My glorious return to the shores of Battle Red Blog from the island of Offseasonlandia will be a stock watch series of sorts. The preseason is a time and a place where we as fans are inundated with reasons for concern. Every tweet, every missed practice, every potential red flag. They are all amplified tenfold because, in the words of Dear Leader Kubiak, there are no real games to battlefight through yet. Every event still has the potential to impact the entire course of the season rather than just the remaining games.
So, let us examine each of these matters individually. I will apply my rationale, and you can tell me how wrong it is because I am a fancy GLOREE BOY who doesn't have time for the Texans anymore.
Today's topic for concern: Matt Schaub's Limitations
I think based on where the Texans were drafting, the available free agents, and the window of time that they have to win with the Andre Johnson offensive core, I can understand why they resolved to run with DeAndre Hopkins and the hope that he would revitalize the passing game. I don't necessarily agree with the lack of investment at quarterback, but I can understand it.
Hopkins and the surprising early return of DeVier Posey will give the Texans their most talented receiving corps since the days where Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels were in their prime and healthy. The number I'll be looking at hardest early this season is how Houston fares against the big blitz. Here's a tidbit from Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, a book I had some small involvement with:
Houston opponents may want to consider big-blitzing Matt Schaub more often. Last year, Schaub only faced six or more pass rushers on a league-low 4.5 percent of pass plays, but the Texans gained only 5.3 yards per pass on these plays. In 2011, it was also rare for opponents to big-blitz Schaub, while he had only 5.0 yards per pass.
There are two ways to look at that stat. One is that Schaub crumples under pocket pressure. The other is that Houston didn't have any hot route options that could consistently get open. With this receiving corps in place, Schaub has no excuses left on this one. The Texans can scheme him to keep him away from these situations. They can try to stay on schedule all they want. But eventually it's going to be third-and-7 in a crucial spot, against a good offense, and he is going to have an unblocked rusher coming on a zone blitz. Is he going to stand in and take that hit, or is he going to chuck and duck?
The other concern I have is the play-action bomb. Because of the way Houston's offense is set up to hide Schaub's weaknesses (i.e., there are very few pure spread elements unless the game is out of hand), it is of the utmost importance that Houston nail deep play-action passes because it is the only way they have to rip off a big chunk of yardage. In 2012, they had a 21.8% DVOA on play-action passes -- almost EXACTLY league average (21.9%) -- an enormous drop from 2011's 47.3% DVOA on them. While I don't have splits for this stat, I think it was pretty obvious that most of the problems came towards the end of the season. Once again, with the improved receiving corps, Schaub is going to have to deliver. The only other excuse I can think of at this point is Derek Newton at right tackle, and if he's that big of a deal, the Texans should suck it up and bench him again.
It is aesthetically pleasing and fun to watch your team go on a 10-to-15 play drive that (in theory) demoralizes the defense and (in theory) swings the #Nomentum in your favor. It is also simply a fact that the more snaps you run, the higher the chances that you have a negative play or a setback that you'll have to rely your quarterback to bail you out of. These things happen. Players sometimes fail to execute. A truly good offense can do both things: stay on schedule AND rip off giant chunks of yardage. If the Texans can't rebound on the latter, I have a hard time believing they'll be more than merely above-average on offense in 2013.
It comes time to put aside the stats and numbers and try to author my subjective view: I'm still very worried about Schaub holding the Texans back in the playoffs. The AFC teams in the same boat as Houston in my view (New England, Cincinnati, and Denver) all have multiple guys who can get after the quarterback. Mike Zimmer and Bill Belichick ain't no dummies, and Jack Del Rio has plenty of experience dealing with Schaub. While I'm not going to go all-in on my opinions based on a couple of preseason snaps, the one deep play-action route the Texans ran against Miami did not leave me encouraged. The "nursing a hidden injury" storyline that I was hoping would come out about Schaub has not -- and no, John McClain thinking that might have happened does not mean it did, national football media -- and instead we are left with some very ugly tape from the barrage of games that closed out the season.
I have laid out the improved receiving corps as a reason for optimism. But while I think they definitely limited how dynamic this offense could be at the end of last season, I don't think they were the sole reason the Texans struggled to score on Cincinnati and dug themselves a hole they couldn't get out of in New England. This problem had multiple roots, and only one of those could be addressed this offseason.
I think we've all had enough of Hot Sports Takes about Matt Schaub. It's become such a divisive point on this blog that we could barely make it through an offseason without either camp misrepresenting the other on what he can and can't do. It's such a staple of sports talk radio caller segments that they instead of saying they're taking phone calls, they should just say they're taking Schaub Shouts.
The problem isn't that Matt Schaub isn't a good quarterback. It's that the NFL is welcoming a new echelon of dynamic young quarterbacks that can truly change and define the way the defense has to play. You know what Kyle Shanahan said about Robert Griffin III? That he'd never seen that little pass rush as an offensive coordinator while everyone played contain and tried to keep the read option in check. That's different. And there's nothing exciting about seeing those quarterbacks, looking at the way defenses are having to adjust for them, and then turning to your balding, clearly limited quarterback who spent the last six games barely able to complete a deep play-action pass. Schaub is the Nilla Wafers of quarterbacks, and he's slowly creeping up on his expiration date.
Is Schaub a good quarterback? Yes. Is Schaub a good enough quarterback to lead a team to the playoffs? Yes.
Is Schaub a good enough quarterback to be a difference maker in beating a good team in the playoffs? I won't believe it until the second I see it.
Concern level: Pretty concerned.