This time of year, football fans are primarily focused on the upcoming NFL draft. The position that invariably receives the most attention from NFL front office personnel, draft analysts and common fans is always quarterback.
The reasoning is simple. To win the Super Bowl you must have an elite quarterback, or at least get elite play from your quarterback. While guys like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning have all hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, there are other lesser signal callers that are not to that trio’s caliber, but elevated their game enough to lead their team to a championship.
Fans of the Houston Texans are lucky in that they do not have to worry about who will be under center for their team next year. While knowing your team is already set at QB may not be exciting during draft season, Texans fans are also aware of what can happen if the wrong quarterback is selected.
The selection of David Carr took away an untold amount of progress from the new franchise. There were several other terrible decisions made by the former front office, but the Carr pick is the number one reason why the team was essentially still an expansion franchise when the new regime under Gary Kubiak took over in 2006.
Current Texans general manager Rick Smith is not the most popular figure amongst Texans fans these days. That has a lot to do with Kareem Jackson, who was labeled as a “pro ready” corner from the first round and then was subsequently repeatedly burnt his rookie year by opposing wide receivers.
Due to this current unpopularity, though, Smith is often not given credit for his moves that have proven beneficial. For example, the reason that Texans fans have not had to worry about who would start at quarterback for the last four years is because Smith executed one of the gutsiest trades in recent NFL history.
Matt Schaub was a former third round pick turned backup quarterback that showed flashes of promise in relief of his starter when Smith pulled the trigger on a move that would send two second round picks to Atlanta in exchange of Schaub. Many questioned whether he would be worth the lofty price the Texans paid.
Schaub earned a reputation early in his Texans career as being fragile due to two straight seasons in which he missed five games. Despite the fact that both injuries were sustained on illegal hits, it has taken two straight 16 game seasons for Schaub to prove he can stay healthy.
The first of those full seasons would be a historical one for Schaub. In 2009, he led the league in passing with 4,770 yards, the fifth highest total in NFL history. Despite this aerial success, Schaub’s offense failed to score consistently at times and missed the playoffs by a game.
Becoming more balanced was the theme for the offense in 2010, as the woeful running game was blamed for much of the scoring problems of 2009. After all, even though Schaub tallied a ridiculous high number of yards, he failed to eclipse the 30 touchdown mark.
The Texans were successful in 2010 at running the ball much more effectively, but Schaub and the Texans missed the playoffs yet again. This was more the defense’s fault than Schaub, although he certainly bears some of the responsibility.
Schaub’s numbers regressed across the board in 2010. While some of that is due to such high standards set the previous year, it is still alarming to see completion percentage and yards per attempt lower. Schaub’s touchdown to interception ratio remained almost identical to the previous year, which, at a 2:1 rate, needs to improve.
So what can Texans fans expect from Matt Schaub and the offense in 2011? Will this be the year that Schaub can lead his team to the postseason for the first time? I believe he can for a few key reasons.
First of all, Schaub will benefit from a better defense. While it might seem bold to assume that the defense will certainly be better, it would be almost impossible to get worse. Also, Wade Phillips has a track record for improving defenses quickly.
With a better defense comes better decision making. Schaub’s interceptions usually stem from forcing the ball into situations he shouldn’t. This is often necessary because Schaub feels that he either has to go score for score with an opposing team, or the Texans are playing from behind because of the defense and thus need to pass often, becoming predictable.
With a lead, Schaub could play the ball control offense that he has shown he has no problem with playing. Last season, when Arian Foster became the focal point of the offense at stretches, Schaub was more than fine with feeding him the football.
Speaking of Arian, the Texans were extremely lucky that the injury bug did not bite him given how many touches he got. Next year, however, 2010 rookie Ben Tate will return from his season ending ankle injury to make a formidable running back committee.
This is integral because it will ensure a running threat is on the field at all times. As much as I respect Derrick Ward for his admirable service last year, there was a considerable drop-off in talent when Foster came off the field. Now, opposing teams must worry at all times about an athletic running back making them pay for playing the pass.
This will make play-action pass, one of Schaub’s specialties, that much more potent. Lack of play action accounted for Schaub’s lowest yards per completion rate since his rookie season. With a more consistent running game, the Texans can pass less but take bigger shots down the field.
An additional byproduct of a more potent team running game will be to keep Schaub in the pocket. While he shows a great command of the West Coast Offense, Schaub’s ability decreases significantly outside of the pocket. It is probably his biggest flaw.
Another factor to making Schaub successful is the re-signing of tight end, Owen Daniels. Many Texans fans questioned the move, but consider that Daniels managed 271 yards on 22 receptions for 2 touchdowns in just four games at the tail end of the year when he was finally healthy.
Daniels provides Schaub with a secondary target behind Andre Johnson that is lacking from the receiving corps. I think Kubiak and Smith thought long and hard about letting him walk, but he simply is better than all the other tight ends on the roster, and the offense is noticeably different with a healthy Daniels.
The last thing that gives me hope of seeing Schaub play meaningful games in January is his leadership. Never the boisterous type, Schaub has been taking much more of a leadership role, under the radar.
Three weeks ago, Schaub organized a player’s workout in lieu of the team offseason program negated by the lockout. Even though the workout might have been little more than a check in the box, Schaub showed that he is taking ownership of the time by being the figurehead of that session.
Gone are the days when Schaub was little more than a transplant who flashed on another team. Schaub has shown that he can be an elite statistical quarterback, but now it is time to show he can improve the one statistical category in which success has eluded him and all quarterbacks are ultimately judged: winning percentage.
I believe next year Matt Schaub will do just that and take his place in the conversation of the game’s best quarterbacks. What do you think, though? Leave your comments or let me know on twitter (@JakeBRB).