Pat Sullivan/Associated Press
Bill O’Brien will ask more and expect more of his quarterbacks than what the previous staff did.
That’s not to say that Gary Kubiak—a former NFL quarterback—didn’t expect or want his quarterback to play well, but he treated the position like a game manager more than a leader.
Matt Schaub, Case Keenum and David Carr were reined in heavily and not given the freedom to run the offense in the same way many quarterbacks are in today’s pass-first league.
No argument from me that it was probably the best strategy for most of the Titans' quarterbacks, but Schaub could have handled the extra responsibility which might have led to more team and individual success.
I’m not suggesting that Schaub should have been the offensive coordinator on the field like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but basic freedom to audible could have been beneficial.
Kubiak ran a solid scheme and believed that, if his players executed that, his offense could be successful against any defense. That thought wasn’t completely untrue, but there were times when the opposing team had the perfect defense called for the Texans' play, and a negative play could have been avoided with an audible.
Things like being able to flip the direction of the run play or come to the line with two plays called and being able to “kill” the first one if he didn’t like the look of the defensive formation could have extended drives, led to big plays or at least prevented big plays for the defense such as Richard Sherman’s pick-six in Week 4 of last season.
For better or worse, O’Brien will give his quarterbacks more freedom.
O’Brien wants his quarterback to be a “partner in the offense," according to a report by Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. What that means in terms of how much freedom the signal-caller will be given will be something to watch for during the preseason, but I feel confident in saying that it will be a great deal more than what was given to Schaub under Kubiak.
The responsibility of changing protection assignments, flipping the direction of a run play, using an audible to call a new play or anything else that varies from the play O'Brien calls into the headset is why Ryan Fitzpatrick was always a lock to be named the starter from this group of quarterbacks.
I’m not suggesting that Fitzpatrick is anywhere close to being capable of pulling off the extra responsibilities flawlessly, but the advantage he has over Keenum or fourth-round rookie Tom Savage in terms of experience is enormous.
While Fitzpatrick might be more capable of executing what O’Brien wants, his performance during training camp still suggests that the offense will be a work in progress during the preseason. He’s displayed a quick release and decisiveness on where to go with the ball, but he’s making mistakes just like the other quarterbacks.
Just because he’s the best fit with the offense as of now—that likely won’t last all season—that doesn’t necessarily mean that Fitzpatrick will play better than he has in the past or any better than Schaub did under Kubiak.
Of the quarterbacks on the roster Savage is clearly their future, but he’s several miles behind the other players. The development of any rookie selected in the fourth-round is likely to be slow, but in Savage’s case, that process could be even slower.
Savage relied on his physical talent to fit passes into tight windows, stared down his primary target and never developed the finer points of playing the positon while in college. It also didn't help that he missed two years of playing time while transferring from Rutgers and Arizona before eventually landing at Pittsburgh.
All of the Texans’ quarterbacks have flaws. The question is, which flaws are more easily fixed and which flaws are more easily worked around to allow the quarterback to still execute the game plan to some degree?
Savage is just swimming over his head at the moment, Keenum’s accuracy is shaky and he’s too slow in his reads before and after the snap. While Fitzpatrick also has inconsistent accuracy and forces too many passes into windows he doesn’t have the arm strength to fit them through.
For the time being, Fitzpatrick’s experience has shown in how quickly he picked up the offense, and his flaws are the most manageable. It's not exactly a ringing endorsement, but he’s the best the Texans have for now.
As I said on the introduction slide, don’t get worked up either way over the early results. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if O’Brien dialed back part of his game plan and the responsibilities he gives to the quarterback if Fitzpatrick struggles early.