So far this offseason, I have read numerous opinions of worthless matter concerning the Houston Texans from acclaimed football soothsayers and fans of the like. Most of what I have read is nothing more than pessimistic irrationality that Houston will have to rebuild soon and their sudden success will melt away like a forgotten candy bar underneath the seat of an Oldmosbile Bravada in late July. These accusations have come in swarms, even though it still is roughly the same team that oozed with young talent and went 24-12 the past two seasons. Now all of a sudden, the Colts are ready to win the AFC South in 2013 after the great moves they have made.These claims tend to dismiss actual problems worth discussing, like Arian Foster being overworked last year, nobody knowing who will play RT and the Ed Reed dilemma.
Instead, the backbone to most of these arguments has been "Schaub is nothing more than a game manager at this point in his career and will never win a Super Bowl. Houston will need to a new QB if they ever want to beat the Patriots. Schaub can't win big games." Yet most of these naysayers are the same people who claimed Houston would have won it all in 2011 if Schaub's Lisfranc was not shredded like Bear Sterns account statements. Much of what I've seen from the experts is the ability not to be knowledgeable, but to make enough predictions so that when they fail, they have another prediction to fall back on. Yes I said the Colts would win the division, but I also said Houston would win if blah blah blah happened.
I have been more surprised by the opinions of a lot of the fan base regarding Schaub. The groupthink of fans of professional sports is often unwarranted pessimism unless you grew up cheering for teams from Cleveland. I believe this pessimism is nothing more than a creation of three inch thick calluses that grow around the body to help reduce the shock and rigor of losing. If you build up enough negativity to prepare for a loss, it will lessen the pain if the loss does occur. Then if they win ,you can still revel in the glory of victory and it might even be more celebratory because of how you talked yourself out of the possibility of it even being plausible.
This situation reminds me of Nate Silver analysis regarding weather predictions made by your local weather man and the Weather Channel in his book The Signal and the Noise. Both parties are guilty of over-forecasting the chance of rain from 10-20% than their models and radars actually predict. The reason? If it rains when you claim it should be a mirthful sunny da,y you are ruining people's picnics, partays, and lawn bowling tournaments. If you predict it will rain and it does not, it's an unexpected miracle. Unless you live in Texas where you simply pray for rain and dance in the street like one of those Bozos from You Got Served. In both situations, the party is over-forecasting a negative event in order to save one's hide in case it does occur.
After being pessimistic for oh so long, I finally fell into the optimistic legion of sport fans that understands you have to go through a pipe filled with feces before good things happen. I thank the 2010 Texas Rangers for leading me to this understanding. If a team is 6-10, at least you have a better draft pick and the team can understand what it needs to do to get better. This also goes along with understanding when the bad times are over and winning actually will occur. After being teased and cuckolded for so loooooong during the Kubiak era, we actually now have a team that can compete for a title. The sky is not actually falling as so many have claimed this summer.
Then what really happened last year during the stretch run of a team that was Super Bowl or bust? Was it faulty play-calling on both the offensive and defensive side? Lack of experience? A gimmick archaic play-action zone run game offense had been figured out? Did injuries finally become insurmountable? Or was it Matt Schaub's fault?
In reality, we will never know the true cause. The truth is out there somewhere and it is probably a combination of all the above examples. Personally, I think it was a combination of conservative play-calling, Wade's inability to game-plan against New England, and Schaub's loss of the deep ball. Wade's play-calling was mostly due to Houston's inability to bring pressure on Tom Brady. Cushing's injury forced Bradie James/Tim Dobbins/Barrett Ruud into playing more pass coverage than they ever should. Really, the unknown is what the %$*@ happened to Matt Schaub last year? I have looked over the edge and have meditated upon it for some time. The only rational idea other than OMG MATT SCHAUB SUCKS (which is untrue) is that Schaub was injured last season.
I questioned if Schaub was healthy towards the end of last season when he was unable to complete the forty yard PA Bombs he had earlier in the season, plus how inaccurate he was in the red zone (cue up maleficent memories from the first series vs. NE in the Divisional Round). He just did not look right. He looked like one of those enormous steaks from H-E-B that appear delectable, but have a giant yellow VALUE BEEF sticker on the front. It's still a steak, but there is something fishy going on underneath the saran wrap.
Then all of the reports of mysterious secret surgeries started leaving the headquarters at Reliant Stadium. Shaun Cody had back surgery during the preseason for a herniated disk. Jonathon Joseph had two sport hernia surgeries after last season, along with his gimpy groin. Brooks Reed, Ed Reed, Brian Cushing, and Duane Brown all joined the surgery hoopla and had some type of procedure either during the season or after it ended. Next year Houston will be #BullsUnderTheKnife, not the #BullsOnParade we have grown accustomed to. Someone needs to give Zach De La Rocha a call to make a remix. The kooky aspect of this is is how easy it has been for the Texans to hide injuries and make everything peachier than it really is. There is no doubt Schaub could have played with three broken toes, a herniated disk, and recent triple bypass surgery without anyone other than Kubiak, McNair, Smith and some select Texans knowing he was injured.
All of this subjective evidence is nice, but there is no substance in it. It is just a bunch of I think, he said that, she said that he said that she said nonsense with no truth. There are two sides to every story--mine, yours, and the truth. However, those squiqqly lines we call numbers are unbiased.
Going into the exercise below, I believed I could find one play or one game where Schaub turned into a pillow case of skin that was not really Matt Schaub. I found some evidence of the degradation of Matt Schaub, but it was not as black and white as my naivety led me to believe. Like nearly everything on the planet, I found different shades of grey and a lot of noise.
Disclaimer: When looking at the graphs, do not pay too much attention to the decline after the Detroit game because of the outlier it is. Instead, compare the data from the Denver to Detroit game to the Tennessee game to the final New England game.
What is interesting in the first graph is how conservative the offense is to start the season. It had been a little longer than ten months since Schaub had played in a professional football game that actually counted. So Kubiak called the game conservatively, allowing the running game to take over by giving the ball to Arian Foster over and over again. It was not until the Green Bay game that Houston had more passing attempts than rushing attempts; that's a game most of us have already removed from memory like a Psyduck. Houston ran an extremely balanced offense during this time period up until the Jacksonville and Detroit games, where they fell behind and depended on the passing game to bring them back. After those two outliers, Houston continued its offensive balance and winning ways until it culminated into a nearly perfect offensive effort against Indy. It really is a beautiful graph to see all three points come together and become one like against Miami, Denver, Baltimore, and Indy. Then everything spiraled out of control. The gap between running and passing increased dramatically, except for the Cincy game the Texans won.
Based on passing attempts, it is impossible to make a judgment about whether Schaub was injured or not. However, it visually provides evidence of what went wrong with the offense. They fell behind in games and had to throw the ball to come back. It worked against teams with defenses as porous as a pumice stone, but didn't work against NE, Minnesota, and even Indy. Houston did not throw the ball more because Schaub was playing well. They threw the ball more because they had to come back from the grave they dug themselves.
Now let's take a look at the changes in Houston's ability to throw the deep ball. Another disclaimer: Due to the range of the data, I had to have multiple graphs and can't put the data on one nice pretty page like I wanted. The deep passer numbers are from Pro Football Reference; they measure a deep pass as a pass longer than fifteen yards. For example, Schaub's pass to LeStar Jean was a 54 yard touchdown pass, but the ball actually traveled less than fifteen yards in the air. Also, against Green Bay, Schaub did not complete one pass greater than 15 yards in the air, but his longest completion went for 27 yards.
Schaub's deep pass stats resemble the business cycle. He started slow at the beginning of the year, peaked against JAX/DET and then reached another trough at the end of the year. After the Detroit game, Houston stopped taking risks down the field again. And when they did, the passes they completed were less than thirty yards most of the time. Schaub just did not have the arm strength or confidence to complete passes longer than fifteen yard curls to Andre Johnson.
Another point of interest is that while the attempts and yards increase towards the end of the year, the longest pass completed falls off. At the end of the yea,r Schaub falls back down to the average thirty yard longest completion he started the season off with. His arm was either unable to muster the strength to get the ball down the field or Kubiak knew Schaub was injured and diluted the offense.
All these charts exemplify the woes Houston's offense had. They lost the ability to throw the ball deep. They lost leads, forcing them to abandon the running game, and the only completions were seven yard passes to Andre Johnson.
The one question that remains is when or how did Matt Schaub get injured if he did. He was either (A) hurt after being sacked or knocked down after a hit or (B) he lost his arm strength after that marathon performance during the two overtime games in four days. I think (A) is less likely because Schaub moved around in the pocket gracefully throughout the entire season. You never saw him limp or gimp around. He even had a piece of his ear knocked off and that did not hurt his play at the beginning of the year.
If Schaub was injured, it would have had to be some type of nagging muscle injury. His arm could have died on him or worn out during the two OTs in four days extravaganza. By not having a bye week the rest of the season (it happened before the OT games), he never had the chance to rest and rejuvenate himself. Schaub threw 55 passes against Jacksonville and 48 against Detroit. Here are Schaub's top five career passing attempts in back-to-back games.
The most passes he threw during such a span came in 2010 when he heaved 62 in the MNF OT loss to Baltimore and then 54 in a 31-17 loss to Tennessee. It had been more than a year since Schaub had thrown more than 90 passes in back to back games, and he did it in four days. The most attempts in a game Schaub had up to his point was 37 in the thrashing of Baltimore, but he was also able to follow that performance by resting in the hot tub during the bye week. This would be like Matt Harrison having his season cut short the year before because of a torn groin, then sometime during the middle of the season, he pitches complete games that go into extra innings and throws 130 pitches each outing.
"You got your guy. You got him open. The pass is severely underthrown. You got Casey, he has got a step on Davis and Davis actually even has to slow down a little bit and waits for the ball to come right to him." A throw so poor that even the defender has to come back to the ball. A Week 3 Matt Schaub would have completed this pass for a 70 yard touchdown. However, dead arm Matt Schaub let the ball flutter like a vulture trying to take off the ground after gorging himself on a buffet of roadkill.
Do I really know Matt Schaub was injured last year? Nope. Only Schaub, Kubiak, Smith and McNair know what really happened last year. I do have a hunch and a small batch of evidence to prove that something was not right last season. Based on Schaub's overall body of work these past six years, I believe something was holding him back from competing at the level he was capable of. He could not throw the deep ball last year, was inconsistent in the red zone and was inaccurate. Then, when he did throw the ball well, he relied too much on Andre Johnson and could not get the ball to his ragged bunch of complementary receivers. The Matt Schaub we saw at the end of the season was a counterfeit, unhealthy, injured version of the player we saw in 2011 and at the beginning of 2012.
I may very well be wrong and slanderous, yet I believe that my hypothesis is correct. If Matt Schaub played like he did last season because of the age curve, the Houston Texans are _______. I am sure you can fill in the blank with your imagination.