Too many quarterbacks have the skills to produce winning games and monstrous statistics. A truly great NFL quarterback can heighten their game—like Aaron Rodgers this season—and lead their team deep into the playoffs.
Since coming to Houston in 2006, Matt Schaub has consistently improved his game and put up some impressive statistics. However, if certain changes aren't made, Schaub won't get over the hump and lead the Texans on a Super Bowl run.
Two seasons ago, Schaub led the NFL with 4,770 passing yards and finished fifth in touchdowns with 29. This season, Schaub's numbers were down but he still managed to exploit defenses for a total of 4,370 yards and 24 TD.
Although his statistics declined, I think his game continues to improve and he is evolving as a pro.
But is that enough? Does Schaub have what is required to be great?
He certainly has many of the pieces in place with arguably the NFL's greatest wide receiver, an extremely talented young running back and, when healthy, a rising star at tight end. Schaub also seemingly has a great play-caller in Gary Kubiak and a fantastic fan base behind him.
The excuses for Schaub's inability to get over the hump and into the playoffs are limited. Nobody is getting younger and the Bayou City faithful are losing patience.
Let's explore some needs and changes required to heighten Schaub's game to the next level.
Most impressive statistical quarterbacks that can't manage to get their team to the next level struggle under pressure. When the call comes to march down the field or lose, many average quarterbacks fold.
Almost every game this season, Schaub and the Texans were flat in the first half and fell behind. Then when the game was on the line, the offense would explode and start dominating like a Super Bowl caliber team.
Here are some statistical splits for Schaub this past season:
First half: 149-of-251 for 1654 yards with 9 TD and 7 INT (79.3 rating)
Second half: 209-of-312 for 2644 yards with 15 TD and 4 INT (103.9 rating)
For whatever reason, he is at his best when it matters most. If Schaub can find a way to translate that level of play to the first half, the Texans will be in good shape.
Gary Kubiak and the coaching staff could indeed use a lesson on utilizing the backfield in key moments. For the purposes of this article, let's focus on Schaub's specific role in that process.
Schaub clearly can't control the play calling but he has the ability to utilize Foster in the passing game. This past season, the two were on the same page a lot of the time, leading to Foster's 66 receptions for 604 yards and 2 TD.
You're probably thinking I'm crazy for saying he isn't utilizing him enough, but I found myself frustrated with Schaub's inconsistent check-downs all season. There were numerous occasions where Foster had 30 yards of open field in front of him, but Schaub didn't see it and threw an incompletion over the top.
This was common in long-yardage situations throughout the year. Schaub is a smart quarterback and will likely make Foster an even more popular target.
Fixing this issue will prove dividends for the Texans as it seems Foster has 1,000 yard receiving potential out of the backfield.
Texans fans have pondered Jacoby Jones' abilities since he was drafted in 2007. Although Jones has big-play ability and huge potential, he just isn't the number two receiver the Texans are looking for.
Jones should be more than sufficient in his recurring role as the third receiver.
The Texans have to go after a free agent with size and speed to play opposite Andre Johnson. With Kevin Walter and Jones along side 'Dre, defenders themselves aren't left with much to ponder. Pursuing a free agent or top draft pick would help free up double teams for Johnson and Foster.
I can imagine Schaub and Kubiak would love another great wide receiver. Maybe that's who the Texans target in free agency—when and if it happens.
Schaub could be the most pitiful scrambling starter in the NFL. He lacks any ability to make plays with his feet and is about as threatening outside of the pocket as Justin Bieber competing in the Iron Man competition
He will never be able to escape the pocket like Big Ben or make runs like Aaron Rodgers, but with some work, Schaub could certainly improve his elusiveness and vision. Seeing the pass rush is as important as running away from it.
Anticipating the rush will give Andre Johnson a surprisingly beneficial few seconds to break away from his defender and make a play.
The Texans just can't afford to give up 32 sacks again next season.
You can't throw it to this guy enough. He can extend, create and develop plays. Schaub must remember that Johnson is the most talented player in Texans' history.
This season was skewed by Johnson's ankle injury but nevertheless, Schaub has missed plenty of opportunities to connect with 'Dre in the past.
Because of horrendous defense and dumb luck, it is hard to consider this past season for statistical purposes. But in three years previous, the Texans were 13-5 in games where Johnson had 100+ receiver yards.
I may be naive, but to me, its simple; if the play falls apart, find Andre.
Although Schaub has the ability to throw it deep, he is pretty inconsistent hitting the open man down field. His arm is slightly above average and we know he has the accuracy, so I think time in the pocket is a factor.
When he did have time for the deep play to develop, Schaub was decent at best. The statistics are as follows:
Passes thrown 41+ yds: 1 for 4, 0 td, 0 int
Passes thrown 31-40 yds: 6 for 15, 2 td, 1 int
Passes thrown 21-30 yds (debatable deep pass): 10 for 21, 2 td, 1 int
The longest completed pass was 60 yards and it wasn't for a touchdown. The Texans really lack the big play ability that teams like Philadelphia and Indianapolis possess on a consistent basis.
With a guy nicknamed "Big-Play 'Dre," fans don't have time for Schaub's meandering. Time to show up.
As one of the most accurate passers in the NFL, Schaub hasn't struggled terribly with interceptions. He has, however, thrown picks at some of the worst possible times and cost the Texans games. Most notably, the pick-six thrown in overtime against the Ravens.
Schaub can really blow you away with his accuracy at times. He makes throws few people on the planet can make. Focusing on that accuracy and limiting turnovers is a key part of success in the National Football League.
There is also an interesting trend in interceptions versus wins. In the games the Texans won, Schaub threw 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. He had 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in losses. There is an obvious flaw in the fact that the Texans lost four more games than they won, but there is certainly a relationship between turnovers and losing.
After Steve Slaton's dismal fumble-filled 2009 season, the Texans really limited fumbles in 2010. Let's hope that progress will continue in 2011.
Despite being a fan favorite, Matt Turk hasn't had one above average season for the Texans. This season was exceptionally poor as he was terribly inconsistent and shanked key punts to give teams great field position, often resulting in scores. At 41 years old, it's time to send him packing.
Turk isn't the only disappointing part of the Texans 2010 special teams. Jacoby Jones had a very poor season returning punts and Steve Slaton took the cake as the most inefficient full-time kick returner. Both will be replaced.
Trindon Holliday, drafted last season as a return specialist, will hopefully improve the return game in 2011. Holliday missed this season due to injury. He has world class speed and a lot of promise
No quarterback can thrive constantly playing from behind with poor field position. The special teams has to improve for Schaub and the Texans to maintain a healthy balance.
Neil Rackers had a fantastic season and the Texans will need that to continue. The improvement from Kris Brown to Rackers was noticeable and at times, vital.
Season ticket holders weren't happy watching the Texans fall to 4-4 at home and 6-10 overall in 2010. In 2009, with an overall record of 9-7, the Texans were 3-5 at home.
Considering Reliant Stadium is huge and gets really loud, that record is really poor. Playoff teams win games at home. The Texans can't expect to improve if they are constantly blowing games in front of their own fans.
Matt Schaub's home/away stat splits:
Home: 168-of-267 for 1940 yards with 10 td and 7 int (86.4 rating)
Away: 197-of-307 for 2430 yards with 14 td and 5 int (96.9 rating)
Schaub needs to get back to his 2008 ways, where he was 5-0 at home (he missed three home games to injury).
The connection between home success and winning the division is discernible. After all, if you go 6-2 at home, a 4-4 away record will result in a 10-6 record and a likely playoff run.
Wade Phillips has the privilege of redesigning the Texans defense. How well he does depends on key free agents and draft picks. The Texans will need to find relatively inexpensive players who can play key roles and help young players improve.
The draft will be a key tool to bring in missing pieces. Phillips is renowned for drastically improving defenses and has a huge amount of talent to work with.
This has been the elephant in the room for months, and I think fans can trust management to make good choices and drastically improve this unit. Schaub and the offense absolutely need the defense to be making plays and putting the ball in his hands.
The labor disagreement will be a key factor in the Texans improvement process. If the lockout lasts late into the year, the Texans would really suffer.
If not, Schaub has all the skills to be great. If half of these things can happen in 2011, Texans fans are going to be in for some playoff football in January.