: Cousins can look great on one play and horrible the next. Really struggles when pressure is in his face. But he has a good enough arm and he has been a quality starter in the Big Ten.

2. Case Keenum, Houston: He isn't big at 6-feet-1, and he doesn't have a huge arm but he knows where to go with the football. Think Drew Brees-style of passer.

3. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State: He's older at 28 after playing professional baseball, but he has been productive in a big way this season. He is accurate and his arm is good enough. He's also big at 6-4.

Tweets at Me

1. From @AThakur9: @PriscoCBS Thom Brennaman will be calling the Broncos vs Vikings... Are you ready?

2. From @robertjfredrick: @PriscoCBS Timothy Richard Tebow the greatest news story in the last 25 years.

3. From @urbanbobby5: @PriscoCBS appreciate the depth you into for your articles... It's refreshing to read something that isn't obvious to the average viewer.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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