Photo by Groovehouse Gary Kubiak and the Texans are still searching for answers with the 2013 season quickly slipping away.
Respectable, right? Sure. And definitely better than T.J. Yates, who finally got his chance after the injury and made the worst of it, throwing two interceptions (including a pick six!), routinely checking down (YPA of 5.8) and finishing with an awful QB rating of 45.3.
Perhaps a healthy Schaub gives them the best chance to compete on Sunday in Kansas City. Unfortunately, the objective for the Texans isn't to merely compete. It's to contend for a Super Bowl, and the best route for this team to get there as soon as possible still involves a change at the most important position.
Schaub's hollow numbers
Yes, his statistics looked fine from a superficial standpoint. But ultimately, they still did not lead to any kind of meaningful result for the team (six points, no touchdowns).
Arian Foster (20 carries, 141 yards) gashed the Rams on Sunday, especially in the first half (10 rushes, 98 yards). That success came when the Texans' offensive line opened up massive holes early in the game, which in turn helped resurrect Gary Kubiak's famed play-action passing system. Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins each found enormous openings against the Rams' zone coverage, giving Schaub easy throws that were wide open and off his primary read. That helped the Texans move the ball with ease between the 20s.
The passing-game woes, however, returned whenever the Texans found themselves with a shortened field. Ignoring the drive that ended with a Hopkins fumble, the Texans had two chances inside the St. Louis 20-yard line in the first half. Both ended with field goals.
On the first of those two chances, the Texans opted to run the ball on 2nd-and-goal from the 5-yard line before Schaub settled for a throw short of the end zone on 3rd-and-goal from the 9-yard line. It looked as if the Texans were simply content to get points and avoid making a debilitating mistake. The second-down call was conservative and the third-down call involved at least two options that had no realistic shot at scoring. That said, a false start on Derek Newton (more on him in a bit) moved back the third-down try by five yards, so not everything traced back to Schaub.
The second series, however, was more egregious. On first down from the St. Louis 19, Schaub took a sack instead of attempting to throw the ball away. On second down, he prematurely checked down to a tightly covered Foster for five yards. On third down, he forced a throw to blanketed Hopkins in the end zone, completely missing the uncovered Foster in the flat, who yelled and waved his hands.
When the primary option was taken away, Schaub was ineffective. His ability to scan the field and make off-script plays was virtually nonexistent. Jayson Braddock, an NFL scout and writer for RotoExperts, said it best:
There is exactly 0.00 anticipation on Matt Schaub's passes. I don't care who the QB is, but Schaub is broken.
— Jayson Braddock (@JaysonBraddock) October 13, 2013
Things only got worse in the second half (before the injury). The Texans quickly moved it to midfield after a poor St. Louis kickoff, but on 3rd-and-10 from the 50, Schaub dropped back, faced no immediate pressure and hit Garrett Graham over the middle. Problem was, Graham was at least five yards short of the marker. He was immediately tackled, the Texans punted back to the Rams and the game was effectively over.
It wasn't a matter of the play call. Andre Johnson was running a downfield route and created separation. It wasn't a matter of pressure from the defense. It was simply more of the same from a shell-shocked Schaub -- a reluctance to take any risk and instead focus only on the most basic and primary of reads, first-down marker be damned.
As Braddock said, Schaub is broken. Sure, his QB rating was respectable and the Texans moved the ball well. But even David Carr posted a decent QB rating of 82 in his final year with the Texans. He wasn't awful, statistically. The issue was that his numbers were misleading. When it came time to actually make plays, he was too scared.
Yes, on Sunday, Yates relieved Schaub and ultimately performed even worse. But a big part of that, as Yates himself said after the game, was that the Rams knew that almost every play had to be a pass. Trailing 31-6, the threat of running becomes irrelevant. If Schaub were in that situation, it's hard to imagine his results being much better. Sparking a lifeless locker room
Photo by Groovehouse Does Houston have a Schaublem?
When the Texans collapsed against Seattle two weeks ago, I had never seen such an angry locker room. Players were shocked. They fumed, mostly in silence.
After the Rams game, though? Ho hum. They were frustrated and shrugging shoulders, but they didn't seem all that surprised. Yates mentioned that they lacked a spark. J.J. Watt said similar things, but added that as a leader, he had to stay positive.
"Are we mathematically eliminated?" he asked. "Didn't think so."
Watt is right in a technical sense, but something has to change in a hurry. The same group that is now 4-8 in its last 12 games has to go at least 7-3 over their last 10 games to have a shot at reaching the playoffs (seven wins would make them 9-7). After three consecutive weeks of supposedly "intense practices" and players-only meetings, it's clear the solution isn't coming from the status quo.
What the team needs to have any shot at salvaging 2013 is a change in culture. In football, that typically comes from a change in one of two positions -- quarterback and head coach. It's very unlikely that the notoriously conservative Texans would fire Gary Kubiak midway through a season, so QB would seem to be the most plausible choice (for now).
There are still other changes Kubiak needs to make aside from Schaub, of course. When Keshawn Martin fumbled a kickoff return early in the second half, literally giving the Rams a touchdown, Kubiak had him return the very next kickoff less than a minute later.
Likewise, in the first half, it appeared right tackle Derek Newton -- who has been beaten badly in pass protection all year -- was in line for discipline, when the Texans started their third drive of the game with Ryan Harris in Newton's place. But by the end of that very drive, Newton was back in his usual spot, and his false start on third-and-goal from the 4 almost single-handedly killed the drive.
Restoring the Texans as an elite franchise will require accountability, and the team's signature position should lead the way. In a story late last week on NFL.com, league sources said Schaub's leash was very short. The logic? "It's the belief of the coaching staff that it's simply not fair to the rest of the team to keep playing at a disadvantage."
What could happen if some on the team feel they're being treated unfairly? Ultimately, it seems probable that they'd lose focus and start to commit uncharacteristic penalties and mental breakdowns -- which is exactly what we've seen over the past two weeks (95 penalty yards in the first half alone vs. St. Louis).
Schaub plays the most visible position on the roster and continues to struggle mightily. What better opportunity is there to show that a proper standard must be met?
Age, contract status work against Schaub
Schaub is 32 years old and on a very expensive contract. If he's not part of the solution -- and it's virtually impossible to see that, given recent results -- then the Texans need to use this season to evaluate other options.
Maybe it isn't Yates, who was disappointing in his limited action against the Rams. Fine, then try Case Keenum. Or even, God forbid, Vince Young (and I'm only half-kidding). From a team standpoint, the locker room needs a new leader. From a franchise standpoint, the organization needs to start the process of identifying its next starting quarterback.
Could they be worse than Schaub? Sure. But in the grand scheme, hypothetically falling to 5-11 with a new quarterback instead of a middling 7-9 with Schaub means little to the long-term direction of this franchise. (And if they fail, it also helps the Texans by making it all the more obvious that they must prioritize QB in the first round of the 2014 draft.)
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On the other hand, if a new quarterback succeeds? It brings life into a dreary locker room and offers a direction going forward. That same St. Louis Rams franchise we saw Sunday at Reliant Stadium had its fortunes forever altered in 1999 when unknown backup quarterback Kurt Warner was forced into action.
Is that scenario likely in Houston this season? Of course not. But the upside, no matter how small, makes the move worthwhile when the status quo is what we saw this weekend.
When the Texans line up against the Chiefs on Sunday, remember that Kansas City is composed of a roster very similar to the one that went 2-14 a year ago. The main differences? It's mostly a new coach (Andy Reid) and new quarterback (Alex Smith).
That's the importance of culture in the NFL, and the Texans are learning it all too well. Not everything is Schaub's fault, but the ultimate solution still involves a change at QB.