Game Time: Defining Texans Coach Gary Kubiak
"When a defining moment comes along, you define the moment... or the moment defines you." -- Roy McAvoy
Certainly, I'm not asking Gary Kubiak to make like the source of the above quote and take multiple 3-wood shots over a water hazard to post a 12 on the last hole of the U.S. Open, or even do one specific, seemingly impossible thing over and over and over again to eventually achieve a defining moment. Because at this point, Lord knows that Kubiak doesn't have "over and over and over again" to get it done. Honestly, at this point, I just want him to win a few football games. The clock is ticking on the Gary Kubiak Era, and for those waiting for the defining moment, understand this -- you may have already seen it.
That's the thing about defining moments -- when they define you as really, really good or really, really bad, you pretty much know them the minute they occur; when the jury is still out on whether you're good or bad, ultimately you have to go back and find the defining moment. That's where I am with the Kubiak Era -- some good, a lot more bad, and not quite sure what the defining moment is. Yet. My fear is we may have seen it in the past three weeks.
This much I do know: an NFL head coach is paid to do two things -- (1) make sure his team is properly prepared to succeed prior to taking the field, and (2) put them in the best position possible during a game to achieve success, especially in certain game-defining/deciding situations like do-or-die 3rd-down conversions and the two-minute offense/defense. And since Gary Kubiak has made it abundantly clear in every post-game press conference after a loss that "it's on him." I think it's fair to examine "How is Kubiak performing these two duties?"
Well, on the first one, just look at every single Texans game this year. They've played ONE good half of football in every game, except the Jets game when they played zero good halves of football. Anyone over the age of 30 remembers those old 45 RPM single records, where artists would release a hit single, which would be Side A, and then they'd throw some garbage song on Side B. That's the Texans. Side A, great half...Side B, garbage half. (And if you think typing my first "back before there were iPods" paragraph made me feel old, well....pass the prune juice.)
If you talk to the players, you can tell they like Coach Kubiak. A lot. And honestly, why wouldn't you like a guy who constantly takes full blame for a mess that was a group effort? If I had someone who would take up for all of my flaws, dysfunction, and lack of execution, I would somersault naked on broken glass for that person! The problem is the lack of focus that this team shows for seemingly endless stretches during really important games makes you wonder if there needs to be a different approach. Are the "kids" too comfortable? (And yes, "kids" is an actual word Kubiak uses in reference to his players during press conferences, and maybe that's a small symptom of a bigger problem.)
But unless the Texans find a way to win five games in a row, it is Gary Kubiak's performance at the second HCD (Head Coach's Duty) the last three weeks that may ultimately and unfortunately provide us with his defining moment. For that, I'll give you three candidates:
November 8 at Indianapolis: Ryan Moats goes out of bounds at the Indy one-yard line just before the two-minute warning. Replay of the tackle shows that there's a good chance the referees missed a Moats fumble. Rather than run a play to make sure the would-be fumble goes unreviewed, Kubiak (to be fair, with no heads-up from his staff in the press box, who I guess at that point were making sure they were first in line for halftime burgers) lets the clock run down to the two-minute warning, giving Indy coach Jim Caldwell (who was not going to ask for a review) a chance to take a look at it during the commercial break and challenge the call on the field. Colts ball, Texans' touchdown chance gone, and Ryan Moats sent into the Witness Protection Program.
November 23 vs Tennessee: After a Tennessee field goal puts the Titans up 20-17 with less than a minute to go, Matt Schaub directs the offense down the field to the Tennessee 31-yard line with 8 seconds left and 1 timeout remaining. Rather than try one play to get a closer look than 49 yards for his suddenly shaky kicker Kris Brown, Kubiak settles for a 49-yard attempt which landed somewhere in the Kirby and Murworth intersection.
November 29 vs Indianapolis: Ahead 17-7, the Texans answer the Colts first touchdown of the game with what is shaping up to be an 80-yard touchdown drive. With a 3rd-and-1 from the Colts 15-yard line, 1:10 to go in the half and two timeouts left, rather than pound it and get the first down (Worth mentioning, at this point in the game, Steve Slaton and Chris Brown were averaging over 5 yards a carry), and call time out (or not call one, hell a minute left is plenty of time), the Texans decide to throw a fade route in Andre Johnson's general direction that landed about 10 yards away from anyone named Andre Johnson. Now it's fourth down, clock stopped, and the Texans come away with three instead of seven, and Peyton Manning goes into the locker room knowing he's only two scores down. Seems like an innocuous enough moment in the grand scheme of the game, but I guarantee the Colts were stunned and delighted when the Texans threw a quick, "one option" timing route on 3rd and 1. (Only a Bryce McCain pick of Manning in Texans territory right before the half made this decision less disastrous than it already was.)
Can you point at these three decisions and say "These are the reasons the Texans lost these games"? Of course not; over sixty minutes there are lots of shoulda's, woulda's, coulda's. But these three instances are decisions Kubiak had direct control over (yes, Kyle Shanahan calls the plays, but I'm sure on 3rd and 1, the head coach can suggest a run over a pass) and they're decisions that frankly regular fans are/were going "Why did he just do that?"
Did they lose the game because of them? No, but they materially affected the momentum of the game, and more importantly they didn't work (and in the case of the Brown kick versus the Titans, Kubiak said if he had to do it over again, he'd do the same thing...HUH?). Above all else, they're symptomatic of basic breakdowns that Texans fans have been complaining about for four years now -- specifically horrible management of replay situations and funky, erratic, sometimes stubborn playcalling.
None of my "defining moment" candidates are unto themselves "hanging offenses"; the problem is if you make enough small mistakes like these, which lead to close losses, eventually you do get hung. Eventually, the fact that the team can now move the ball on anyone offensively and "they're never out of any game" is not enough.
The bottom line is the bottom line.
The clock is ticking. Do the Texans have five consecutive good games in them? At this point, I'd settle for four consecutive good quarters.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.