After Houston’s devastating 23-20 overtime loss to Seattle yesterday, dropping them to 2-2 in what was supposed to be their best season yet for a Super Bowl run, the torches are burning, the long knives have been unsheathed, and the pitchforks are brandished, and Matt Schaub is enemy #1.
Leading 20-13 in the final two minutes of the game, Schaub threw an interception, which Seahawks superstar CB Richard Sherman ran back for a touchdown. Schaub fittingly lay flat in the dirt for several moments after the play. The veteran QB has never been a fan favorite in Houston, but he had for years been a steady, consistent, adequate leader with plenty of other talent around him to make up for his weaknesses. That all changed yesterday.
In the last three games, Schaub thrown an interception that was run back for a touchdown (a “pick-six” in football vernacular), and in the last seven games, an interception that either cost the game or nearly did. The Texans started the 2012 season with a brilliant 11-1 record, losing only to Green Bay in a prime time game. Since then, they are 4-6, with three losses at the end of the last regular season, one loss in the playoffs, and two losses this year. This is completely unsustainable.
Schaub was on 610 AM this morning and was peppered with questions about his performance and the loss. When asked why he doesn’t call out more defensive recognition or change plays at the line like other QBs do, he said balked at the very idea, saying “Some teams do that. We don’t.” Unfortunately, Super Bowl contending teams almost all do. Manning, Brady, Brees, even Matt Ryan all make pre-snap adjustments and tell their offense what they should expect on the other side of the ball when they play begins.
Obviously there was lots more discussion of the loss and Schaub today on sports radio in Houston. Mike Meltser, midday host on 610 AM, predicts that the Texans will not bench Schaub until they are mathematically eliminated from getting to the playoffs. I think he’s right. Head coach Gary Kubiak is nothing if not loyal to his QBs, and it would take an unprecedentedly bad season for him to bench his starter. But after the last two games I almost want to see it. The Texans’ backup QBs are both very good. TJ Yates lead the team to the playoffs (and their first playoff win) for their first time in 2011 after Schaub and second backup at the time, Matt Leinart, were both injured late in the season. (When Schaub repeated that division championship and playoff appearance last year…he faired exactly the same…as a third string backup: beat the Bengals in the first game, lost in the second round.) Current third backup, Case Keenum, was a record-breaking QB at University of Houston just a couple years ago, and while he was not seen as viable enough to be drafted by any teams last year, he performed brilliantly in the preseason this year and earned a spot on the roster. If nothing else, benching Schaub and giving TJ and Case a shot would end the debate over whether they could make it in the regular season or not.
But what Mark Sanchez was to Jets coach Rex Ryan before his injury, Matt Schaub is to Gary Kubiak now. Kubiak has an almost romantic loyalty to Schaub and would not even entertain the idea of benching him. He even blamed himself for Schaub’s game-tying interception in interviews this morning. This early in the season, at only 2-2, for a potentially Super Bowl contending team, without an injury making the choice for him, his stubbornness is understandable. But the Texans’ schedule going forward will not leave any room for such luxury. Next week they face last year’s runner-up, the 49ers…in San Francisco…on Sunday night (Schaub is consistently terrible in prime time games). Two weeks later they go to Kansas City to face the currently 4-0 Chiefs with their rejuvenated offense. The rest of the season features the undefeated Patriots and Broncos, division rival Colts, and one more game against the Titans, who nearly beat the Texans at home in week 2. Given the team’s performance thus far, the only real “gimme” guaranteed wins are the two games against the Jaguars.
At the beginning of the season I looked at the Texans’ schedule and saw no reason the team couldn’t go 15-1. They have one of the best lineups in the league. Future Hall of Fame receiver Andre Johnson, superstar rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins, top 3 tight end Owen Daniels, top 2 running back Arian Foster, and a damn good backup in Ben Tate, one of the most solid offensive lines in the game, the best punter maybe in the history of the game in Shane Lechler, and defensive superstars JJ Watt, Brian Cushing, and Antonio Smith. There is no excuse for a team with that many playmakers not to run straight to the Super Bowl. But so far this year (and late last year), they are the only team that is less than the sum of its parts.
If nothing changes, the Texans could conceivably end the season 7-9, lose the division, and not make the playoffs. And Houston will burn.