Calling quarterback Matt Schaub’s 2013 season a down year would be like calling the atomic bomb a weapon of some destruction. Schaub had a year so putrid the team he pulled out of the basement seven years ago benched him in favor of undrafted rookie Case Keenum—so much for loyalty.
The Houston Texans shipped Schaub to the Oakland Raiders for a sixth-round draft pick and will go into the 2014 season with the quartet of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tom Savage, T.J. Yates and Keenum competing for the starting job. It’s as if the Texans thought any quarterback would be better than Schaub, even if circumstances forced them to make the move.
As the immediate starter in Oakland, Schaub will try to revive a moribund franchise for the second time in his career, but this time he’ll also be trying to revive his own career. The Raiders have to do everything they can to help Schaub because few outside of Oakland are giving him a chance.
Lessons from History
Quarterbacks have rebounded from a bad seasons before, but there are others who never recover. Philip Rivers rebounded last season after a lackluster 2012 season, but Jake Delhomme’s disastrous 2009 season in Carolina was the end of the line for him even though he won the starting job in Cleveland the following year.
Like Schaub, Delhomme had led his team to a 12-4 record just a season before his collapse. The notable difference was that Delhomme was two years older than Schaub (34 vs. 32) when he had his bad year. Rivers was a year younger, but his bad year was actually part of a three-year decline.
Some people will try to convince you that once a quarterback declines like Schaub, he won’t rebound even when history suggests otherwise. Using adjusted net yards per pass attempt (ANY/A) from pro-football-reference.com, 65 seasons and 46 different quarterbacks were examined to debunk this myth.
ANY/A is a good catchall quarterback statistic that factors touchdowns, interceptions and sacks into the yards-per-attempt statistic. It’s far from perfect but is a good way to measure quarterback performance from year to year and quarterback to quarterback on a macro level.
Career ANY/A was compared to their ANY/A in a down year and the following year. Their age during the down year was also recorded to see if it played a factor in either the occurrence of a down year or the rebound.
Some discretionary decisions were required when examining the data. Only seasons in which the quarterback started at least eight games (as Schaub did in 2013) were included. A quarterback's first year as starter was not. Some quarterbacks had more than one down year that may be comparable, so each one was recorded individually.
|Split||Seasons||QBs||Never Started 8 Games||Didn't Bounce Back||Bounced Back||Bounced Back > Career Avg.|
|With Down Year < -1.5 ANY/A||10||9||30%||0%||70%||50%|
|B/R (Data via Pro-Football-Reference.com)|
The results show that that about 18.5 percent of the time a quarterback coming off a down year never becomes a full-time starter (starts 8 games) again. Only 7.7 percent of the time did a quarterback not improve the year after a down season.
That means 73.9 percent of the time quarterbacks rebounded from their down seasons. Even better news for Schaub is that 47.7 percent of the time they bested their career ANY/A the following year.
The numbers don’t change much for quarterbacks that had their down year from age 30-34. About 18 percent never start again, nine percent don’t improve, 74 percent improve and 50 percent improve and best their career-average ANY/A.
What’s notable about Schaub is the depth of his decline. Schaub’s 4.53 ANY/A in 2013 was 2.0 less yards than his career average of 6.53.
|Quarterback Down Years < -1.5 ANY/A|
|Quarterback||Career ANY/A||Down Year||Difference||Following Year||Age Down year|
|Mark Rypien||5.96||3.16||-2.8||Didn't Start 8 Games||31|
|Jake Delhomme||5.7||3.42||-2.28||Didn't Start 8 Games||34|
Of the 65 seasons examined, only three quarterbacks had a season ANY/A that was more than 2.0 less than their career number—Boomer Esiason at age 31, Mark Rypien and Delhomme. John Elway, Troy Aikman, Mark Brunell, Marc Bulger, Jim Everett, Esiason at age 34 and Rivers all had down years that were between 1.5 and 1.9 yards less than their career-average ANY/A.
Of the nine quarterbacks in the same range as Schaub, three never became full-time starters again and five beat their career average the year after their down season. Six rebounded from their down years (Esiason did it twice). Those are fairly good odds for Schaub to have a rebound year in 2014.
Devising a Plan
Of course, the data merely points toward the possibility of a rebound. It’s up to Schaub and the Raiders to make that a reality.
The most recent example of a turnaround was Rivers, as he led the San Diego Chargers back to the playoffs last season. The Chargers revamped the offensive line, signed third-down demigod Danny Woodhead, drafted a No. 1 wide receiver and altered the offensive strategy and play-calling to better suit their personnel.
The Raiders didn’t draft a receiver like Keenan Allen or sign a demigod, but they did revamp their offensive line a lot like the Chargers. Only center Stefen Wisniewski returns as a near lock to start for the Raiders just as Nick Hardwick did for the Chargers a season ago.
|Offensive Line Rebuilds (*Starters/Projected Starters)|
|Team||Returning Starters||Competing for Job||FA Signees||Draftee|
|2013 Chargers||Nick Hardwick (C)||Jeromey Clary* (RG from RT), Johnnie Troutman (OG)||King Dunlap* (LT) Chad Rhinehart* (LG), Rich Ohrnberger (C/G)||D.J. Fluker* (RT, 1st Round)|
|2014 Raiders||Stefen Wisniewski* (C)||Khalif Barnes (LG from RT), Menelik Watson* (RT)||Donald Penn*(LT), Austin Howard*(RG), Kevin Boothe (C/G)||Gabe Jackson* (LG, 3rd Round)|
Also like the Chargers of 2013, the Raiders signed a tackle and two guards in free agency, and one of their starting five may be a rookie. Khalif Barnes is even comparable to Jeromey Clary, a veteran offensive tackle transitioning to guard.
The Raiders should be able to run the ball to protect Schaub and give him more time to throw, something Rivers benefited from a season ago as his sack percentage went from 8.5 percent in 2012 to 5.2 percent in 2013 per Pro-Football-Reference.com. Schaub’s sack percentage wasn't extreme, but pressure percentage went from 29.5 percent in 2012 to 41.8 percent in 2013, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), so he too could benefit from a better offensive line play.
The question is how the Raiders will adjust the passing game to fit Schaub’s strengths. The Chargers simply had Rivers throw more short passes. During his down year of 2012, Rivers led the league with a 76.1 percent completion percentage when he spent 2.5 seconds or less in the pocket, according to Pro Football Focus.
It was an easy adjustment in hindsight.
Instead of getting the ball in 2.5 seconds on just 45.3 percent of his attempts as he did in 2012, Rivers got the ball out in 2.5 seconds or less 53.8 percent of the time, and his ANY/A jumped 2.34 yards year over year.
In 2012, when Schaub threw for 4,008 yards, 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, he got the ball out of his hands in 2.5 seconds or less 56.9 percent of the time compared to just 50.4 percent last year. Except throwing more short passes doesn’t quite solve the problem because too many of Schaub’s short passes in 2013 were intercepted.
The solution is to give Schaub more responsibilities at the line of scrimmage than he had in Houston. The hope is that he can get out of bad plays, and the defense won’t be able to figure out what is coming next.
“I have a bit more control,” Schaub said via Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com. “We had audible systems in Houston but, as far as protection calls and some other things, there is more freedom to change routes and put the skill players in position to make big plays.”
Without a No. 1 receiver, Schaub will have to spread the ball around to be successful. This could actually be a good thing as he may be less predictable than he was in Houston. it could also be a bad thing if Schaub is doing the right things and his receivers can't make the play.
Schaub has proven over the years that he can throw accurately, but he does have to avoid throwing costly interceptions to be successful. The Raiders aren’t going to turn Schaub into Peyton Manning in 2014, but with a few tweaks, they may be able to get the old Schaub again.
The Raiders can help Schaub with an effective ground game and an offensive line that gives him adequate protection. Oakland’s collection of No. 2 receivers need to make big plays when the opportunity is presented, and fullback Marcel Reece needs to become Schaub’s version of Woodhead.
If Schaub isn’t the answer, the Raiders will likely know quickly. In such a case, the Raiders have hedged their bet on Schaub by drafting Derek Carr in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft.