The Houston Texans have to be scratching their collective heads this off-season. They managed to put together a team containing one of the league’s best running backs, wide receivers and defenses–topped off with a quarterback who has thrown for over 4,000 yards three of the last four years–and yet they still can’t seem to get past the divisional round in the NFL playoffs.
Somewhere, something just isn’t clicking with this team, and it may be a very unlikely cog.
Matt Schaub can put up some impressive numbers, and can look absolutely amazing at times. Face it, the guy is a Pro Bowl quarterback and can burn you with one of the prettiest deep balls in the league. But if you take the Texans out of their comfort zone, and make them abandon the running game and the play-action pass, then Schaub can actually look less than mortal.
It’s not necessarily that Schaub isn’t a good quarterback, but he’s the product of a system. And when that system fails and the game falls on Schaub to be the man to get the job done, more often than not he just doesn’t have enough ammunition in the holster.
For his career, Matt Schaub has an average yards per pass attempt of 7.8, one of the highest in the league for a QB who has played for over six seasons. That means that Schaub isn’t dumping the ball off in the flat or throwing a lot of bubble screen passes. He’s dropping back in the pocket and needs time for his receivers to clear out their routes.
This is where play-action passing becomes essential. The sight of placing the ball in the gut of a running back like Arian Foster freezes the linebackers and makes the defensive ends bite on the edge. After that it’s up to Andre Johnson and the other Houston receivers to shake the DBs on their tails, then Schaub can toss one of his patented tightrope spirals downfield and commence with the happy-dance.
It all sounds great in theory, and most of the time it works for Houston. But when the running game is ineffective and the defense no longer has to respect the play-fake, then Schaub finds himself on an island with no immunity on the way.
Then we see Schaub’s weakness. He’s not an improviser, he’s not going to get you much with his legs, and every linebacker and defensive lineman worth his weight in eye-black knows it. They’ll smell Schaub panicking and go after him like a shark responding to a fish in distress. That’s when mistakes–sack/fumbles, interceptions, batted passes–happen, and usually at the most inopportune times.
The key to being a successful quarterback in the NFL isn’t always having the strongest arm or the highest football IQ. Sometimes it’s just knowing your own game and playing within yourself. Quarterbacks who learn to do that, such as Trent Dilfer or Brad Johnson, end up doing more to not lose a game for their team than they do to win it.
Schaub is on that cusp–he’s got just enough arm and ability to put him near that group of (god I hate this word) “elite” quarterbacks. He’s never going to read defenses and call audibles like Peyton Manning, he’ll never have the legs and quick release of Aaron Rodgers, and he’ll never have that quiet unflappable style of Tom Brady. He’s got some of the tools to play like them at times, but he may never get over that hurdle to join them.
And that’s OK, as long as he realizes his own limitations and doesn’t do things that will put his team in a no-win situation.