Photo by Marco Torres Is Matt Schaub a winner?
I suppose if you say something enough times, not only do you hope people will believe it, but you begin to believe it yourself.
Let's put aside the veracity of Kubiak's statement, because we all know how silly the "all he does is win, win, win, no matter what" label on Matt Schaub is. He's 46-37, and won one playoff game.
So, please, Gary. Stop with the hyperbole.
That said, the Matt Schaub Conundrum (proper noun status!) continues to grow more and more frustrating and compelling with every passing week, mainly because the gulf between Gary Kubiak's words and Gary Kubiak's behavior continues to widen.
On conference calls and in press conferences, Kubiak says Matt Schaub is a "winner," which would imply a) that he is one of, if not the key reason for the Texans' success (at whatever times they're experiencing success), and b) that Schaub experiences said success at a rate well above that of his peers.
On the field, Matt Schaub appears to be given very little freedom by his head coach, either because his coach doesn't trust him or because going off script is messy. Even more damning, the most recent piece of evidence this past Sunday -- when the Texans, playing without left tackle Duane Brown, dialed back a game plan that was so conservative that it just announced it will be running for the GOP nomination in the 2016 election.
Seriously, the Texans longest completion against Baltimore was 18 yards and I don't know that they threw a ball further than that all day, complete or incomplete. What team with a "paid like a franchise QB" quarterback completely facelifts their game plan and let's the defense dictate the game to them because they lose their left tackle?
The Texans. That's the entire list. Forget about the cream of the crop, even the teams with quarterbacks on the same perceived tier as Schaub (Romo, Cutler, Rivers, Stafford) would still let their guys go do what they do well. They wouldn't put their entire offense in a box.
In Baltimore, the Texans still had one of the top five receiver tandems in the league, the best running back tandem in the league, one of the top eight to ten tight end tandems in the league. And what did they get?
Nine points. That's it.
To me, if the "winner" label were an actual medal or trophy that a quarterback could attain after accomplishing certain milestones, there are certain wins (frankly many wins) that an NFL quarterback garners through the normal course of doing business that would count minimally, if at all, toward "winner" status.
"Winner" is reserved for guys who get it done frequently in "big" games. The question for Matt Schaub is "How many games has he really played in that could be labeled a 'big game'?"
Until they finally broke through and won the division in 2011, that was always the hilarious undercurrent every football season on the radio -- seemingly every year there were one or two games (often very early in the season, because the Texans would be functionally eliminated by November every year) that were the "BIGGEST GAME IN TEXANS HISTORY!"
We can look back on it now and laugh, the way that other cities probably were laughing at us if they streamed any of our radio shows on the internet. "Week 3...the Colts....it DOESN'T get any bigger than THIS!!"
But for sake of argument, let's treat those regular season games as if they were "big" games, as if they did carry some sort of additional perceptual weight or game pressure that, say, a Week 9 against JaMarcus Russell may not have. And let's add the games in from 2011 and 2012 where the Texans were playing with something on the front burner of the "at stake" stovetop.
And now let's look at the games that fit that category in which Matt Schaub was the starting quarterback. Conveniently enough, I found sixteen games (so it's like one full regular season's worth!) that fit the mold of what I'd call "big games" as graded on the sliding scale for a team that's played in four playoff games in its history.
Here we go... (home team in CAPS)
2007, WEEK 3: COLTS 30, Texans 24 Why this was a "big game": The Texans were 2-0 going into this game, so Schaub had a chance to get the franchise it's first 3-0 start and first win in Indianapolis in just his own third start with the team, a potential bonanza of a tone setter for a new quarterback! Schaub stat line: 27-33, 236 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 81.3 rating Comments: Schaub's two interceptions in the third quarter were a killer, as they led to ten Indianapolis points and put the Texans behind 27-10 before a couple late scores made the game look closer than the final score would indicate.
2009, WEEK 9: COLTS 20, Texans 17 Why this was a "big game": After winning three in a row to get to 5-3 at the halfway mark, the Texans were again looking for their first win in Indianapolis, this time against an undefeated 7-0 iteration of Peyton Manning, LLC. Schaub stat line: 32-43, 311 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 82.6 rating Comments: Schaub's two picks weren't total backbreakers in this game, one leading to a field goal, the other to a punt, and Schaub had the Texans in position to tie the game, going 8 for 8 on the final drive (two spikes to kill the clock, not included) to set up Kris Brown's 42 yard game tying field goal attempt, which was no good.
2010, WEEK 3: Cowboys 27, TEXANS 13 Why this was a "big game": Because, once again, the Texans were going for their first 3-0 start in franchise history. Also, it was the Cowboys, a once every four year deal, and we HATE the Cowboys! Schaub stat line: 23-32, 241 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 77.7 rating Comments: Once again, a Schaub interception helped the opposition put some daylight between them and the Texans, as a third quarter pick led to a Cowboy touchdown that put the bad guys up 17-3.
2010, WEEK 8: COLTS 30, Texans 17 Why this was a "big game": At 4-2 and coming off a bye week, the Texans were (broken record alert) going for their first win in Indy. (News flash: Any game taking place in Indy will entail the Texans' going for their first win in Indy.) The Texans were also battling for the division lead, despite the worst defense in the league to that point in the season, as the Colts were also 4-2 going into this game. Schaub stat line: 22-38, 201 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 70.2 rating Comments: Schaub's pick six in the second quarter gave the Colts a 14-0 lead, which grew to 24-3 early in the second half, and the home team was never threatened. Total dud by the Texans.
2011, WEEK 3: SAINTS 40, Texans 33 Why this was a "big game": Another crack at a 3-0 start, this time against a neighbor team a year removed from being defending Super Bowl champions. Schaub stat line: 22-39, 373 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 103.9 rating Comments: Statistically, Schaub was solid in this game, although his fourth quarter was a tad uneven, with a pick that led to a touchdown followed by a touchdown pass to take the lead on a fluky bounce to Kevin Walter.
2011, WEEK 4: TEXANS 17, Steelers 10 Why this was a "big game": The defending AFC champions coming into the Texans building, a gut check for the Texans to try to get to 3-1. Schaub stat line: 14-21, 138 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 100.9 rating Comments: This was the day the Texans arrived as an upper echelon team, winning a game against a good team in a way they'd been unable to in prior seasons -- with bone rattling defense, ball control (including an 11 minute drive to open the game), and a ton of Arian Foster (30 carries, 155 yards in his first full game of the season after a hamstring injury). In other words, the perfect Schaub "game manager" scenario.
2011, WEEK 7: Texans 41, TITANS 7 Why this was a "big game": At this point in the season, a season with expectations of a bounce back from 6-10, the Texans were 3-3, in the midst of a two game losing streak, and devoid of any momentum the Steeler win had generated. They needed a road win badly here. Schaub stat line: 18-23, 296 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 147.7 rating Comments: This game was relatively easy, as the Texans took a 20-0 halftime lead and never looked back. Arian Foster had over 100 yards rushing and receiving (remember those days?).
2012, WEEK 3: Texans 31, BRONCOS 25 Why this was a "big game": For the fourth time in Schaub's six seasons, the Texans were going for a 3-0 start, this time on the road against Peyton Manning, who beat the Texans like a drum when he was wearing that other uniform. Schaub stat line: 17-30, 290 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT, 115.3 rating Comments: While his completion percentage was not great, this might have been Schaub's finest game as a starter, as he shook off some early doldrums to average around 16 yards per completion. This was also the game where Joe Mays nearly sent Schaub's skull to Fort Collins on a dirty hit, and the Texans quarterback came back in after one play sans a chunk of his left ear.
(NOTE: It's worth re-mentioning, this Bronco game really was the perfect "Schaub game" -- 30 attempts, not asked to do too much, but taking shots down the field when they're there. Hell, there was even that Mays hit that made the "Schaub is soft" faction sit back down for a week or so.)
2012, WEEK 6: Packers 42, TEXANS 24 Why this was a "big game": The Texans were 5-0 at this point, the Packers were 2-3, but above and beyond that, this was the first time it felt like the spotlight was really on the Texans. Because it was a Sunday night game, NBC was in town all week doing interviews, and the nation was about to discover this 5-0 Super Bowl contender from deep South Texas. This was also the first full game for the Texans without Brian Cushing, which would wind up being a defining injury for this defense. Schaub stat line: 20-33, 232 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT, 56.6 rating Comments: Aaron Rodgers went haywire (6 TD passes), and Schaub could never get the offense out of first gear, falling behind 28-10 before being pulled in the fourth quarter behind 42-17.
2012, WEEK 7: TEXANS 43, Ravens 13 Why this was a "big game": The Texans had never beaten the Ravens up to this point, and the Packers loss could have left the Texans shell shocked. A bounce back was absolutely necessary. Schaub stat line: 23-37, 256 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 100.7 rating Comments: With an early safety and a Johnathan Jospeh pick six, the defense staked the Texans to an early 16-3 lead, which would balloon to 29-3 by halftime.
2012, WEEK 14: PATRIOTS 42, Texans 14 Why this was a "big game": Much like heading into the Packers game 5-0, the Texans came into this road game in New England at 11-1. The Patriots at the time were 9-3, so a Texans' win would practically clinch a first round bye in the playoffs. This was also another chance to show the nation that the Packer game in Week 6 wasn't the real Texans. Schaub stat line: 19-32, 232 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 68.7 rating Comments: No this wasn't the Packer game all over again. This was worse. The Texans fell behind 21-0 at the half, and eventually 28-0. Early turning point in the game was when Matt Schaub completely misread a coverage on a pass into the end zone down 7-0. Devin McCourty, converted to safety from corner, picked off the pass and the Patriots promptly went 83 yards in six plays to completely squelch any Texan hope of sparking some momentum.
2012, WEEK 15: TEXANS 29, Colts 17 Why this was a "big game": Because once the Texans lost to New England, they all became big until a first round bye in the playoffs was clinched. Schaub stat line: 23-31, 261 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 109.7 rating Comments: The completion percentage and passer rating (and the win, quite frankly) masked a bigger issue and a recurring theme for the balance of the season -- red zone inefficiency. FIVE field goals. Yuck.
2012, WEEK 16: Vikings 23, TEXANS 6 Why this was a "big game": See Week 15. Schaub stat line: 18-32, 178 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 72.1 rating Comments: The Texans fell behind 13-3 at the half, 16-3 eventually, before losing 23-6. The good news is that the Texans didn't have any red zone trouble. The bad news is it's because they never made it into the Vikings red zone all afternoon.
2012, WEEK 17: COLTS 28, Texans 16 Why this was a "big game": See Week 15 and 16, and add that the Texans have never won in Indy. Schaub stat line: 24-36, 275 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT, 66.3 rating Comments: The Texans red zone issues cropped up again, defense and special teams both gave up long touchdowns, and Matt Schaub's two interceptions led to a touchdown and a game ending 9:46 drive by the Colts where they ran it down the Texans' throats. Good bye, first round bye.
2012, WILD CARD ROUND: TEXANS 19, Bengals 13 Why this was a "big game": It's the playoffs, and for Schaub, his first ever playoff game. Schaub stat line: 29-38, 262 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 83.4 rating Comments: The Texans won the game more in spite of Schaub than because of him. His pick six throw to Leon Hall was the Bengals' only touchdown of the game and the red zone issues were massive, with three Shayne Graham field goals of less than 30 yards.
2012, DIVISIONAL ROUND: PATRIOTS 41, Texans 28 Why this was a "big game": Playoff game on the road where the Texans had just gotten their ass kicked a month ago. Schaub stat line: 34-51, 343 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 90.6 rating Comments: Basically, a logical sequel to the December game against New England -- close at halftime (17-13), but with an ebb and flow to where you knew it was a matter of time before Tom Brady laughed in Matt Schaub's face and said "Hey Droopy, start making tee times..." Schaub's interception to defensive end Rob Ninkovich led to the touchdown that put the Pats up 31-13, and they'd go up 38-13 before the Texans began piling up meaningless garbage yards and points. Totally outclassed.
Get the final statistical breakdown on the next page.
FINAL RECORD: 6-10 (4-3 home, 2-7 away)
SCHAUB FINAL "BIG GAME" STATS: 365-549, 4125 yards, 19 TD, 16 INT, 88.19 rating Schaub in 6 WINS: 124-180, 1503 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT, 108.17 rating Schaub in 10 LOSSES: 241-369, 2622 yards, 9 TD, 14 INT, 78.44 rating
SCHAUB ACTUAL SEASON DOPPELGANGER: The numbers are strikingly similar to 2010, a season in which Schaub started all 16 games, and the team compiled the exact same 6-10 record as he had in the games I selected above. His stats are fairly similar as well (including the exact same number of completions): 365-574, 4370 yards, 24 TD, 12 INT, 92.0 rating. During that season, the Texans were strapped with one of the worst defenses in league history, and if you look at the defensive stats in the Texans ten losses above, that part of the doppelgänger holds up as well. The biggest margin between "Big Game" Schaub and 2010 Schaub is in the turnover department. 16 interceptions in those 16 "big" games (versus 12 in 2010), and not just that he threw the picks, but what happened after he threw them....
NOT SO SILENT KILLER: ...the 16 interceptions themselves are enough of a killer in that they forfeit possession, but add in that the 16 turnovers in those "big" games led to nine touchdowns and three field goals for a total (including one two point conversion) of 73 points. This includes two pick sixes thrown by Schaub. BRUUUUTAL.
SUMMARY Yes, Gary, Matt Schaub is a winner insomuch as he's won more games than he's lost as a starter (46-37 overall), but in the sample space of "spotlight" situations, the numbers don't support your assessment.
The Texans have elite playmakers all over the field, and since the 11-1 start last season, they are 4-5 and plagued with pervasive red zone and turnover margin issues. So a problem exists somewhere, and I think we've all narrowed it down to the most acute problems being the quarterback and the head coach.
And this is where it gets painful -- despite those elite playmakers, the head coach doesn't let the quarterback fully use them (see: Johnson, Andre, end zone targets), however, the quarterback also isn't dynamic enough to overcome the predictability of a conservative game plan. The masses have opined for so long that "Schaub is the perfect guy to run Gary Kubiak's offense" without really asking ourselves "Do we really want Gary Kubiak's offense?"
It's a mind numbing circle -- Schaub is holding back the Texans, Kubiak is holding back Schaub. It's logistically impossible, and yet it's happening in front of our eyes. We all know exactly what I'm taking about!
But we came here to assess Matt Schaub "the winner," so I leave you with this: Think about how often you've spent the last three weeks discussing Schaub's penchant for throwing five yards short of the first down marker on third down, which he does REGULARLY. Think about how much this has been a topic on talk radio, and think about how lame and slow the offense has looked in most of the games I listed above. Now add in the back breaking mistakes, the pick sixes, the red zone failure.
Oftentimes, when a head coach's first assessment of a guy is "He's a winner" it means that he can't really think of an actual physical, football skill that defines the player. As odd as it sounds, "winner" can be a bit of a cop out assessment. Peyton Manning is defined by his football IQ, Tom Brady is defined by his pocket presence, Drew Brees is defined by his pinpoint accuracy. Hell, even Jay Cutler is defined by his rifle-like arm strength (and his douchy, frat boy, pout face).
Schaub is defined by what?
So he's been a slightly above average quarterback for a team that's won more games of late, a two time defending division champion, a two year success oasis what had been a Texans desert of mediocrity. But division titles and single playoff wins comprise another day at the office for over half the quarterbacks in the league.
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The fact of the matter is that the only times Matt Schaub is a franchise quarterback is when he picks up his game check each week, and if that hasn't changed by the time he's 32 years old, I'm fairly certain it will never change.
But keep telling yourself that, Gary. If you believe it, I suppose that's what matters.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.