My hand grasped the metal handle, pulled back and clicked the door open. I finally set my feet on the pavement of my driveway after a hectic drive back to San Marcos. I fought through a closed exit ramp on I-35 North, the tail end of a car wreck clean up, and I had finally made it home at 7:23.
"Do you have your keys?" I questioned my brother.
I held my hand in the air like I was about to receive a high five and the keys fluttered my way. With a squeeze, they were grasped in my hand. The car remained purring like a tabby cat as I scurried to my side of the duplex like a deer scrambling across a hill country road. Right as I entered the house, the remote was glued to my hand and the television booped and beeped to signal it was on. 4-Enter and I was greeted by Michelle Tafoya giving a pregame report while flags and cheerleaders were still peppered across the field.
"Good. I should have enough time," I thought.
"Are you coming with me or not?" I hollered at my blood.
"Eh, I really want to, but I need to study for this test," he repeated while scratching at his chest.
"I'll see you later."
Just as quickly as I arrived I was gone like Tatsu from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Oooze after dropping a smoke bomb. My trusty steed awaited me. I threw my bag in the car and headed off to my friend's house. I turned the knob of the car stereo to the right and Marc Vandermeer greeted me with his crisp play by play. I was mortified and I nudged the accelerator farther down towards the floor. His voice was quickly suffocated by the murmur of static as I turned my steering wheel to the right. My entire body moved up and I strained for any semblance of his voice.
"Come on, come on, come on," I pleaded like a madman. The car swerved back to the left and out of nowhere Vandermeer's voice came seeping out of the speakers. He stated it was 3rd and 6, and that a wide receiver just motioned across the field. The play was described as Matt Schaub went back to pass, threw to Andre Johnson, and INTERCEPTED! He added it was Matt Schaub's fourth pick six in a row.
"Is this real life?" I wondered. My soul crept out of my body as I stared down upon myself in third person view. The driver's face was solemn, staring intently ahead with his face crumpled. Slowly a smile cracked his zipped mouth. Slowly it started to cackle a cacophony of demonic laughter. Slowly it faded into silence. I floated back and morphed into myself, put the car in park, turned the key to the left, grabbed my bag and headed into the house.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: These interceptions returned for touchdowns are unsustainable. Despite the emotion and anguish they bring, there's no way they can keep happening and they shouldn't. This four game run is one of the silliest things I've ever seen during my time watching the game. There's a reason why this is the first time this has happened in the history of the NFL. The reason being, things like this don't and shouldn't happen; pick-sixes are usually random events of bad luck. That being said, we have seen multiple problems with Matt Schaub these past five games.
The foremost problem with Schaub this season has been his lack of arm strength. Until they put sensors on footballs, and based on current technology this should have happened by now, we have no idea exactly how much his velocity has dropped or if he has been throwing at Tim Wakefield levels his entire career. Schaub simply can't get much on the football. He can throw the ball 20-30 yards down the field somewhat accurately, but he puts nothing on the ball. His passes float to receivers like a balloon from Supercuts. They don't zip. Rarely do you see a pass up the middle where you are shocked and exclaim, "Wow, what a great pass!". Most of his "great" passes have been a result of him tossing the ball up to Andre Johnson or DeAndre Hopkins and letting them go up and get the rebound over a smaller corner. Two of his pick-sixes have been the result of not being able to put much on the ball and another factor to be named later.
Daryl Smith's and Tramaine Brock's are perfect examples of Schaub's velocity problem. On both interceptions, Schaub had a chance to get the ball to the receiver, but he simply couldn't get the ball there with enough heat. Both passes gave the defender a longer amount of time to jump in front of the receiver. Most quarterbacks with stronger arms who make these throws would have seen them either completed or batted down harmlessly. Since Schaub's arm is weak, it gives the defender an extra half second or so needed to get in front of a football that otherwise would have been impossible to intercept. What's disconcerting is that Schaub still tries to make these throws where he has to fit the ball through a perfect window. He keeps attempting passes he can't complete and keeps getting burned on them. Most of his interceptions and incompletions are the result of him playing outside himself.
Despite his inability to put much on the ball, Schaub should understand his limitations and be able to adjust his game accordingly. There have been numerous quarterbacks who have been able to play with a flimsy arm. Alex Smith is having success this season, Peyton Manning's arm isn't the same as it used to be, and Chad Pennington played well enough in the past. The underlying trend between all of these players is that they make or made smart decisions. Schaub, on the other hand, continues to make decisions a drunk playing Madden wouldn't make. It's like Kubiak gave him a lobotomy before the season started.
He consistently watches one guy from the snap to the throw. I joked in the game preview a pick-six wouldn't happen as long as he doesn't stare down Andre Johnson like Pennywise the clown watching a child from a storm drain. In a cruel twist of fate, he did exactly that on the third play of the game. When watching the sideline view, you can see open receivers; Schaub is looking the other way and not progressing through his reads. Part of this is Andre Johnson's fault for being open every play, which has led to Schaub developing bad habits. When Schaub was playing at his peak the past few years, it seemed that he was able to always find a guy wide open. Now I think it was more of a result of Kubiak's offense than Schaub finding the right man or great routes ran by the wide receiver.
Remember all of the play-action boots and rolls where there was at least one guy hanging out in the middle of the field? Where did they all go? All of these "stare at one guy; you know he's going to be wide open" plays have vanished this season. What I believe has happened is Kubiak kept running the same plays for the past six years or so and defenses have figured out exactly what he's doing. On the Richard Sherman pick-six, they knew what was coming. On all three of Schaub's rollouts, there was a blitz off the edge and someone in his face; Sherman even said that he knew what they were running and that he picked off the same pass in practice.
The only thing I saw differently from last year compared to this year's offense is the use of the empty backfield more frequently and some cool variations in the zone run game. Even then, those might not have been innovations, but simply me discovering them thanks to the NFL All-22. These wide open receivers with nobody around them have not been around this season, and now Schaub has problems going through his reads.
Kubiak can blame or bench Schaub all he wants, but he's part of the problem as well. His offense has grown as predictable as the plot of an episode of What Not to Wear. Someone dresses poorly, they make fun of their wardrobe, teach the guest on the show what to do, give them a credit card to buy whatever they want, hair, make up and ta-da, they're beautiful. Wash, rinse, repeat. The dilemma is that not every coach in the NFL is as intelligent as Romeo Crennel. Most can innovate and pick up on what the offense does. Since Houston has remained stagnant, an inept offense follows. Four doesn't equal seven, but four plus something does. In every problem, there is more than one variable. In this case, it's Schuab + Kubiak = 2-3.
Let's take these two problems and add the fact that the offensive line has been mediocre at best. When Schaub has been given time, he's been able to make plays (see the second half of SD & TEN, first half of SEA). However, this season the offensive line hasn't played as well as it has in the past. Duane Brown had some problems against San Diego, but he's been very good other than that. Chris Myers and Brandon Brooks have been stellar even if Brooks has made some mistakes picking up blitzes. That leaves Derek Newton and Wade Smith. Newton is an asset when run blocking, but he pass blocks like an 8th grader (Read this if you want to learn more; let's not make this 10,000 words) and Wade Smith can only cut block at this point in his career. Schaub has made poor decisions this season, but it can also be attributed to his mental clock speeding up. In the past, he was used to being given time to make the correct read and find the open man. This cushion and margin of error has evaporated quicker than a forgotten rubbing alcohol spill. Schaub knows he has a limited amount of time, so he forces throws at the first guy that looks kind of open. Consequently, he misses open players and makes moronic decisions.
All of these problems have culminated in one frothing cauldron of quarterback poison. The secret ingredient has just been added--a lack of confidence. I wish ESPN employed Dr. Cal Lightman from Lie to Me to go over Schaub's body language. See here how his hands are at his sides? Look at that slouch and how nobody wants to sit next to him on the bench. All signs are pointing to a man who's just mentally beaten and lacks confidence in himself. I don't remember him smiling once this year. He looks like the Texas Rangers did in the first two weeks in September. Where's this smiling joyous fella? Schaub desperately needs to head to Dr. Evil's lunar base and steal his mojo back before it's too late. I felt sick watching all of the shots of him on the sideline with his helmet unbuckled and his hands grabbing at the neck of his jersey. He reminded me of myself, who as a fat, clumsy 7th grader couldn't find the field. I ended up spending the majority my games following the coach around praying he would see me and put me in. What Schaub needs is pick-me-up, some type of slump-busting team like the Jaguars where he can throw three touchdowns and zero interceptions to get him feeling on top of the world again.
These past five weeks have seemed like a blur as intense comebacks turned into disappointing play and lapses in memory. Matt Schaub suddenly turned from a good quarterback into Chad Henne. I had no idea how we ended up here. While lying in bed Sunday night, I wondered if there was a player who had this type of downward spiral appear out of nothing. I tossed and turned and chewed on it in my nightmares that night. I woke up the next morning and still nothing. When I opened my computer, I received this message from my friend, a lifelong Panthers fan:
Finally, it all clicked. All I have said in these last thousands of words is that Matt Schaub is slowly turning into Jake Delhomme after downing a Polyjuice Potion with his hair in it. They are both guys who played for Super Bowl contenders that utilized the perfect system to mask their weaknesses. Schaub and Delhomme are both "non-elite" quarterbacks who were unknown coming out of college. They toiled as backups until they received their chance to start in the league and made the most of their opportunity.
Delhomme became the starting quarterback at age 28 and lost his job in Carolina at age 34; Schaub became the starter at age 26 and could now possibly lose his job at age 32. It seems both had a peak of around six years until the Jenga tower came tumbling down. Each had an incredible defense on the other side of the ball and a running attack that could win games without them having to throw a single pass when the team was at its peak. The two also had a Hall of Fame wide receiver they could throw the ball up to who could bail them out. Now Schaub is starting to complete the final phase of the transformation with his play this season. Don't believe me? Let's take a look at a timeline of Jake Delhomme's career from 2007 to his retirement in 2011.
In Week Three against the Atlanta Falcons, Delhomme injured his elbow in a duel against Joey Harrington, who played the game of his life and went 31/44 for 361 yards and 2 touchdowns. With two minutes left in the third quarter, Delhomme went down in pain after being hit on his throwing arm. They would end up winning after David Carr came in with the score tied 17-17 and led the team to a 27-20 victory. Up to this point in the season, Jake was starting to play the best football in his career and had a stat line of 55/86 (64%) with 8 touchdowns and 1 interception. After the game, he had this to say:
David Carr would take over the starting reins and threw for 155 yards and completed 19 of his 41 passes in a 20-7 loss to Tampa Bay. He was also sacked three times, threw one interception, and one touchdown. No matter how badly you try to escape David Carr, he somehow remains attached to the franchise. The previous week, head coach John Fox said Delhomme wouldn't need surgery, but after the game he claimed it was possible and there wasn't a timetable for his return. David Carr would start the next game, but would be knocked out a few possessions after a Will Smith hit that caused a spinal cord injury. Carr came back in the game and led the Panthers to a 16-13 comeback win, but would miss time due to injury. The day after the game, Delhomme elected to have elbow surgery on October 8th and ends up missing the rest of the season.
The Panthers did not trust Matt Moore (who would?), so they went and signed Vinny Testaverde to fill in. At 44 years old, he became the oldest quarterback to win a game and played well, despite missing time here and there because of various nagging injuries. Brett Favre said,"I don't think I could do it, or play as well as he did at 44," after a 31-17 victory over the Panthers in Week 11. Favre would only play until he was 41. Fox spent the entire second half of the season playing quarterback roulette with Carr, Testaverde, and Moore while dodging questions whether he would return as the head coach the following season or not. Despite the dark cloud hanging over the season and possible firings, the Panthers managed to win 7 games. No drastic changes were made.
Jake Delhomme would come back from elbow surgery and become the team's starter from day one, despite blistering performances by his replacements the year before. In Week 1, Delhomme would throw a game-winning touchdown pass against the Chargers with no time remaining. He bobbled the snap like the suitcase in a Money in the Bank match, but he still managed to hang on. He then he stepped up in the pocket, pump faked, and fired a laser in between two defenders to Dante Rosario. Watch the link. It's a beautiful thing to see and his celebration is priceless. In this game, there were even questions regarding helmet to helmet hits and roughing the passer penalties changing the outcome of the game. It's been five years and the NFL still has no idea what they are doing when it comes to officiating these plays.
Led by a dominating run defense and powerful rushing attack, Delhomme who would do either just enough or rise to the occasion and win games. Everything was going wonderfully until the Panthers entered Raymond James Stadium to play the Bucs in Week 6. They were beat 27-3 and here we see the first glimpses of Delhomme starting to have problems with decision making and arm strength. He threw three interceptions; all were deflected off of his receivers' hands. He also underthrew a 48 yard pass to Steve Smith that would have gone for a 72 yard touchdown.
The following week, Delhomme played one of the worst games of his career. He went 7/27 (26%) for 72 yards and threw four interceptions for the third time in his career. This stat would quickly increase the following season. The next week, they played Oakland and John Fox quickly changed the game plan to help his quarterback. The Panthers focused solely on the run game and ran for 264 yards on 31 carries, which amounts to 7.3 yards a carry. It was a team record at the time. Delhomme hung out, handed the ball off, and completed 10 out of his 19 passes for 102 yards and 1 touchdown.
A few weeks later, Carolina needed a win over the Bucs in Week 14 to take the lead in the division on Monday Night Football. They ran the ball 37 times for 299 yards (8.08 yards a carry). Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams would have two touchdowns each. They kept Delhomme under wraps and had him throw the ball only 20 times. The next week, they lost to the 11-3 Giants and the chance for the top seed in the NFC, but the following week they would clinch the division thanks to a game-winning field goal by John Kasay as the clock ran to 0:00.
The divisional round was played in Charlotte against the Arizona Cardinals, who upset Matt Ryan and the Falcons in his first career playoff game. The Panthers would go up 7-0 after a Stewart touchdown run, but after falling behind 17-7, they were forced to rely on Delhomme's arm. Jake threw 5 interceptions, 1 touchdown, lost a fumble and completed 17 of his 34 passes for 205 yards. They went from cheering in ecstasy when Delhomme ran out from the tunnel to hating every fiber of his being by halftime. The Panthers would lose 33-13 and the Cardinals would head to the Super Bowl after beating the Eagles 32-25 in the NFC championship.
In the offseason, the Panthers rewarded Delhomme with a five-year, 42.5 million dollar extension that would keep the 34 year old quarterback under contract until 2014. Delhomme had this to say, "It's all about being able to know that I can finish my career here in Carolina. That's what I've wanted, all I've ever wanted." He would go on to play one more season with the Carolina Panthers.
In Week One, the Panthers played Philly and the problems that plagued Delhomme in the Cardinals game showed up again to start the season. In a 38-10 loss at home, he had five turnovers (four interceptions and one fumble lost), and was 14/34 with 83 yards. An avalanche of boos led to Josh McCown replacing him. McCown completed one out of six passes for two yards and was eventually benched for Matt Moore. John Fox was asked if Delhomme would keep his starting job and hinted that he would. That doesn't sound like Gary Kubiak this week at all, does it?
In Weeks 3-6, the Panthers would lose to the Cowboys 7-21, beat the Redskins 20-17, and narrowly beat the Bucs 28-21. In the victory over the winless Bucs, Delhomme threw for 65 yards, completed 9 of his 17 passes and threw two interceptions (one was a pick-six to tie the game at 21). The Panthers ran the ball 48 times for 267 yards and three touchdowns. On their final touchdown drive to win the game, they handed the ball off 15 times and threw the ball once while facing nine guys in the box.
The next few weeks brought a few interesting games that are worth mentioning solely for entertainment value. In Week 7 against the Bills, the Panthers lost 9-20 while outgaining the Bills 425-167 and held them to only nine first downs. Delhomme threw three interceptions to add to his box score of 27/44 309 yards. The following week, the Panthers beat the Cardinals in a rematch from last year's playoffs. Kurt Warner was intercepted five times, fumbled once and was out-dueled by Jake, who completed 7 of his 14 passes for 90 yards an one touchdown in a 34-21 win.
The Delhomme era would come to an end after a loss to the New York Jets moved Carolina's record to 4-7 and killed their playoff hopes. Jake threw 34 passes, completed 14 for 130 yards, threw four interceptions, and would be forced to sit out the rest of the season because he broke a finger in this game. He was also embarrassed by the future of the Jets, Mark Sanchez (13/17, 154 Yards, 1 TD). After the game, he had this to say, "You see what happens when I play smart. I don't know how to explain it, but it works." In the 2009 season, Delhomme completed 174 out of 321 passes (55.5%) for 2,015 yards, threw 8 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, fumbled 6 times, and had a QBR of 31.1. Carolina would start Matt Moore for the rest of the season. MOore would lead the team to four wins, one loss and an 8-8 record.
On March 5th, Delhomme was cut a year after he received that enormous extension to finish his career as the quarterback of the Panthers. They owed him $12.5 million in guaranteed money and still cut him. Eight days later, he signed with the Browns to be the starter and double-dipped after getting paid by two different teams. The Panthers would draft Jimmy Clausen the next month, have a 2-14 season, fire John Fox, and draft Cam Newton with the number one pick of the 2011 draft.
In Week One, Delhomme would start and complete 20 of his 37 passes for 220 yards and throw one touchdown against one interception, but would miss time because of an ankle injury. In a very Brownish season, Cleveland would start him, Seneca Wallace, and Colt McCoy in a 5-11 campaign. Delhomme's stats were 93/149, 872 yards, 2 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 7 fumbles, and a QBR of 26.4.
On July 7th, 2011, Delhomme was cut by the Browns and saved the Browns $2.3 million on their cap. He would go on to retire in the offseason and spend his time staying in shape, training his racehorses, and videotaping himself reenacting Super Bowl XXXVIII . Eventually he would get the call to play professional football by a team decimated with quarterback injuries, the Houston Texans. 17 days after losing Matt Schaub to a Lisfranc injury and 3 days after Matt Leinart broke his collarbone, the Texans signed Delhomme to back up rookie T.J. Yates.
He would stand around on the sideline offering "veteran leadership" until he received his chance to play on January 1, 2012 against the Tennessee Titans. Yates left the game in the second quarter and Delhomme came in to try to squash the Titans' playoff hopes. Down 23-16, Delhomme would get the chance to win the game after the Texans recovered a fumble with 1:49 remaining. On 3rd and goal, Delhomme would hit Bryant Johnson on a drag route in the back of the end zone, reminiscent of the one to he completed to Dante Rosario four years before. This one wasn't a game-winner, but it made the game 22-23. Down by one, Houston decided to go for two and laughed at the possibility of overtime in a game that was meaningless for the Texans. A Joel Dreessen false start moved them back five yards, so Delhomme would then need seven yards to win the game. The snap fluttered over his head, the Titans recovered, and Delhomme never saw the field again. He would officially retire after the season and head back to the bayou. After football, Delhomme would go on to become an investment banker.
In an article titled The Rise and Fall of Jake Delhomme, the author Andrew Sweat had this to say.
Jake was simply not himself in 2009, his psyche and body were just not the same. His on-field confidence seemed to have been replaced by hesitancy and self-doubt after piling up a massive amount of turnovers. He looked physically limited and his arm strength was lacking in his surgically-repaired elbow.
Now let's change it up a bit...
Matt was simply not himself in 2013, his psyche and body were just not the same. His on-field confidence seemed to have been replaced by hesitancy and self-doubt after throwing four straight pick sixes. He looked physically limited and his arm strength suffered because of his surgically-repaired foot (I have no idea if this is what is wrong with Schaub).
It's amazing how similar both of these situations are and how easily you can sub one name out for the other.
Let's compare the regular season numbers between the two in their first full season after signing an extension (Schuab signed his right before the first game of the 2012 season) and their first five games the year after.
2008 Delhomme (12-4) compared to 2012 Schaub (12-4)
2009 Delhomme (2-3) through five games compared to 2013 Schaub (2-3)
|Delhomme||72||123 (58.5%)||847||10||3||6.88||32 (22.4)|
|Schaub||135||212 (63.6%)||1366||9||8||6.4||32 (26)|
When looking at their numbers, it's quite spooky. The only difference between the two is that Schaub is slightly more accurate, throws the ball more often, and his passes go for less yards. When their play started to deteriorate, the first thing to go was the deep pass and then the interceptions began to pile up. Additionally, when you compare the subjective aspects of how they played, you start to see the same problems that derailed Jake's career: lack of arm strength-check, poor decision making-check, team killing interceptions-check, lack of confidence-check. You could see the similarities: both led a 12-4 team to the divisional round of the playoffs, both started to play poorly the following year after their 12-4 season and contract extension, both played behind a great run game and defense when the team succeeded, both played on the same team when Delhomme rubbed his interception cooties all over Schaub, and both are the greatest quarterbacks in their franchise's history.
Delhomme saw his career derailed after a surgery left his arm flaccid as he kept trying to make throws he couldn't make anymore. He went from franchise favorite to roadkill. Schaub hasn't seen his career turned exactly into Delhomme's yet. However, when quarterbacks start to lose it, they lose it quickly. Cue up highlights of Donovan McNabb, Jake Plummer and Mark Brunell. Maybe last Sunday's loss in San Francisco was his Jake Delhomme game against the Cardinals? Or maybe it was actually his version of Dellhome's Week 7 beating of the Bucs and he's saving his worst game for the playoffs? Matt has the Rams this week, followed by the Chiefs, Colts, and then the easiest part of the schedule. His career, Kubiak's job, and the entire season depend on his play. Schaub can either write his own story or he can keep wallowing in a cesspool of self pity and have his career turn into Jake's.
At least Delhomme has his horses. What can we say for Schaub?