How Matt Schaub's 'Mojo' Can Make the Oakland Raiders a Winning Team in 2014

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How Matt Schaub's 'Mojo' Can Make the Oakland Raiders a Winning Team in 2014
USA TODAY Sports
Matt Schaub has the Raiders hopeful they can win more games in 2014.

It’s been 11 years since the Oakland Raiders were a winning team. In nine of those years, the Raiders had five or fewer wins. On average, the Raiders have finished 23rd in points scored and 25th in points allowed over the last decade plus of football futility.

Given these facts, it’s hard to fault a fan or foe for skepticism about this team’s chances to make noise in the AFC West. A nefarious bacteria called negativity has grown in the tepid waters of losing and has infected even a very devote fanbase.

If the Raiders do manage to be a winning team in 2014, quarterback Matt Schaub is a going to be the primary reason. At some point last year, Schaub lost his way, but if he can get his mojo back, the Raiders have a chance to do doing something they haven’t done since 2002—have a winning record.

General manager Reggie McKenzie’s deluge of offseason signings can only get this team within striking distance—it will be up to Schaub to get them over the hump. Schaub will undoubtedly need help, but it’s the quarterback that often has the power to turn a competitive loss into a win.

 

The Confidence Factor

Head coach Dennis Allen has been adamant that Schaub is the starting quarterback despite the team’s drafting of Derek Carr in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. As time has progressed, Allen has been more and more forceful with his starting quarterback declaration.

“He’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do and I like the way our offense is being run right now,” Allen said after practice Friday. “So I think when you have a veteran like that playing that position, I think that makes you a better football team.”

Allen might be right, but the Raiders had a veteran quarterback in 2012 in Carson Palmer and only won four games. Announcing that Schaub is the starter takes the pressure off Carr and sends a message to Schaub that the team and organization are fully behind him.

Sending that message to Schaub may be important because many have speculated that Schaub appeared to lose confidence in himself or his arm last season. This includes the likes of Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, Jim Corbett of USA Today Sports and Sage Rosenfels—a former teammate of Schaub’s in Houston—writing for the mmqb.com.

Raiders’ new defensive tackle Antonio Smith was one of Schaub’s teammates in Houston last year and has already noticed a difference in Schaub.

Schaubby’s getting his mojo back,” Smith said via Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. “He’s getting his confidence back. He’s starting to believe in himself again. He is starting to throw with confidence. You would be surprised just how much your mindset is important in this league.”

For most of the first week of practice, Schaub was sharp and crisp. The effort to rebuild Schaub’s confidence was going well and he was particularly good in a few red-zone periods during the few days the team was in pads.

When pressed about Schaub’s mental state Friday, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said he couldn’t speak to how Schaub was last year or when he made the Pro Bowl, but that his confidence has been a non-issue since he arrived in Napa.

“All I know is that since the day Matt Schaub walked in this building he has not shown any signs of mental weakness or shown any signs of self-doubt,” DeFilippo said.

 

The Ultimate Test

Schaub had been so good early in camp that he was able to brush off any talk about his confidence with a smirk after Wednesday’s practice. Schaub insisted he never lost his confidence at all and based on his play that would seem accurate.

“You can’t make it anywhere in this game without having confidence through the roof,” Schaub said via Raiders.com. “You’re going to go through ups and downs as a player. It’s how you bounce back from it. It’s how you move forward. You’ve got to put everything behind you whether it’s good or bad. It’s about the next thing in front.”

Schaub may be correct, but he didn’t experience much adversity until Thursday when free safety Charles Woodson intercepted him on back-to-back plays. It was only then that any lack of confidence might manifest itself as bad play.

Good performances can certainly boost a players’ confidence, but the ultimate test is how that player responds to adversity. The immediate response to Schaub’s first interception was a second interception that was returned for a touchdown, which certainly seems worse than the first.

In reality, the second interception wasn’t nearly as bad as the first and the following few throws really showed how Schaub could bounce back. On one of those throws, Schaub hit wide receiver Rod Streater over cornerback Chimdi Chekwa for a nice gain.

While everyone focused on the interceptions, few paid attention to how Schaub was handling them. If confidence was an issue, the interceptions should manifest itself as inadequate quarterback play, but that didn’t happen.

“I know no one wants to say, ‘I’m glad he threw an interception yesterday, or two in a row,’ but I’m actually glad to see that happen because he came back and responded with two strikes,” DeFilippo told me Friday. “That was the first real adversity he’d faced all camp because he hadn’t turned the ball over yet, so it was great to see him make two mistakes and then come back and make two great plays.”

After such a horrible 2013 season, no one would be surprised if Schaub became a turnover machine in Oakland. However, even after he threw a few interceptions, that narrative would be forced at this point. Head coach Dennis Allen seems to be aware that the media is going to lock onto Schaub interceptions like moths to a flame.

“Any time Schaub throws an interception, everybody is going to want to try to hit the panic button and act like the sky is falling,” Allen said Thursday. “He had a couple of plays that weren’t very good and he came back and he responded, so I’ll let you guys push the panic button. I’m not going to. In my mind, he’s still doing a great for us.”

 

The Great Schaub?

Given what we’ve seen of Schaub so far during training camp, he’s well on his way to returning to the type of production he had prior to last season. If that is indeed the case, the question then becomes just how much Schaub brings to this offense, and if it’s enough to make the Raiders a winning team in 2014.

If we could magically wipe away the 2013 season, Schaub might still be considered one of the league’s top quarterbacks. Only two quarterbacks from 2007-2012 had as many or more touchdowns and yards as Schaub and fewer interceptions—Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

An average season for Schaub prior to last season was 289 completions for 3,485 passing yards on 444 attempts. Schaub also averaged 19 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and 7.86 yards per attempt.

No one is expecting Schaub to be Rodgers or Brady, but he's put up good numbers for a starting quarterback in the NFL. Schaub’s adjusted net yards per passing attempt (ANY/A) from 2007-2012 was 6.91, which ranks eighth over that period for quarterbacks with at least 16 starts.

Raiders QB Play by Year and ANY/A
Year QB ANY/A Team Wins Year QB ANY/A Team Wins
2013 Matt McGloin 5.96 4 2007 Josh McCown 3.75 4
2012 Carson Palmer 6.14 4 2006 Andrew Walter 2.78 2
2011 Carson Palmer 6.30 8 2005 Kerry Collins 5.56 4
2010 Jason Campbell 5.74 8 2004 Kerry Collins 5.34 5
2009 JaMarcus Russell 2.31 5 2003 Rich Gannon 4.64 4
2008 JaMarcus Russell 5.30 5 2007-2012 Matt Schaub 6.91 9*

Pro-Football-Reference.com

The closest any quarterback in Oakland has gotten to Schaub’s 6.91 ANY/A was Rich Gannon in 2004. There’s a very real possibility that the Raiders are about to get their best quarterback play in the last 11 years and that alone should help them in the win column.

That’s probably the reason that Allen is bullish on this team’s chances to compete. Allen needs to have success, but he isn’t shying away from the expectations or trying to put a limit on how good his team can be in 2014 for the first time since he arrived.

"The one thing that I have tried to do is express to the guys that we're not going to let anyone outside our building set limits on us,” Allen said via Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. “And they've got to have a vision and a goal, and something out there that they're shooting for.”

Allen for the first time knows he can win games and a big part of that is having an improved quarterback situation. It may be Allen’s last chance to get something out of this team but shooting for the stars isn’t something he has to do.

"I just want them to understand that we've got a chance to make some noise, when no one gives us a chance,” Allen said via Tafur. If Allen has anything close to resembling the old Schaub, he might be right.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained first-hand and all statistics via pro-football-reference.com.

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