HOUSTON - NOVEMBER 07: Quarterback Matt Schaub walks off the field after throwing an interception to San Diego Charger Paul Oliver at Reliant Stadium on November 7 2010 in Houston Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
So, what is the deal with Matt Schaub?
The passing game has been relatively ineffective compared to last year, dropping not very far to 11th in DVOA after being 8th last year, but losing about 10% of its effectiveness to make that drop steeper than it sounds.
There are quite a few theories that I've thrown out and that others have thrown out. But why not take these theories and supply the data behind them to see just how right they are? Because we're lazy? But I have a whole spreadsheet of things and
an unlimited supply of free time I edit SB Nation Houston.
But dammit, we need to know these things! So I blew off editing for a few hours, delved into a bushel load full of Football Outsiders' charting data, maneuvered the lines, counted on my fingers when necessary, and came up with answers. Answers which may surprise you. I'll tackle them on a case-by-case basis.
POTENTIAL SOURCES OF SCHAUB REGRESSION
This theory says that because Schaub is facing extra pass rush pressure this year, his stats are suffering. After all, he's picking up 2.63 sacks per game, a big leap from last year's 1.56. So how does that hold up? Survey says:
He's facing more pressure, but maybe not as much as you might think: Only about 2 extra pressures a game so far. But his stats against pressure have actually improved this year. He's completing more of his passes and once you account for the excess sacks, his Yards/Attempt is well in line with what he did last year.
The sacks are, obviously, a trickier thing to really pin the blame on. The offensive line has played much worse in pass protection than they did last year, but Schaub anecdotally looked so much cooler under pressure last season as well. It definitely does seem like he's held onto the ball a little longer this year on some plays. Maybe there are problems with his underneath receivers?
This one goes: Jacoby Jones' crucial third down drops are killing the team, Andre Johnson has been hurt, and Joel Dreessen has also let a few leave the bread basket. I split all of Schaub's incompletions for the last three seasons up into a few different categories: Thrown Away, Dropped, and Defensed are self-explanatory. For pressure incompletions, I mean balls that are tipped at the line of scrimmage, as well as times the incompletion came because Schaub was hit as he threw. Finally, bad throws are just balls that Schaub didn't put on the money. If it doesn't add up totally, trust me, there are rarer types of incompletions. So, what do we have?
Those numbers are going haywire from the past two years, with a big increase in passes defensed and thrown away, and a slight bump in drops, but a corresponding drop off in bad throws. I think the increases go hand-and-hand with the extra pressure. You're more likely to force a ball to a covered receiver or throw the ball away when you're under duress. Drops are playing a factor here, but it doesn't look like it's a huge one. David Anderson and Jones are an interesting pair for Dennison's system: Jones is the better blocker and down-field threat, but Anderson is the better route-runner and catcher. For Jones to stay out there, they need more deep balls for him.
My own pet theory was that Rick Dennison has screwed up Kyle Shanahan's brilliant play-action game by throwing in way too many bootlegs. Does that hold up? Partially, but you might be more interested in another finding:
PAs have gone up, bootlegs have gone up, but the Y/A has gone down significantly. This, to me, seems like less of a problem with the bootlegs (look at how well they fared in '09 with them) and more a problem with the philosophy of Dennison. Dennison is a run-first guy; he was brought in to fix the run and he did just that. But instead of attacking downfield, the Texans seem very content to settle for medium gains when they run their play-action and not throw deep balls. The Texans have thrown just five PA balls this season that have gone 25+ yards in the air. Last year they had 22.
I'm not sure how much of this to attribute to Dennison's philosophy and how much to attribute to the pressure. It seems to me like Dennison is much more interested in ball control than long bombs, though. Perhaps he saw a few too many deep interceptions on tape last season. The problem with that is the longer you keep these guys on the field, the more likely they are to turn it over. So while it has good intentions in running the clock and keeping the defense off the field, it's not actually decreasing the turnover risk at all.
Gun to my head, I point to the extra pressure on Schaub as the main catalyst of his numbers being down a little. Dennison gets the silver medal, and Jacoby and Dreessen can share a crawfish medal.
But really, the more I go into it, the less convinced I am that Schaub is having a bad year or that this is a real problem. Look, the guy threw for 4,700 yards last year because we had no running game. Perhaps the expectations were just set a bit too high? For instance, let's look at the numbers Schaub is on pace for and the numbers that FO projected him to reach.
Seems pretty similar, yes?
Matt Schaub isn't the problem here. He's not an elite quarterback--he's a notch below that. He might have had his career year in 2009. But he's not holding the Texans back. That would be the defense.