HOUSTON - OCTOBER 09: Quarterback Matt Schaub #8 of the Houston Texans rolls out looking for a receiver during a football game against the Oakland Raiders at Reliant Stadium on October 9, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
One of the hardest things about being an NFL fan is that compared to other sports, players have such a short lifespan with which to truly create a legacy for themselves. Andre Johnson, one of the greatest receivers in NFL history, has played 119 games in nine seasons. Or about what (searching for relevant Astro ... searching for relevant Astro ... target not found) Lance Berkman played in a season. With less information to go on, the opinions don't differ wildly on players who are obviously great or bad. Nobody would be able to call Johnson bad without being laughed out of the room, and nobody would be able to say that Kareem Jackson has been great while keeping a straight face.
The players in between those two classes? Those are up for debate.
Matt Schaub and these current Texans have been such a perfect blend of mediocrity over the past five years that Starbucks could buy the formula and start producing great-smelling java with a bitter aftertaste in all billion of its locations tomorrow. 3-2 again after five games, yet another chance blown to go three games above .500 for the first time in franchise history, and a possible long-term Mario Williams injury added to the mix.
But I don't want to clutter your head with statistics. I am pretty sure that I could win an argument on whether Matt Schaub's statistics warrant better treatment than he got yesterday. I'm also pretty sure that doesn't matter to you. I'm going to toss aside the dreadfully boring and played out "Can this guy win a Super Bowl?" question, which conveniently ignores the fact that quarterbacks are not teams in and of themselves. Lets go with the other theoretical question I hear a lot: "Do you trust Matt Schaub to win a game in the fourth quarter?"
And I stop. Because I've seen both sides of the coin. The incredible comeback to tie up the 2010 Baltimore game, and the game-losing interception that was returned for a touchdown to end it. The 75-yard drive to win in Green Bay in 2008, and the ... I guess you'd call it a pass-ish thing(?) that lost this Sunday's game. When Schaub lofts a ball that requires the TV cameras to strafe in the fourth quarter, my sphincter does not clench in anticipation of failure. That likely isn't a popular sentiment in this city right now, but it is the truth. It doesn't mean I'm gung-ho excited about my chances, like I would be if say, Aaron Rodgers was our quarterback. It does mean that I expect some competently-thrown balls and a good chance of advancing the ball down the field.
I have a two-part theory about Matt Schaub's production compared to his respect. They both revolve around a typical thread: square pegs in round holes.
As I posited to you earlier, I believe there are players that, without much effort, we can clearly identify as great and awful. Schaub falls between those two spectrums. He makes some great throws, but isn't obviously great. He suffers a bit because of the way so much of the NFL is win or lose: what do you make of the spaces between that? The 8-8 seasons. The subtle teases of obvious talent that have yet to consummate in a playoff berth. A guy who clearly isn't the problem, but may also not be the answer. NFL quarterbacks get grouped in to classes: the franchise quarterback, the young quarterback who is developing, Brett Favre (the gunslinger), the clear backup, and most importantly for my purposes, the game manager. Matt Schaub fits none of those classes. He's better than a game manager, but because he's not completely elite, fans also don't trust him enough to know him as the franchise quarterback. Matt Schaub is the blandest outlier in NFL history. An ice cream cake at a kid's birthday. Someone who has to be figured out and worked around, not just relied upon.
And that blandness doesn't just stop there: it goes on to his skillset. Schaub doesn't have the pocket awareness of a Drew Brees. Hell, he may not even have the pocket awareness of Mark Sanchez. He doesn't have the obvious deep ball arm that someone like Joe Flacco has. He doesn't audible players around like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. He isn't hard to bring down like Ben Roethlisberger. And, honestly, he lacks the personality of a player like Philip Rivers. Schaub's background and interviews read like a James Bond dossier -- if he were a British spy assigned to play quarterback competently, shun the spotlight, and report back to his superiors, nobody would be questioning him.
It's the lack of a true Schaub trademark that I think hurts his brand with the fans. Nobody can point to one obviously great thing that Schaub does better than anyone on the field -- I would say he probably has the best play-action fake in the business, but nobody really cares about that. If you don't have your own calling card in the NFL, it will be minted for you -- and in this case, the records and the turnovers have defined Schaub more than his individual statistics and stellar accuracy.
Football fans without trust in their quarterback, much like the saying goes about women who can't trust their fathers, are people who can't really trust anyone. If yesterday's game changed that for you, and you're ready to give up on Schaub, fine. I get it. I don't agree with the sentiment that the Texans can't win with him, but I can see where you are coming from. His stock didn't suffer in my eyes, because for me, it has always been comfortably parked between Game Manager and Franchise Quarterback -- it's a level that, for lack of a better term, I like to call "Matt Schaub."
As for his performance in yesterday's game, all I have to say is that the number of quarterbacks who could muster 8.2 yards per attempt despite a total lack of a run game, a completely overmatched offensive line, no star receivers, and a backup tight end masquerading as his third-best option, is extremely small.
The number of quarterbacks who could do all that and lose is even smaller.