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Kubiak Konundrum: Year in Review

As everyone begins to look forward to the draft, we're going to take one last look back on the Kubiak Konundrum, at the year that was. Undoubtedly, some fans will never will embrace Kubes no matter what he does. I even heard some talk show callers saying before the Ravens game that Kubiak needed to go even if the Texans won the Super Bowl. Such calls make you know their true fandom lies in their own "genius" and not the well being of the Texans as a franchise.

However, here we have had a refreshing group of commenters, who have been willing to take an honest look at evaluating the coaching decisions. Sure, that whole newfangled winning thing makes the discourse a lot more pleasant. We didn't have to pull out our hair over halfback passes. The ongoing Kubiak-is-challenged-on-challenges joke reared its unseemly head a few times early in the season, but a winning streak then challenged that prevailing notion. Whether to kick field goals of a certain lengths proved troublesome, but that issue was as much on the unreliable kicking as the coach.

Mainly, I want to reiterate two points I made late in the season about what I have taken from the Kubiak Konundrum experiment.

1) Most game management calls, when analyzing in game and also after the fact, proved to live much more in the gray than most people think. For a stark majority of the decisions, whether the call was even a good or bad one was up for debate. The results-based evaluation of said decisions lived and died based on an inch here, a facemask there, a missed or made block, and headache-inducing permutations of alternate histories. In short, this ain't easy. It's not easy to evaluate, and it's certainly not as easy for the coaches as the armchair/Madden quarterbacks make it seem.

2) Wade Phillips gets a lot of credit this year. Deservedly. However, viewed from a different angle, the addition of Phillips highlighted just how handicapped Kubiak was in previous years. Kubiak absolutely holds blame for his previous choices at defensive coordinator, but by taking a little of that power away (which a new coach should have never had in the first place) and forcing him to employ a defensive guru as a brother in arms, Bob McNair and Rick Smith finally put Kubiak in a position to concentrate on the things at which he excels. Furthermore, the lessening of the constant pressure of playing with a pasta strainer defense allowed Kubiak to come into his own from a game management standpoint. Perhaps that analysis falls a bit into the subjective category that the Konundrum has tried to avoid, but these eyes saw Kubes take great strides as a coach, not simply for the obvious fact that a better defense provides better win/loss results, but also because Kubes wasn't fighting an uphill battle on the sidelines.

Enough prosthelytizing, let's look at the year that was. Thanks to all the readers who have lurked and especially the ones who kept coming back to weigh in. It was fun and enlightening.

First, a look at the final season totals. Click on the game links for that day's write-up.

1=terrible call, 2=negative, 3=neutral, 4=positive, and 5=outstanding.

1: 1 play.
2: 10 plays.
3: 16 plays.
4: 12 plays.
5: 2 plays.

As I stated, an impressive majority of game decisions were not clearly terrible or outstanding; they fell into the middle three categories.

Now, for the ups and downs game by game. If you're still with me, I'm assuming you were there all along the way. So, I won't bring up the plays in great detail but instead will comment on them with the grand scheme of the season in perspective.

Game 1 vs the Colts
The blowout win resulted in no plays for the scorecard. The only two gripes were of the my-chili-con-queso-didn't-come-with-enough-chips variety. The queso was still amazing! Still, some people seemed to think Kubiak's playcalling didn't rub the Colts' faces in the mud enough. Conversely, others thought we left Matt Schaub in too long. Most of us just reveled in the first brilliant signs of Wade's defense and the Colts' demise.

Game 2 vs the Dolphins: two "2" decisions, two "4s"
As the Texans continued to get their feet wet and feel out the season, so did the Konundrum with a dubious, short-lived decision to try to name the evaluation categories. The game itself saw two potential, albeit questionable, challenge opportunities missed, as well as solid end of half clock management and a judicious use of a timeout to get Ben Tate in the game on third and 1 instead of Steve Slaton. Wait, Slaton was on our team this year? How far a team can come in the midst of one measly season.

Game 3 vs the Saints: two "3s"
A couple of flip-a-coin timeout decisions. One was not called late in the first half when we could have perhaps gotten more time to attempt a last second score. A timeout might have tempted Sean Payton to go for it on fourth down. The other was called when we had the ball and might have needed to save it for later, but getting the right play call on an important third down took precedence. A middle-of-the-road game management performance. If only our fourth quarter secondary would have been the same.

Game 4 vs the Steelers: one "3", one "4"
The big play here was the decision to punt from the Steelers' 46 on 4th and 1 with a seven point lead in the 4th. A prime example of how having a stout defense drastically changes how we view the coaching decisions. This year, either decision would have most likely resulted in victory. Last year, we would have needed a premature Gatorade dump to put out the fire on Kubiak's well coiffed hair as Ben Roethlisberger torched our secondary.

Game 5 vs the Raiders: two "2s", two "3s", two "4s"
The game with the most plays that we evaluated this season. We had a decision not to kick a long field goal, a decision to go moderately conservative at the end of the half, a failed challenge on the Joel Dreessen non-catch (it was a catch!), and a couple of fourth down dilemmas. The one we'll always remember is the inability to get two plays off at the end of the game. Schaub should have known to throw it away, but Kubiak should have been screaming it in his ear as he trotted up the field to take the snap.

Game 6 vs the Ravens: one "2", three "3s"
The big one here was the failed attempt on fourth and 1 from the Ravens' 20 in the first quarter. It certainly backfired here, but keep this one in mind . . .

Game 7 vs BESFs: one "2", one "3", one "4"
I was surprised when I went back that we looked at so many decisions from this avalanche. Maybe I was still simply euphoric from the destruction of Bud's Evil Army. In all honesty, I was nitpicking here and there wasn't that much to discuss other than how Arian Foster's grass must have tasted to the Titans as he churned up yard after yard and kicked up dirt in their faces.

Game 8 vs Jaguars: one "2", one "3", one "4"
Kubiak fails on two more challenges to start 0-3 on the season. Mass hysteria throughout the Twitterverse ensues as fans and media members raced to cite Kubiak's challenge record, lament his skills at said decision making, and come up with the funniest line about it that no one would remember the next day anyway. No BRB writers were hurt in this confusion; however, Tim might have sprained an ankle as he tripped on one of BFD's jokes.

In all honesty, these challenges led to my mantra that all challenges are not created equally. Risk vs. reward should be a major determinate. In the first challenge of a Kevin Walter's non-catch, the chance of success was low, but the reward was high (maintaining possession). In the second, the risk was non-existent (fourteen point lead and timeouts to spare).

Game 9 vs Browns: two "4s"
Kubiak's best game of the season to this point, at least by our scorecard. The main decision came in the form of a . . . wait for it . . . Kubiak challenge victory. Rereading the day's post, the call easily could have warranted a "5," as an overturn didn't initially appear likely; however, I apparently downgraded the decision from brilliant because, much like the week before, this challenge had no risk involved, which gave Kubiak more of an impetus to take a chance.

Game 10 vs Bucs: one "1", one "5"
After spending all season within the ranges of moderate decision making, Kubiak made two of the season's three extreme decisions in the same game--one positively tremendous and one truly awful. The former occurred when he successfully challenged a Bucs interception near the goal line, with that success directly leading to three points. The latter occurred when Kubiak challenged a scoring play resulting in an automatic 15 yard penalty. Luckily, the Texans already had the game in hand by the time of the gaffe, and the day went down as a glowing success. Until the press conference the next day.

Game 11 vs Jags: N/A
Because of a lack of overtly questionable calls and my honeymoon, the decision-evaluating part of the Konundrum went on hiatus. Feel free to click the link for a discussion of how to treat the season with T.J. Yates at the helm, as well as a look into how much the Texans have seared a place into our hearts.

Game 12 vs Falcons: one "2", two "fours", one "five"
This game held two memorable decisions. The first was the challenge of the Yates fumble, which the peanut gallery convinced me to rule a good decision, even though the refs inexplicably didn't see it that way. The league office agreed with us.

The second play saw Kubiak's gutsiest decision of the year when he went for a fourth and 1 late in a tie game, and the Texans converted. The heightened game situation and subsequent victory ensured that the conversion more than made up for the failed fourth and 1 attempt earlier in the season from the Ravens game.

Game 13 vs Bengals: one "2", one "3"
The game saw the continuance of the dilemma that would plague Kubiak all the way to the playoff loss: what to do on fourth and short with a possible field goal attempt of around 50 yards. Here, he chose to forgo the field goal, which I like an idiot gave him a negative grade for.

The other play occurred when Kubiak failed on a challenge for the second week in a row on a play the league would later announce was mishandled by the refs. No, Arian Foster didn't fumble either.

Game 14 vs Panthers: one "4"
Not much decision making in this game. One issue of note was the Konundrum community refuting MDC's assertion that the Texans should have gone for a fourth and 8 rather than kicking a third quarter field goal.

Game 15 vs Colts: one "4"
Some people wanted the Texans to go for a fourth and 2 with five minutes left in the fourth rather than kicking the field goal that put us up four. The rest just cursed Kareem Jackson.

Game 16 vs BESFs: N/A
Nothing to see here. Move along.

Game 17 vs Bengals: one "3"
The questioning of coaches was left to Bengals fans after this one. Instead, we just got to revel in the glory of a playoff victory.

Game 18 vs Ravens: two "2s", one "3"
The decision to kick a 50 yard field goal certainly backfired when the attempt by Neil Rackers slapped off the cross bar and had us all metaphorically slapping our foreheads. But, as it was 4th and 6, it certainly wasn't an easy call. The decision to have Yates throw for the end zone at the end of the game, rather than first attempting to grab a first down and more yardage, certainly didn't work out either but most likely didn't change anything. I thought it was defensible and it BARELY eked out a "2" rather than a "3" in our poll. Instead of worrying about Kubiak's decisions, we were left to wonder what if our QB1 hadn't been Haynesworthed. I certainly will be thinking about it constantly two Sundays from now. What if . . . what if . . . what if . . .

So, on the season, we saw Kubiak make three more positive decisions than negative (one more positive than negative of the extreme variety). We saw him win two challenges and lose five, but with league office adjusted information, he should have actually (improbably?) had a 4-3 record. And he went for two big time fourth and 1's, converting one of them. I think every Texans fan without an agenda would agree Kubiak made great strides.

Going back through these games, it was clear that Kubiak didn't stick to a formula. Sometimes he would kick a field goal from certain distances and sometimes he would punt. Sometimes he would go for it on fourth and 1, sometimes he wouldn't. Since some of these occurrences were in at least similar game situations, my takeaway is that Kubiak bases a good deal of his decision making on "feel." How does his kicker feel? How did he look in warmups? How is our line holding against theirs? Do we have a play we feel really good about? How does our D match up against their O if we fail?

Some of you might call those things obvious factors to weigh when making a decision. Other, more stat-based folks might cringe at the thought of a coach using feel, especially one as under-accomplished as Kubiak. I'm not here to judge that characteristic, rather to simply acknowledge its presence-- this year, Kubiak tended to coach by the moment. That style certainly is harder to defend when losing than one which never wavers from a statistical or even philosophical perspective.

But, when you win, nobody cares.

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