Good, Not Great: Why Texans Need a Daryl Morey Approach to QB Position
If good is the enemy of great, the Texans are in a lot of trouble as they map out a plan to break through their second-round ceiling.
Owner Bob McNair and head coach Gary Kubiak are publicly saying the happy, feel-good things. "We're very close," McNair said after the loss in New England, while Kubiak added that Matt Schaub has a place among the league's "top quarterbacks."
Behind closed doors, it's hard to believe they don't have major concerns. In the final six games of the season, the offense that led the Texans to an 11-1 start fell apart. The starters scored 7 points on Monday night in New England, 6 for the full game against Minnesota and 16 (including a woeful 6 in the first half) against a bad Indianapolis defense. A win in just one of those three games would have secured home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs for the first time in Houston history.
They talked about turning the page heading to the postseason. But it was more of the same. Despite putting up over 400 yards of offense against Cincinnati, the team scored just 19 points, including settling for four field goals. In meaningful situations in New England, they put up 13 points -- six of which came directly from spectacular special-teams efforts.
In a league where the average point total for the divisional round was 35, the Texans were nowhere close. And this wasn't like 2011, when injuries to Schaub, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster were sprinkled throughout the season. This year, the Texans offense stayed remarkably healthy. It still wasn't good enough.
If they want to change that, it may require a radical shift in team-building philosophy.
Starts with Schaub
When it comes to offensive production, it begins with the game's premium position of quarterback. Long known as a master of playaction, Schaub had more on his plate this year with the offseason departures of right tackle Eric Winston and guard Mike Brisiel. Those losses helped drop the Texans from number two in rushing yards/game and number eight in yards/carry in 2011 to number eight and number 14, respectively, in 2012.
It wasn't a bad rushing attack by any means, but it was no longer elite. This meant more situations in which the threat of the run was marginalized and Schaub needed to make plays as a pure passer.
Too often, it didn't work.
In the playoffs, Schaub twice missed a wide open Johnson in the end zone, with both trips ending in field goals. Making matters worse, he looked jittery in the pocket and bailed out on plays too early. While rivals like Joe Flacco were able to improvise and make big plays down the field, Schaub went without a single 30+ yard completion this postseason.
It can't be said that Schaub didn't have help. The run game is still above average. Johnson remains one of the league's top-flight receivers, and the same can be said for Owen Daniels as a tight end. Arian Foster is one of the best receiving running backs in the league, and DeVier Posey stepped up and provided a viable secondary option out wide. The offensive line allowed just one sack in two games.
Schaub still couldn't make the plays to sustain drives.
Where the Texans stack up at QB
Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Robert Griffin III, Ben Roethlisberger, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan and Andrew Luck.
That's 11 quarterbacks -- over 1/3 of the league -- that are clearly superior to Schaub.
But that's not all. There's a second tier of Matthew Stafford, Joe Flacco, Tony Romo, Cam Newton, Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers, almost all of whom have higher upside than Schaub.
They might also have higher implosion potential, but in terms of putting a team on their back as a playmaker and winning an important playoff game -- the way Flacco did last weekend in Denver -- they're each more likely to do so than Schaub.
We're now at 17 quarterbacks. Granted, the last six are debatable, and Schaub isn't without some good qualities. He's efficient, widely considered a strong leader, has a great rapport with the head coach and knows the system inside and out. Those have value.
But to rank the league's quarterbacks, he's at best around number 11 or 12 and could be as low as 18, depending on the criteria. And soon to turn 32, he won't be improving.
Schaub is what he is: average. To have realistic Super Bowl aspirations, the front office must be open to better-than-average options at the game's most important position.