The Myths Of Gary Kubiak: Part III

Jim McIsaac

In Matt Weston's final entry, he looks at Gary Kubiak's ability to manage the clock during his time as head coach of the Houston Texans.

In case you missed it...

Click Here for Part I.

Click Here for Part II.

Clock Management

Here is the top piece of white bread to suffocate the turkey in the ultimate conclusion of the Gary Kubiak myth busting sandwich. Along with conservatism and halftime adjustments, this is one of the Kubiakisms that most frustrated the fan base for the last seven plus years. Of all the myths we have looked at, this one is the toughest to decipher because there are multiple variables (score, week, time left on the clock, etc.). There is not a stat in the box score that tells one how a coach managed the end of the half or game.

The problem when looking at how a coach manages the end of halves is that the key is the process, not the outcome. For example, if a coach uses his timeouts poorly in the last two minutes, but the team wins because of a Hail Mary with zero time left on the clock, the win is celebrated even though the coach put them in a nearly impossible situation. The numbers measure only the outcome, not the process; the only other way to analyze this would be if I paused my life to dig up every Houston game since 2006, watched them, took notes on the decisions made and then marked what Kubiak did right and wrong. This is impossible, not only because I can't stop time, but also because it would be the worst use of a super power in the history of super powers. That would be the last way I would use my time-stopping abilities. It would be like Superman deciding to become a private pilot and flying nonstop flights from London to Tokyo instead of wrestling Lex Luther. I did the best I possibly could and looked at the Texans' record in one possession games, points scored at the end of half and games, and I looked at the number of chances Kubiak gave his team to win.

The first category we will look at is the Texans' record in one possession games. Even though they are one of those "lucky" stats that vary year to year because football is a weird game and one strange bounce can turn a win into a loss (*cough, Glover Quin, cough*) we will still look at them to give us a baseline. I am not going to show every single game because that would be a list that would make Santa Claus faint with exhaustion. Instead, I bring you the one possession record on a year-to-year basis.

Year W L
2006 4 4
2007 2 3
2008 5 4
2009 5 6
2010 3 6
2011 4 5
2012 6 0
2013 2 8
Total 31 36

In the Kubiak era from 2006-2011, the Texans were neither fortuitous nor cursed from year to year. They were never more than a game below .500 in one win games except in 2010. However, it is rare to see a team consistently finish on the downside of .500. Teams usually ebb and flow from above to below .500 in one win games. You rarely see a team on the downside every single season like the Texans were during this time. After all the years of taking selfies with a black cat while staring into a broken mirror, Kubiak finally found fortune in 2012. Last year, the Texans went 6-0 in one possession games with wins over the Broncos, Jets, Bears, Jaguars, Lions, and Bengals. Yes, the games against the Broncos and Jets turned into close games because they gave up garbage points that skewed the stats. Still, you rarely see a team go undefeated in one possession games without a fall back to Earth the next year. Which is exactly what we have seen this season.

In 2013, Houston has gone 2-8 in one possession games. Every game during Keenumania has been marred by a one possession loss. Part of this is because of the poor second half run game, grody quarterback play, an impotent pass rush, and a secondary that the Battle Red Blog flag football team would shred. Additionally, Houston has lost seven--count them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7--one possession games in a row. Going 2-8 in a season is unsustainable. It is simply incredible that the Texans have not had one bounce go their way for them to win one of these games. At this point I'm not even mad; it's amazing that they have a record like this. This season has been 26.5 miles of running underneath ladders. There is NO WAY Houston will be this atrocious in these games next year.

In summary, the Texans were 16-17 from 2006-2009 before the season that led to J.J. Watt (calling it the season that led to J.J. Watt sounds one hundred times better than the team with the worst pass defense of all time) dropped them to 23-28 in one win games. 2011 saw a 2006-2009 sort of year as the Texans went 4-5. Then the Texans went through a roller coaster of luck, as they have gone from 6-0 to 2-8 in one win games. As a result, the Texans are 31-36 in the Kubiak era in these situations. The trends that the Texans have gone through this year are not unusual for a team, but I have not seen a team fall a game under .500 like they have. The most frustrating thing is the 2008 and 2009 seasons where the Texans were talented; they were just a four leaf clover away from being a playoff team.

So the Texans are 31-36 in one possession games during the Kubiak era. Before we can blame Gary for this, let's take a look at some more numbers that can measure clock management. The next group of numbers I have are the the points scored at the end of the half and the end of the game.

Year End of Half Def End of Half Differential End of Game Def End of Game Differential # Of End Game Drives
2006 19 30 -11 23 21 2 12 (6th)
2007 25 26 -1 34 10 24 10 (20th)
2008 26 18 12 27 45 -18 14 (3rd)
2009 26 63 -37 14 3 11 12 (9th)
2010 16 56 -40 45 21 24
11 (15th)
2011 18 29 -11 20 10 10 8 (25th)
2012 43 33 10 34 7 27 10 (15th)
2013 36 20 16 10 6 4 12 (1st)
Total 209 275 -66 207 123 84 89

What pops out like the Mask's eyeballs is the difference in point differential when comparing the end of the half and the end of the game. At the end of a half, the Texans have a point differential of -66. At the end of a game, the Texans have a differential of +84. The simple explanation is that the Texans padded their stats at the end of the game by scoring in garbage time; with less than 2:30 minutes and down by 10 points or more, Houston has scored 63 points. Let's take this one step further. If we remove the points when the Texans were down by more than one possession, Houston has scored 144 points and has a point differential of 21. However, the defense also played a role in these games; they allowed 42 points in garbage time, so that gives the Texans a point differential of positive 63. As a result, the Texans did score points in meaningless situations, but they still performed very well at the end of games.

The situation of the end of the half is an entirely different monster. Since 2006, the Texans have scored 209 points and gave up 275. Out of all the years, the 2009 and 2010 seasons stick out the most. The end of half numbers in 2009 are simply heartbreaking to see. As most of us know, the Texans went 9-7 that year. They beat the Patriots in Week 17 and we all watched in horror as Marvin Lewis benched his starters against the Jets to let the Jets win on Sunday Night Football. This knocked the Texans out of the playoffs (I have a theory on this that I will expand on when I write about the playoffs).

Houston may not have even put themselves in that situation if they minimized their end of half points allowed. That season they gave up 69 points at the end of the half and scored only 26, which equals a differential of -37. Coincidentally, Houston played 9 one-score games, going 4-5 in those situations with a point differential of -10 in one possession games. Those 63 points at the end of the half now more harmful than a shot of Eastern Brown Snake venom. If the Texans played better at the end of the half that season, the franchise would not have had to wait until 2011 to play the Bengals in the first round of the playoffs.

In 2010, they allowed 56 points at the end of the half. Like everything that year, we can just put that blame on the worst pass defense up to that point in time.

The last thing to look at is always dependent on hundreds of other variables, but we can still find some meaning to measuring Kubiak's game management ability. The Texans were in the upper half of the league in number of drives at the end of the game in every season other than 2007 and 2011. Additionally, in both of those seasons, the Texans had a losing record in one possession games. Now I don't know if there is any correlation between the two; it will be something I will investigate further this offseason.

The counterpoint is that the Texans have lead the league in drives with two minutes or less this season, but they still went 2-8 in those games. I think it is more the result of quarterback play (think back to the Arizona game, the Chiefs game, etc.) and having the worst 50+ yard kicker in the league in Randy Bullock. Houston has been in the upper half in the league in drives at the end of games and was given more chances to score at the end of games. It would be a large leap to directly attribute it to Kubes or state that this is the reason why the Texans play well at the end of games without additional research. However, it is fairly clear that the Texans played poorly at the end of halves and played exceptionally well at the end of games.

The subjective is also important, though as I said earlier it is impossible to measure. Despite this, I will never forget how Kubiak loved to run draws with two timeouts and one minute left on the clock at the end of the half instead of going for the points right away. He did this against the Chiefs earlier this season; Ben Tate ended up picking up 20 yards or so on both of his runs and then the Texans tried to pick up points afterwards. They failed, of course, because they left Case Keenum thirteen seconds to drive thirty yards to kick a field goal with zero timeouts. I'm sure there are dozens of examples like this where Kubiak made poor decisions that did not give the Texans the best chance to score because of some irrational fear. I'm also sure all of us have some type of anecdote like mine that could explain the poor halftime play that numbers can't measure.

If some of you thought the halftime adjustment stats were weak (which I still disagree with), these are even harder to measure because, like I have said multiple times, we don't know what the Kubster's process was; we only know the results. From what we can gather, we can assume that Kubiak gave up way too many points at the end of the half because of a conservative play-calling approach and a porous secondary. Despite that, the Texans play well at the end of the game and their one possession win-loss record is about what we would expect from an NFL team. As far as the subjective goes, there is no way to realistically measure this in any way other than by a game-to-game basis. My prognosis is that Kubiak is all right at managing the clock because the one possession win-loss record is not an extreme year-to-year negative and the job the Texans do at the end of games balances out the stink they left on the field at the end of the half.

Throughout this lengthy process, we have learned the Texans played at a similar level throughout the entire game and they were not abused in the second half because a lack of halftime adjustments. Kubiak was a conservative coach during the years when his teams were contenders and let it all hang loose and coached with two buttons of his shirt popped open for his chest hair to be received by the world during the dark ages of the late 2000s. Finally, we learned that the Texans gave up an inordinate amount of points at the end of the half, but they did play well at the end of the games and their one possession win-loss record is nothing out of the ordinary. When we all sit on the patio in our rocking chairs sipping on some futuristic cocktail and reminiscence on the golden days of the Kubiak era, we can now separate the truth from the narrative when discussing his legacy as the coach of the Houston Texans.

For the next three weeks of the season, the Texans will be without a head coach. They will go through the rest of the season with Wade Phillips bumbling his way against the Colts, Broncos, and Titans. Give me a few seconds to direct my attention away from you, loyal reader. I now need to turn to my right and speak to Mr. Phillips personally about something.

"You better not mess this up and ruin what Kubiak and Keenum spent all year working towards. Do not, I repeat, do not get cute and go win two of these games to drop Houston out of the number one pick. Wade, there is 0.00001% chance they let you become the head coach next year. Just do your job, lose one possession games and maybe, just maybe, beat the Titans in Week 17 for nanny-nanny-boo-boo purposes. Really, your only goal should be to try to get Fat Randy as many game winning/tying field goal attempts as possible. Don't you dare ruin the #1 pick and Teddy Bridgewater for us, Wade. Especially after how Kubiak #PeedAndPoopedTheBedForTed for us these last eight weeks (there is no way Teddy does not come out if the Texans get the #1 pick)."

/turns head back to the left

Before, I thought that Houston would be well on its way to a 10 win season in 2014 because of the following factors: improved quarterback play, better head coaching, improved record in one possession games, better turnover differential, the return of injured stars, loads of talent, an easier schedule, and drafting at a spot that they have no business drafting at. All of these things could very likely improve if they make the right decisions in the offseason. Then the news started to trickle in this past week...

After seeing who the two early candidates to adorn the battle red are, my optimism has gone from full to waning crescent. Ken Whisenhunt is a dingleberry and Lovie Smith screams meh while twirling around in circles like a drunken whirling dervish. The only reason why Whisenhunt's visor has fluttered into the coaching carousel is because of Philip Rivers' resurgence. This is probably because of Mike McCoy, Antonio Gates getting healthy, Danny Woodhead, and Keenan Allen, not because Whisenhunt is an offensive genius. The other coach, Lovie Smith, would bring a 4-3 defense that Houston does not even need. The Texans need an offensive coach to develop a quarterback who will be younger than I am. The 3-4 scheme is fine; the problem is the personnel (when you have seven guys rushing the passer and you still can't get to the QB, you have personnel problems). The head coach and quarterback question Houston is facing in 2014 are the two biggest decisions the franchise has had to make since they inked Kubiak and traded for Matt Schaub in 2006 and 2007, respectively. If they are going to be wasting another three years with Lovie Smith or Whisenhunt as the head coach, we will live in a world where Kubiak is not only the greatest coach in franchise history in 2013, but in 2017 as well.

So peace out Gary and have fun coaching the Raiders' offense next season. My brow will be wrinkled whenever I see you out there wearing an alien color that's not the steel blue you have sported the past seven years.

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