Depending on your definition of a winning quarterback, Matt Schaub is either the perfect man to lead your team or completely unqualified. Through not fault of his own, he is an enigma.
When the Texans did not have a defense to complement their offense, he had back-to-back 4,000 yard seasons and led the league in passing yards in 2009. Once Arian Foster emerged as a top-flight running back and Wade Phillips was hired to overhaul the defense, Schaub's role was permanently altered.
With the ability to run the ball and keep the other team from scoring at will, Schaub was expected to throw the ball on a more selective basis. This is reflected in Houston’s pass-run ratio over the last four seasons:
*Injured and out for the year in Week 10
Is he now saddled with the “caretaker” label most NFL quarterbacks dread? The “Trent Dilfer” classification which implies the inability to do little more than handoff and pass only when absolutely necessary?
Houston has started with a 6-1 record and is currently ranked No.1 in the middling mishmash of the AFC. An offensive player is normally considered the leading candidate for MVP of a team or the league, but DE J.J. Watt is foremost in the minds of many NFL observers for both honors. Why does their quarterback get so little respect?
Most complaints concern his arm strength. Not blessed with a cannon like Brett Favre or John Elway, it has been said he cannot hit receivers in stride. The mile-high air of Denver must have agreed with him though, as he connected with both Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter on the run for touchdowns of over 50 yards.
The final score against the Jets was closer than it should have been as Schaub demonstrated the best and worst of his tendencies. His ability to sell the play-action fake sets him apart from less-schooled signal-callers:
He had the front seven and secondary completely sold on the handoff to Arian Foster, which resulted in a 34-yard TD to a wide-open Owen Daniels.
Every QB forces balls into coverage, and that often comes from tunnel vision on the intended receiver. Schaub was so locked in he failed to notice Andre Johnson had failed to beat Antonio Cromartie on the inside break. An avoidable interception was the consequence:
However, he is excluded from the upper-echelon of his profession for other reasons. The elite are the ones who can take a team on their backs and lead them from behind time and again.
With thanks to Scott Kacsmar and Pro Football Reference, they have catalogued fourth-quarter comebacks and game winning drives for over 200 quarterbacks. Both Eli Manning and Schaub are 30 years old, and the Giants' QB does have 123 starts to Schaub's 73. Nevertheless, the gap between the two in these areas is stunning.
Seven of the nine regular-season wins for New York were 4QCs, while Schaub has to go all the way back to 2010 for his last 4QC.
Since the transformation of the Houston franchise that began in 2011, there have been four opportunities for the Texans to make similar comebacks. They have come up dry each time, the latest being in the 42-24 loss to Green Bay. Last year, it was the Saints, Raiders, and Ravens games.
Prior to 2012, he has completed only two full 16-game schedules. With continued good health, the projections say he will have the lowest totals for yards and touchdowns in his career. And he would gladly trade the big numbers for his first start in a playoff game.
The Lisfranc injury last season denied Schaub that chance to perhaps even go head-to-head against Peyton’s brother in Super Bowl XLVI. The closest thing he has to a signature win is the recent 43-13 dismantling of the Ravens and their depleted defense.
The injury was beyond his control, and so was the redesign of the offense to one where running the ball took precedence. This year, as with every other since he donned a Texans uniform, he has been an efficient and productive quarterback who makes both the rare mistake and the big play.
There will come a time when the respected but underwhelming field general will have to win a game that looked like a lost cause. It could come in the postseason, where history shows every title-winner has had to face that challenge and overcome it.
So savor your week off, Matt, and reflect on how far the team has come over your time in the Bayou City. There are nine games left, plus the playoffs that follow, to change the perception of you as a nice player who happens to come up short each time. A perception that likely bothers you more than anyone else.