Depo's got mad hops. - Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
We take an in depth look at Matt Schaub's decision making skills in Sunday's loss to the Vikings.
Fun Fact: I started this article as a Rookie Review for Week Sixteen. After watching the Texans get handled by the good-but-not-remotely-great Minnesota Vikings, at home no less, I wanted answers. I wanted to know why rookies that were playing well, like Brandon Harris and DeVier Posey, all of the sudden looked like hot garbage. What I found, however, was not what I expected. Posey looked fine, good even; both his own and the offense’s overall statistical performance wasn't even remotely his fault. Sure, the offensive line got blown off the ball and there were some key drops here and there by all of the receivers, but through my observations, I saw that the heart of the issue was overwhelmingly Matt Schaub’s recent trend of terrible decision-making. I have documented his propensity to force the ball to only Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, and Owen Daniels throughout the season, even as recently as last week, but never before have I seen this tendency manifest itself so heavily as it did in the Vikings game.
Observe. Houston is lined up in an offset ‘I’ formation. Minnesota is in a 4-3 "Over" front, meaning the strength of their defense is on the offense’s strong side. The strong safety is also down in the box to help against the run. Posey and Johnson are singled on the outside, with the corner covering Posey lined up to play press.
The ball is snapped, and all eight box defenders are hanging around for the run. The number two corner throws a good jam right off the line.
Posey slips his arm in between both arms of the corner and prepares to disengage from the defender while side-stepping to the right. Meanwhile, Schaub goes back to fake the hand off to Arian Foster.
A fraction of a second later, Posey is loose. He takes a half step to the right and prepares to take an inside lane to get his route back on track. His work as a gunner on special teams is really showing itself here.
The young receiver gets a great burst after shedding the jam and gets himself in position to beat the corner past the five yard zone where he can’t be contacted any further. Schaub has executed the fake and is now making his reads. Posey and Johnson are the only two downfield receivers.
While Johnson is open (by his standards), Posey is just getting into his break. The jam delayed him just enough that his route isn't fully developed by the time Johnson starts his cut into a post pattern. However, despite the press at the line of scrimmage, Posey was still able to get into position to run the post away from the corner behind him and underneath the deep safety for a huge gain. Schaub decided not to wait for the development of the route and chucked it to Johnson.
The ball was caught for some nice yardage, but what really aggravated me about this play was that Posey was in a much, much better position than Johnson to make a play. While #80 has a corner on top of him to make a tackle after a mere three extra yards, Posey has ten to fifteen yards of uninterrupted real estate ahead of him because the lone deep safety is worrying so much about Johnson. It was a huge play that was right there for the taking, but Schaub just couldn't buck his habit of feeding it to only one guy.
This particular play was one of the more egregious mistakes from Schaub this past Sunday. Houston is lined up in an empty set, with Johnson split wide, a bunch formation close, and Foster out wide to the other side. Minnesota shows a blitz with no less than seven defenders, but Schaub should have seen it was bait. Very rarely do defenses like the Vikings blitz that hard on third and ten, let alone when there is a bunch formation that has three options for a hot route right behind them. No sane defensive coordinator would even think of sending the house here, and yet Schaub read the coverage both before and after the snap as if he had half the Vikings' bench coming after him. Note: Posey is lined up as the lower left point of the triangle in the bunch formation.
The ball is snapped, and Minnesota predictably drops eight men into coverage, sending only a three man rush at Schaub. Foster starts on a go route to draw the corner and safety up field while Walter runs a drag route underneath him as a safety valve. Meanwhile, Johnson runs a quick in and Daniels runs an arrow route over the middle. Posey is tasked with a deep out route and is the primary "chain mover" read in this route combination.
Schaub’s pocket is clean. The Vikings have five defenders in zones underneath while the inside linebacker takes a deep middle zone. The two safeties cover the deep halves of the field. This is essentially a long yardage containment defense in the Tampa-2 playbook. Its primary weakness? Deep out routes. With most of the defenders either guarding underneath catch-and-run options or defending the long ball, nobody is available to cover the hook zones on the sidelines. Schaub, as an NFL quarterback for almost ten years, should know this.
While Schaub makes his reads, he should see Posey running cleanly by the underneath defenders in preparation to make his cut. He should just lob it up to the sideline because absolutely nobody is around to stop the catch from being made. He should be able to convert this down, but he doesn't.
Instead of throwing it to a wide open Posey who has nobody within ten yards in every direction, he tosses it to Andre Johnson on a quick in route…between two defenders…right in front of Posey. There isn't an excuse for this one, so I won’t even try to make it. Schaub simply didn't even bother reading Posey as his primary receiver and played for the field goal from the get-go. If you want a reason for the Texans' offense being absolutely anemic in recent weeks, there it is. Even when they have opportunities to have a big play, Schaub doesn't even look far enough down field to make them.
Here we see the Texans, on 2nd and 20, in an "Ace" package. Ace packages have one back and two tight ends, one on each side of the line. It’s generally a running formation, but when you have two capable receivers in James Casey and Owen Daniels on the line, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to bust it out for long yardage. Minnesota stacks seven defenders on the line, again showing a heavy blitz.
The Vikings only bring four rushers. I really want to highlight Posey’s route running prowess in this play (because I didn't get to do a full review of him this week). His opposing corner was playing off coverage, and Posey was able to get a great enough burst off the line to immediately collapse his defender’s hips inside to prepare to run with the go route. As soon as Posey saw the hips turn ever so slightly, he used it as an opportunity to break his route towards the sideline on an "out and up" double move. This is the exact same route that Andre Johnson scored on in the Texans-Bengals playoff game last season, and Posey ran it with just as much precision against the Vikings on Sunday.
Johnson is covered along the opposite sideline, but Casey, Daniels, and Posey are all close to getting open as their routes develop. In Posey’s case in particular, notice how his DB was thrown completely off balance by his excellent move to the outside and had to resort to helplessly throwing an arm out to try to slow him down.
Schaub is already releasing the ball despite having room to step up in the pocket and wait for his receivers’ routes to develop. Let’s examine his options: Andre Johnson – covered. James Casey – open, but he has three defenders around him and likely wouldn't get far enough to put a good dent in a 2nd and 20 situation. Owen Daniels – starting to break open, but he too would barely get any yardage as he was just a hot route in case the Vikings sent more rushers than the Texans' line could handle. DeVier Posey – beat his defender soundly on the double move and has no safety bracketing him over top. Which one of these sounds like the most appetizing options with twenty yards to convert? A covered receiver, two check downs, or a rookie who is about to be wide open with twenty five yards of open pasture in front of him?
If you said "Throwing it to Owen Daniels for six yards despite Posey having nobody around him," then you must be Matt Schaub, and you must love being in 3rd and 14 situations.
And losing football games.
If you weren't angry enough after reading most of this article, wait until you see this pathetic throw-in-the-towel play courtesy of the Houston Texans. It’s 3rd and 8 in the fourth quarter and the Texans are in a shotgun single-wing formation, which is good for both running off tackle and moving the ball down field through the air if they need to. Minnesota again shows blitz, with two 'backers up the middle and a balanced line on either side.
The Texans release both tight ends down field, along with Ben Tate slipping up through the line to act as a check down. The Vikings only send three rushers and drop eight into coverage yet again. Posey’s corner is playing a deep third zone and flips his hips to stack on top of his route.
Posey starts to break into his hitch just as Tate comes up through the line to get into his route. Both tight ends are also about to be wide open down field.
So, Daniels is open on a deep in, Casey is open on a fly route, and Posey just got open on a hitch on the sideline. According to Matt Schaub, when it’s 3rd and 8 and you’re down big in the 4th quarter, it makes a whole lot of sense to ignore your open receivers and check the ball down to Tate. It also doesn't matter that said checkdown is in front of no less than four defenders, and will only gain two yards with eight needed to convert. Yes, Matt, you deserved to be booed for this one.
I can accept a loss to the Vikings as long as it’s because of Adrian Peterson. At least it makes sense to lose to Purple Jesus because everybody loses to him eventually. It’s practically one of the rules of the sport. However, what I simply can’t accept is losing one of the most important games in the most important season in franchise history because of Matt Schaub not being able to do his job as well as Christian Freakin’ Ponder. It’s one thing to miss a read on an open receiver, but to ignore your reads completely week after week? That’s just inexcusable. If Schaub does not fix this new trend, and fix it quickly, the Texans might not make it past the first weekend of the postseason, let alone make a run to a Super Bowl title.
Note: For the record, Posey had a very, very good game despite what it looked like on the live broadcast. If Schaub actually threw him the ball when he was open (which was a lot), Posey would have had a monster stat line. Brandon Harris, however, had just as terrible a game as you probably thought he did when viewing the broadcast. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt considering his recent great performances.