The Myths Of Gary Kubiak: Part I

Doug Pensinger

In the first of a three part series, Matt Weston rummages through the numbers and investigates the truths behind the groupthink of the Gary Kubiak era.

Last week at work, I stared past my computer and into the ocean view that glittered like wrapping paper flickered by the light of a Christmas tree. In one tab, my internet browser outlined who to call and what to do, and the other tab had my Gmail open. I alternated between phone calls and peeks into my email, like a twelve year old girl plucking petals off a daisy, giddily whispering, "He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not," as I hoped for some type of hehehehehe, chuckling joke from BFD or Uprooted Texan. Instead, I was greeted by this email from Tim:

Kubiak is apparently meeting with the media at 11 a.m. CST today. It's almost surely nothing of importance, but can someone keep an eye on it and get a post up if necessary?

It was the usual news that churns out of the bottom of the 24/7 information machine. I assumed this post-game conference would be even more of the same "hard hitting questions" by reporters followed by cliched Kubiakian answers, despite the fact this conference came the day after the Texans were swept by the Jaguars. Then abruptly I saw this e-mail that featured an embedded tweet from Will Grubb after I finished another phone call.

Podium isn't set up, no PR staff present, and we are running behind. Something appears to be up at Reliant. #Texans

As soon as I saw that, I knew that Bob McNair finally put Kubes out of his misery after spending the season staring into the abyss. Putting Matt Schaub in for Case Keenum in the third quarter of last week's game was the last straw for McNair. 2010 wasn't, the first loss to the Jags wasn't, ten losses in a row wasn't. It took Thursday night for McNair to finally end the Kubiak era after weeks of suffering since the red button was pushed months ago.

So now Kubiak will either retire from the game, take some time off and come back at a later date, or scour or for a new job. I don't see Kubiak not coaching next season, and I can just imagine him taking the offensive coordinator job for a team like the Raiders, where he could teach Matt McGloin how to throw bootleg play-action passes.

His legacy with Houston will be tough to decipher right away. Some will applaud him for taking a team that exemplified a skid mark on a pair of tighty-whities by turning it into a Super Bowl contender. Some will remember the play-action passes, the zone run scheme, the bootlegs, and the first playoff winning head coach with a smile on their face. Others will feel that Kubiak had a great roster that underperformed and will look with distaste at this season and the mediocre years in 2008 and 2009 with a sour "Yep, that milk is definitely bad..." look on their face. Regardless how you feel about Kubiak, you will never forget the blue pants on blue shirt fashion statement, the porcupine haircut, and the nearly eight years of Texans football he led.

Most will break Kubiak's faults down into three fatal components: an inability to make halftime adjustments, conservative play, and poor clock management. The problem is that no one has ever looked at the numbers, so those complaints are simply the same groupthink we all have heard a multitude of times yet has never been proved. Let's test the validity of these statements and see if Kubiak was actually horrendous in these situations so we can better understand his legacy in the future once the emotional smoke fades from the fire in the upcoming months.

Halftime Adjustments

Throughout Kubiak's tenure, this was described as his largest fault. He would not make changes going into the second half and would continue to do the same thing once the number sitting underneath QUARTER on the scoreboard turned from a two to a three. Thousands of times I have read and heard screams of people venting frustration about the Texans losing because they were out-coached in the second half. Nobody has ever looked up the numbers and quantified this idea.

There are a few ways we can look at this aspect of Kubiak's career. The first is by looking at the splits in passing, rushing, and points scored in the first and second halves. Since 2006, here are the differences in passing yards in the first and second halves.

1st Half Passing Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TDs INTs Sacks Y/A Rating
2006 168 244 68.90% 1623 4 6 29 6.7 82.4
2007 167 263 63.50% 1943 11 8 11 7.4 87
2008 177 270 65.60% 2291 10 9 13 8.5 90.5
2009 205 305 67.20% 2691 19 7 12 8.8 106.1
2010 149 251 59.40% 1654 9 7 16 6.6 79.3
2011 172 262 65.60% 2193 12 5 18 8.4 99
2012 194 310 62.60% 2249 16 6 15 7.3 93.6
2013 132 214 61.70% 1616 11 8 10 7.6 86.5
1st Half Total 1364 2119 64.36 16260 92 56 124 7.6 90.55
2nd Half Passing

2006 161 237 67.90% 1406 10 7 14 5.9 85.2
2007 179 266 67.30% 1982 13 13 11 7.5 85.1
2008 190 285 66.70% 2183 11 11 19 7.7 86.3
2009 194 288 67.40% 2112 10 10 13 7.3 85.9
2010 216 323 66.90% 2716 15 5 16 8.4 101.9
2011 116 205 56.60% 1350 8 4 15 7.3 84.7
2012 160 244 65.60% 1797 6 7 12 7.4 83.7
2013 148 256 57.80% 1637 5 6 21 6.4 73.6
2nd Half Total 1364 2104 64.82% 13986 78 63 121 6.6 85.8

As you can see, the passing numbers in the first half and the second half are nearly identical. The only difference in the aggregate is that Houston completed passes about a yard less in the second half than the first. Really what is striking between the two is the difference in 2013.

Houston has been atrocious when it comes to throwing the ball in the second half this year. They are 148-256 with a completion percentage of 57.8% for 5 touchdowns and 6 interceptions while being sacked 21 times. Most of this can be attributed to Case Keenum. As we have seen all season; Keenum has struggled in the second half when defenses stop the long passing game, bracket Andre Johnson, and blitz heavily. He is abysmal at reading a defense before the snap, and when the pressure comes, he does not step up in the pocket or throw to the hot route. Instead he turns his shoulders and runs outside the pocket, only to be brought down by a hastier defensive end or a blitzing linebacker.

What the numbers show is that the Texans have thrown the ball at the same level in both halves. Until this year, when the wheels exploded off the quarterback wagon into a million little fibers. There's really nothing different in the basic stats. The only other thing you can see is how Houston fell behind early and often in 2008 and 2010 and had to spend the entire second half throwing to catch back up. The opposite can be said of 2011 and 2012 when Houston went up big and ran the ball in the second half to put teams away.

The numbers have some issues when looking at passing because T.J. Yates, Sage Rosenfels, and David Carr are embedded in there. But when we look only at Matt Schaub, we see the exact same thing.

Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TDs INTs Sacks Y/A Rating
1st Half Schaub 967 1500 64.50% 11816 72 40 75 7.9 93.5
2nd Half Schaub 927 1420 65.30% 10802 50 33 79 7.6 90.2

Schaub is nearly identical in the first half compared to the second half. There is nothing different, other than he throws more touchdown passes in the first half. That's more a result of game situations than performance.

Rushing yards are a little more interesting to look at because they vary much more from half to half.

1st Half Rushing Att Yds Y/C TDs
2006 219 845 3.86 6
2007 204 786 3.85 6
2008 215 898 4.18 6
2009 202 762 3.77 6
2010 402 1764 4.39 13
2011 262 1200 4.58 10
2012 222 1010 4.55 9
2013 177 889 5.02 2
1st Half Total 1903 8154 4.28 58
2nd Half Rushing

2006 212 842 3.97 7
2007 213 800 3.76 6
2008 217 948 4.37 10
2009 223 713 3.2 7
2010 223 1040 4.66 13
2011 284 1248 4.39 9
2012 287 1101 3.84 10
2013 245 512 3.53 4
2nd Half Total 1904 7204 3.78 66

The reason the production differs from half to half this much is because of how football works, not because Gary Kubiak is terrible at making adjustments. Teams that go up in the first half run the ball more often to kill the clock, and teams that are down at the half throw to catch back up. Weird, right? What is cool about these numbers is we can see how horrendous some of the years of the past were. From 2006-2010, Houston ran the ball 212, 213, 217, and 223 times in the second half because Schaub had to throw the ball continuously to try and bring the team back from a deficit. When they morphed into a very good football team, they ran the ball 60 more times in the second half than they had in 2009 and 2010.

The most interesting thing to gain from this table is what we see this year. The Texans have run the ball 245 times for 512 yards, which equals 3.53 yards a carry. This is the reason why they get blown out and lose leads in the second half. When they had a lead, they lost it because they are unable to pick up anything on the ground. As a result, they give the opponent more touches and chances to come back .

This idea that halftime adjustments are the reason why Houston has blown games in the second half this season is completely untrue. If someone says this, look them deep in the eyes, point a finger right in their frumpy face, and tell them, "No, sir. You are incorrect. The reason why Houston has played poorly with a lead is because they have only 512 rushing yards in the second half and average 3.53 yards a carry. They simply can't close teams out and that is why they have blown games in the second half." Speaking of this year, here are the Texans' numbers when leading at halftime this season:

1st Half 2nd Half
20 3 (SEA) 0 17
21 3 (IND) 3 21
17 14 (ARI) 7 13
17 14 (OAK) 6 14
17 7 (NE) 14 27

When we take the totals, Houston has been outscored 92-24 in the second half after going into the half with the lead. This is an astronomical difference and is quite amazing. If Houston won four, or even three, of these games, they would be in the playoff picture, with the #6 seed being a possibility in the sewer that is the AFC. The main reason the Texans have played poorly in the second half is because Houston can't run the ball and they can't rush the quarterback. As I talked about earlier, the poor run game leads to more possessions for the offense, and when you add this to a pass rush that has only accrued 11 sacks in the second half, we get quarterbacks that get to play 7-on-7 football to take advantage of Shiloh Keo, Brandon Harris, Brice McCain, Darryl Sharpton, Joe Mays, and D.J. Swearinger covering the middle of the field. Throw all of this together and we get the horrific second half team the Texans are this year. This can be attributed to the talent on the field, not to Kubiak being outwitted in the second half.

I hate to use yards to measure anything football related (or length related, for that matter) after doing this research, but it does give us a baseline. However, yards don't mean dinking diddly do unless a team puts points on the board.

1st Half TDs FGs 2 Pt INTs FUMs Sacked Points Scored
2006 10 10 0 6 6 29 100
2007 17 13 0 8 9 11 158
2008 16 18 0 9 5 13 166
2009 25 13 0 7 4 12 214
2010 16 13 0 7 1 16 151
2011 22 19 0 5 7 18 211
2012 25 13 0 6 1 15 214
2013 13 12 0 8 3 10 127
1st Half Total 144 111 0 56 36 124 1341
2nd Half

2006 17 9 3 7 4 14 149
2007 19 12 3 13 6 11 172
2008 21 11 2 11 5 19 182
2009 17 8 2 10 6 13 145
2010 28 14 1 5 5 16 239
2011 17 13 1 4 4 15 159
2012 16 18 0 7 3 12 166
2013 9 8 1 6 3 21 88
2nd Half Total 144 93 13 63 36 121 1300

The points scored are a little funky because again it depends on the situation. For example, in 2010, Houston scored 88 more points in the second half because the Texans had the worst pass defense in the world and gave up 228 points in the first half. This led to Matt Schaub throwing the ball the entire second half in garbage time. On the flip side, the 2011-2012 Texans scored 50-60 less points in the second half because they would jump out to early leads and run the clock out in the second half. The most harrowing issue seen in the table has nothing to do with the splits, but in the TD to FG ratio.

In 2012, the Texans kicked more field goals than they scored touchdowns and have only scored one more TD than FG this year. Cue the groans of 27 yard Shayne Graham field goals from last season. So far, this is the first example of any type of second half letdown that could be the result of halftime adjustments. However, this is probably the result of a team being up at halftime and choosing to be more risk averse in the second half. More on this tomorrow.

Other than in 2009, the Texans' offensive points scored numbers are roughly the same or vary because of the in-game circumstances. If anyone has a reason why the second half 2009 numbers are so awful, let me know. Based on my memory, I think it is more of a reason why 2013 is the worst year of Texans football since 2009.

When we look at the defensive points scored, we see more of the same.

1st Half TDs FGs 2Pt INTs FUMs Sacks Points Allowed
2006 17 14 0 6 4 17 161
2007 22 15 0 5 7 11 199
2008 17 16 0 6 5 14 167
2009 21 15 0 5 3 12 192
2010 27 13 0 2 2 17 228
2011 9 16 0 10 5 21 111
2012 17 13 0 10 6 21 158
2013 17 7 0 2 2 18 140
Total 147 109 0 46 34 131 1356
2nd Half

2006 21 11 1 5 6 11 181
2007 18 13 0 6 3 20 165
2008 25 9 2 6 5 11 204
2009 15 5 0 9 8 18 120
2010 22 8 1 11 2 13 179
2011 17 14 4 7 4 23 165
2012 18 8 0 5 7 23 150
2013 16 14 2 3 2 11 156
Total 152 82 10 52 37 130 1320

It is amazing how horrendous the defense was in 2010. They allowed 228 points in the first half, which equals an average of 14.25 points. They were better in the second half, simply because the opponent hung out and ran the clock out while Schaub threw the ball over and over and over again. Man, that year sucked, but at least it led to J.J. Watt.

The other thing that is important to gleam about is what has happened to the team this season compared to years before. In 2011 and 2012, the Texans had 21 sacks in the first half and 23 sacks in the second half. This year, Houston has only 11 sacks in the second half, 11. This all goes back to the problems we have seen in the second half discussed earlier. I hope Rick Smith is reading this and does whatever he can to improve the pass rush and left guard this off season. If this happens, Houston will see a swing in one possession games.

So now that we have looked at the offensive and defensive numbers, let's compare them and look at the differentials.

Year 1st Half Differential 2nd Half Differential
2006 -61 -32
2007 -41 7
2008 -1 -22
2009 22 25
2010 -77 60
2011 100 -6
2012 56 16
2013 -13 -68
Total -15 -20

What we see here is that Houston plays roughly the same in the first half and the second half. There are issues with the numbers, but because of the large sample size of games we have an even mix of seasons to draw conclusions from. The only season with an enormous drop off in the second half is 2011; this is mostly due to a more conservative approach after having such a large lead entering the half.

The truth is that the Texans have a point differential of five points worse in the second half compared to the first half. This hardly seems like a coach who has trouble making adjustments. I would assume it would be more to the level of a head coach whose teams play average to good in the second half compared to the first. Still don't believe me because you aren't a fan of yards and points to measure teams? Let's look at the halftime splits in offense and defense by looking at DVOA, courtesy of Rivers McCown. Thanks again, Mr. McCown.

Year Off 1st Half Def 1st Half Off 2nd Half Def 2nd Half
2007 0.5% (14th) 12% (27th) 2.6% (14th) 12% (29th)
2008 7% (12th) 8.8% (23rd) 5.3% (15th) 18% (31st)
2009 19.7% (7th) 13% (25th) -.3% (16th) 18% (31st)
2010 5.9% (13th) 16.1% (32nd) 35.3% (2nd) 19.1% (30th)
2011 12% (9th) -15.3% (6th) 4.3% (11th) -4% (9th)
2012 6% (13th) -19.3% (2nd) -6% (21st) -8.9% (7th)
2013 3.2% (12th) 1.2% (20th) -26.7% (29th) 7% (22nd)

DVOA removes all the problems we saw with yards and point differential we looked at earlier because it looks at how a team performs on every play and then compares them to the league average rate. Like I have been discussing for the last few thousand words, there is not much of a difference in the Texans' play while Kubiak is at the helm from half to half. The only two cases of a large difference is the offense's play in 2009 and this year. You can make the argument that Kubiak can be at fault in 2009, but not in 2013 because of Keenumania and the overall problems discussed earlier. Other than those two seasons, Houston played at a similar level in the first and second half.

Whether you look at yards, points, or DVOA, the results are the same. This idea that Kubiak is terrible at second half adjustments is anecdotal and a way to vent anger when losses occur. The only examples of mountainous swings are in 2009 and 2013. 2013 is the result of a poor second half run game, pass rush, and quarterback play. 2009 is the result of some factor that escapes my mind because I was a high school senior at the time who had yet to watch football with my thinking cap on.

If you want to make a case that Gary's teams perform poorly in the second half, 2009 is the only year where the data shows some truth to this statement. However, there are still six plus other years that prove otherwise. Additionally, the DVOA numbers are roughly similar half to half, and Kubiak's point differential is only five points different when comparing the first and second halves. Now, I'm not saying Houston plays better in the second half, but I'm saying that they play at a similar level throughout the entire game. The truth is not that Kubiak is a benign strategist, but that we have all succumbed to the demon known as groupthink.

***All data is accurate up to Week 14.***

Check back here tomorrow for Part II!

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