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Case Made, Now About That Head Coach

So, what was that play call again?
So, what was that play call again?
Photo by Groovehouse

The Texans went into Kansas City on Sunday afternoon, armed with their pride, an acute sense of urgency and whatever short term effects the energy boost of a change at quarterback would provide, trying to save their season.

And after a hard fought 17-16 loss to the undefeated Chiefs, amidst some renewed hope for the offensive side of the football and an injury report that is now teetering dangerously close to becoming a body count, two things became abundantly clear:

Case Keenum needs to be given an opportunity to lead this team after the bye week, and Gary Kubiak's time should be running out as the head coach of the Houston Texans.

Taking each of these one at time:

In his first regular season action as an NFL quarterback, Keenum acquitted himself very well, showing the energy, poise and playmaking ability that's caused Gary Kubiak to continually sing his praises from virtually the time that he arrived in the building as an undrafted free agent before the 2012 season.

The day began with a modest 27-yard drive to put three points on the board early in the game and it ended with the first turnover of Keenum's career, a fumble deep in Texans territory with under two minutes to go on a sack by Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali. But in between, Keenum completed six passes of 20 yards or more (more than Matt Schaub had completed in any game this season and in the previous four games combined) and averaged over ten yards an attempt on 25 attempts.

Beyond the stats, though, the recurring theme in Keenum's first career start was the highly expected, stark stylistic contrast to Schaub. I believe it was Keenum's nine yard scamper to open the second half that finally caused the phrase #ThingsCaseCanDoThatMattCant to begin trending on Twitter in Houston and surrounding areas.

For whatever flaws he showed (all curable, by the way), on the aggregate, Keenum's ability to extend plays and make reads down the field covered up some shoddy play along the offensive line, some curious play calling by Kubiak and a general lack of a running game (73 yards on 24 carries).

In short, the Texans were better today because of Case Keenum. He was a plus player.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the head coach.

 

People will say it's a coach's job to have his team ready to play mentally, but truth be told, at the NFL level, the players are paid professionals. Motivation should (and often does) come from within. The Texans draft high character guys, and thus, most of the time, they are mentally ready to play.

In the end, a head coach's most important job is to strategically and tactically put his team in the best position to win football games.

The thing that Gary Kubiak fails to grasp is that when your team is a decided underdog in an environment like Sunday's, the formula is actually to take a few more chances than you normally would (which for Kubiak, I guess would mean taking a chance, period).

Three different times in the game on Sunday, Kubiak made conservative decisions that flew in the face of being a desperate underdog pulling out stops to win a crucial road game, and the most frustrating thing is that they all occurred after Case Keenum had shown that the stage wasn't too big for him, proven that he was perfectly competent:

1. Trailing 14-10, 0:56 remaining in the second quarter, two timeouts, ball on HOU 20 This was the series right before the half and right after the Chiefs had taken a 14-10 lead. At this point in the game, the only reason you don't try to go get some points would be a) if you were concerned about your quarterback making a boneheaded turnover or b) if you're name is "Gary Kubiak."

At this juncture, Case Keenum was 6 for 9 for 130 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, he'd shown an ability to get multiple players involved and make proper targeting decisions. (That's my nice way of saying he didn't predictably force the ball to Andre Johnson every time the pocket started to collapse.) In short, why not let him try and answer the Chiefs' touchdown with some points, especially with two timeouts. The Chiefs only had one timeout left, so your ability to control the clock and abort plan, if necessary, was still very much in play.

So naturally, in a 56 second spurt that was a perfect metaphor for the wishy washy indecisiveness that's pervaded his regime, Kubiak managed to not really "go for it," but also not really "just get into the locker room." Instead, he ran Ben Tate twice for 18 yards before finally using a timeout with 13 seconds left in the half. A couple Keenum passes later, the half ended on the Chiefs' 41 yard line, in football no man's land, with the Texans throwing a Hail Mary into the end zone.

2. First and goal at the KC 1 sequence after third quarter fumble by Jamaal Charles, trailing 14-10 To me, the most questionable play call in this sequence (other than kicking a field goal on fourth down) was the hand off to fullback Greg Jones on second down. For one thing, the best person to lead block Greg Jones into the end zone was getting the ball handed to him, and that's Greg Jones. Secondly, they ran the ball right, which is a recipe for disaster with this offensive line. Myself, I would have snuck Case again on second down. The ball was like a foot from the goal line.

My favorite down of the sequence was the third down throw from the three yard line where Case threw it up to DeAndre Hopkins who almost made a play and hauled it in. There was actual effusive praise for the Texans on Twitter for at least attempting a pass into the end zone. That's how broken Kubiak's play calling had become under Schaub. Passes downfield and into the end zone had become like a Saltine cracker to a starving man.

 

Anyway, in this situation, you have to ask yourself, if you're Gary Kubiak, "How many more chances will we have this close to the end zone to get seven points?" In the second half of that game, post halftime adjustments, probably not many. And it was house money, too, after the turnover. Worst case, if you fail, the Chiefs are starting out in the shadows of their own end zone.

3. 4th and 1 at the Chiefs 29 yard line, 4:30 to go in the third quarter, trailing 17-13 Again, it comes down to percentages. It was a 42 yard bomb that got you into Kansas City territory. Sustained drives were going to be tough to come by, so to gain a yard to have another crack at trying to go get SEVEN points (in a low scoring game) was a better percentage play than a 47 yard attempt at THREE points with what's been a shaky kicker, especially since a miss puts the Chiefs at their own 37 yard line to begin their next drive.

The bottom line is that Kubiak manages his team to the avoidance of the negative and that "something is better than nothing," when most successful leaders manage their team (their business, etc) to the aggressive pursuit of the positive and that "something is fine, but if the percentage chance of something better is reasonable, it should be considered."

Kubiak's ultra conservative modus operandi is flawed when you're a favorite. When you're an underdog, it's a killer.

Unfortunately, it only kills his team in games. Apparently, it can't impact Kubiak's Houston coaching tenure (honestly, what can??), because late Sunday night, FOX 26's Mark Berman caught up with Kubiak's boss, Texans owner Bob McNair, and it seems as if ol' Gary is a-doin' just fine and dandy, thank ya very much....

I would like to say these comments are just empty in-season speak from an owner who is waiting until, at the earliest, mathematical elimination from the playoff race before bringing any sort of heavy lumber, but past evidence (2010) runs contrary.

Look, I realize that the Texans have probably had more than their share of bad luck on the injury front this season, and certainly that got much worse on Sunday, with Arian Foster's hamstring again rearing its ugly head and Brian Cushing's season crumbling to a heart breaking end in a heap with a mangled left leg for the second season in a row.

To put it in perspective, of the Texans ten biggest salary cap figures in 2013, five of them were in street clothes by the end of this game (Schaub, Danieal Manning, Owen Daniels, Foster, and Cushing).

But that's life in the NFL. Gary Kubiak knows this as well as anybody. So, too, should Bob McNair.

But it would appear that unlike Kubiak, who as I said earlier manages his team with a keen avoidance of disaster being his main goal, McNair appears to be perfectly comfortable with or indifferent toward disaster.

Because, on this course with this coach, his team is headed directly toward it.

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.


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