Ryan Mallett to Start: Preparing for Change at Quarterback for the Houston Texans

Ryan Mallett to Start: Preparing for Change at Quarterback for the Houston Texans
Photo by Groovehouse

This is one of those posts where I start off by giving the colloquial definition of "insanity." Not the Webster's meaning, in which it's defined as "extreme foolishness or irrationality" (although that would certainly qualify for anyone continuing to trot Ryan Fitzpatrick out at quarterback). I'm talking about the definition where we talk about "performing the same act repeatedly and expecting a different result."

If the benchmark is "competent starter," then Ryan Fitzpatrick sucks at being an NFL quarterback. If the benchmark were "suitable backup," Ryan Fitzpatrick is just fine. Unfortunately for the Texans, he's been their starter the first nine weeks.

Not only has he been mediocre to poor, but he's actually regressed over these past nine games, which is the antithesis of what's supposed to be happening with a veteran "gamer" who is supposed to be highly intelligent. Sending him out there in Week 10 to start against Cleveland would be the height of insanity.

Bill O'Brien is a lot of things. Earlier today, he provided evidence that "insane" is not one of them. Ryan Mallett will be your new Houston Texans starting quarterback.

There are a few wayward voices in the wilderness still clinging to some notion that "Fitzpatrick gives you the best chance to win right now," so why not wait until the season is mathematically over before making a change. Oddly enough, many of those same people will concede that Fitzpatrick has been a detriment to winning during the first nine weeks of the season, which makes no logical sense.

The two choices for O'Brien were "guy who has impeded winning" and "unknown." By definition, as long as the "unknown" has the physical tools to play quarterback in the NFL, he gives you the better chance until he proves otherwise.

Mallett has thrown four passes in his NFL career, not enough to formulate any definitive opinion on him one way or the other. Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown 2,853 passes in his career, enough for me to tell you this team is on a slow road to nowhere with him under center. With the bye week upon us, this is actually the perfect time to make the change, spend extra time with Mallett, coach him up and turn him loose on November 16.

In short, this decision by O'Brien makes perfect sense.

As we sit on the cusp of another in-season quarterback change in Houston (Schaub-Keenum feels like it was ten years ago, by the way), here are a few thoughts that come to mind:

 

1. This quarterback change could have serious gambling implications. One of the really, truly great and yet sick things about the era we live in, where online wagering is as easy as ordering a McDouble and a large Coke, is that you can actually wager on people's employment. I don't know how coaches and players process the existence of bets on "Will they be the first to be fired?" and whatnot, or if they even know these bets exist, but they should take it as a compliment. It's kind of a macabre relevance barometer, if nothing else. Oh, by the way, I bring this up because Ryan Fitzpatrick was the object of a futures bet by Bovada before the season -- OVER/UNDER 9.5 starts. The Cleveland game is Week 10. There is true interest in who starts for the Texans in the underground gambling world for the remainder of the year, believe me.

2. Is Ryan Fitzpatrick's 2011 5-2 start the all-time pink unicorn of NFL performance cross sections? Remember back to early 2011. The Buffalo Bills, with a roster of castoffs, try-hards and veteran scavengers, got off to a 5-2 start. Their plucky, overachieving ways were embodied by their starting quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, who through seven games, was on pace for nearly 4,000 yards passing and more than 30 TD passes. More important, he had cut down (for him) on the turnovers, with only seven picks through seven games. Not world-beating numbers, but good enough to be a solid starter with the right pieces around him.

(NOTE: Ryan Fitzpatrick was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for the month of September 2011. Fitzpatrick hasn't been the best offensive player in a series on his own team this entire season, so if Texans fans read that and feel like they're reading about an alternate universe, I get it.)

Well, the Bills thought even more highly of Fitzpatrick than "solid starter." Despite that 5-2 start being merely a seven-game sample space, and despite a career passer rating of 73.0 and a completion percentage of 57.8 percent up through 2010, the Bills decided to give Fitzpatrick a six-year, $59 million contract with $24 million guaranteed.

Here are quotes from Bills GM Buddy Nix and his teammates when the deal went down:

"I'm excited about Ryan getting this done. He'll be our quarterback for a long time," general manager Buddy Nix said, who said the key to any team's success depends on having a quarterback in place. "It really makes everything easier for us. It's easy to put good players around him if you've got that position that you feel good about. And we do."

Numbers aside, Fitzpatrick has established himself as a team leader. During the lockout, he helped organize several player workouts, including one in his native Arizona, where he had his teammates stay at his house.

Word of Fitzpatrick's contract drew praise from his teammates, who posted notes on their respective Twitter accounts.

"Congrats to my Dawg FitzMagic on his deal. Good to have him locked back in Buff!!" wrote running back Fred Jackson.

Linebacker Danny Batten called the deal "well deserved," while receiver Stevie Johnson tweeted that Fitzpatrick -- whose last name has been butchered in being referred to as "Fitzgerald" and even "Kilpatrick" on numerous occasions -- might well be "finally famous."

"I've been a quarterback my whole life, and that's what it's been for me my whole life," Fitzpatrick said. "I welcome the challenge. It's something that I feel like, throughout my career, I've excelled when the odds were stacked against me, and I've excelled when the pressure has been on me. And I'm looking forward to doing it some more."

Buffalo's website, in its GM history section, calls Nix "a keen evaluator of talent." I say his tenure in Buffalo is just further proof never to trust a guy named "Buddy" with a really, really important job.

3. So what's the most astounding Fitzpatrick statistical factoid of the 2014 season? Easily, to me, it's this:

FIRST HALF RANK: Completion %: 32nd Yds/Attempt: 31st First Downs: 32nd Passer rating: 30th

SECOND HALF RANK: Completion %: 1st Yds/Attempt: 1st First Downs: 1st Passer rating: 4th

If I can translate these trends into plain English, Fitzpatrick digs the team into a massive hole with abysmal first-half performances, oftentimes falling behind by double digits, before the other team takes their foot off the gas pedal, while Fitz still has his try-hard-o-meter pinned at FULL THROTTLE. He does just enough to make everybody on Monday say, "Hey, they're competing with the good teams, they just can't finish," and fool everyone into thinking this team is better than it actually is. This might deserve its own post at some point.

4. So about this Mallett guy.... I'll admit it, I'm intrigued by Ryan Mallett. And I'm not the only one. Reportedly, disgruntled wide receiver Andre Johnson is intrigued by Ryan Mallett:

Andre Johnson's family is intrigued by Ryan Mallett...

They should be happy now. Mallett's got plenty of physical tools. He was the top player in Texas coming out of high school, and put up huge numbers his final year at Arkansas in Bobby Petrino's offense. Talent is not the reason Mallett slipped to the third round. Some off-the-field concerns (and perhaps his awkward cadence in this Jon Gruden segment) caused a drop to the third round:

(NOTE: Go look at the top high school drop back passers from Mallett's senior year in high school. It's like a graveyard full of shattered dreams and back-breaking interceptions. And a reminder not to get too worked up next time your school "misses out" on that big-time five-star passer.)

We will worry about what Mallett's starting means for the Texans long-term once he's played a game or two, but for now, hopefully we've firmly established that a) gambling is scary, b) Ryan Fitzpatrick should never be named the starter coming out of training camp for any NFL team ever again and c) Ryan Mallett's quasi-Cajun accent might be holding him back.

Bill O'Brien's sanity level? Normal. For now.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.


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