Heading into the 2012 NFL season, most followers of the Houston Texans were convinced all that was required for a deep playoff run was a season of perfect health for quarterback Matt Schaub. Owner Bob McNair and the team’s management were so convinced they signed Schaub to a four-year extension worth $62 million right after their opening game win over the Miami Dolphins.
Somewhere between their 11-1 record after Week 13 and 2-4 finish to the season, the dream fell apart. There was a host of suspects in the blame game that followed their playoff loss to the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round.
The guilty parties was variously identified as a defense with too many injuries, an offense with too few NFL-caliber wide receivers, indecision on which guard-tackle combo should man the right side of the O-line and predictable play-calling by Gary Kubiak.
The old saying about quarterbacks is they get too much credit when they win, and too much criticism when they lose. When it comes to the Texans, their quarterback gets the criticism no matter what the outcome. Is it deserved?
No single Texan took more heat in the offseason than Schaub. Everything from his arm strength to his manhood was called into question. To the chagrin of his many detractors, he is still the starting quarterback as the 2013 season draws near.
His statistics for 2012 were not up to the standard he had set during his six years in Houston. Yards per attempt, touchdown percentage and passer rating were at their lowest levels since his breakout in 2009, when he led the league in passing yardage.
The inconsistency of his efforts was evident throughout the year. How could a passer who tied the record for the second-most yards in a single game (527 vs. Jacksonville) manage just 153 yards against a Minnesota Vikings defense ranked 24th against the pass?
This tendency to blow hot and cold was obvious against the Patriots in the playoff loss.
In this case, No. 8 perfectly executes a well-thought-out play. Owen Daniels has run a clear out in the intermediate zone while DeVier Posey takes a curl route about five yards behind him.
The Patriots DBs have to respect both receivers, so Alfonzo Dennard lags just enough to lose track of the intended receiver. The ball could be going to either man, but Schaub throws a rope to Posey on the run. The result is a 24-yard gain, and at least one instance where this QB shows his arm has enough zip in it.
Here we have an enormous error in judgment. Schaub has done nothing since the snap but fix his gaze on James Casey. The Patriots’ Rob Ninkovich backpedaled for a few steps in coverage until he sensed that the quarterback was locked in on the Texans’ tight end.
Ninkovich has to be in Schaub’s field of vision, but is undetected. The ball ends up right in the hands of the OLB for a momentum-killing interception. A promising drive that could have narrowed New England’s 24-13 lead instead turns into a Tom Brady TD pass six plays later.
The draft has brought in a physical pass-catcher, DeAndre Hopkins, to pair with Andre Johnson. Perhaps rookie offensive tackles Brennan Williams or David Quessenberry will solidify the right side of the line.
The doubts will persist until the offensive leader of the Houston Texans shows he can carry this team through the sheer will of his own ability. There is a three-game stretch early in the 2013 schedule where Houston faces Baltimore, Seattle and San Francisco in successive weeks.
This trial by fire will either make or break the aspirations of this organization and the reputation of its quarterback.
The winner of the first playoff game in franchise history was relegated to mop-up duty last season. His only appearances came at the tail end of losses to the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings.
Yates held on to the backup role even though his preseason performance in 2012 was mediocre. The memory of his heroics in 2011 and overall potential were reason enough to award him the roster spot.
Due to his lack of reps, his prognosis for 2013 is much different from that of last season. It appeared as if manning the clipboard and watching from the sidelines might translate into some on-field progress.
A 40 percent completion rate and an 11.7 passer rating in those three games is not much of an endorsement for his future. On top of that, he possesses some of the oddest-looking mechanics for his position.
His passes come out of a no-windup motion. This makes for a very quick release, but not much touch on the short throws. This quirk is so pronounced it probably cannot be coached out of him at this stage of his development.
It looks as if Yates will remain the backup on the Texans for the time being. If Schaub comes out of the lineup for an extended period, the fortunes of this team become unpredictable at best.
Keenum was the sole quarterback at the recent Texans rookie minicamp with anything approaching NFL experience. Only one other QB was in attendance, Collin Klein from Kansas State, who did not receive a contract offer from the team after his tryout (ESPN.com).
This experience consists of nothing more than a handful of passes in the 2012 preseason, with rest of the year spent on the practice squad. But it is possible Keenum took a few steps forward while T.J Yates did not.
Kubiak described his play in the minicamp as “automatic” (Chron.com). A year’s worth of familiarity with the system means his reads and progressions are coming more naturally.
Coming to the pros represented a big jump for the NCAA career leader in passing yards and touchdowns. The former University of Houston product had to learn to take snaps from under center and work with a structured playbook.
Many critics of Schaub hammer on his total lack of mobility in and out of the pocket. Keenum spent his college career scrambling all over the field while improvising plays on the run.
If he continues to adapt to the game at this level, the question of who will succeed Matt Schaub could have its answer.
He played in a total of three games for the Cowboys, but was waived before the start of last season. The rest of 2012 was spent hoping another team would pick him up.
It took until this year for that to happen, as the Texans have signed him to a Reserve/Future contract. This will allow him to compete in OTAs and maybe even be called back for training camp.
The unfortunate reality is that McGee is nothing more than another arm to keep the balls flying for all the receivers that will be trying out. If he was to leapfrog Keenum for a spot on the practice squad, that would be quite unexpected.