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2009 in Review: The Backfield

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If two weekends ago was the death of the 2009 season, last weekend was a confirmation of it, one that you probably spent bemoaning the luck of the Jets to your friends and relatives.. Dealing with the fact that yes, there was football on TV.  And no, the Texans were not going to be on later.  Now that we're officially in the morgue, it's time for an autopsy.  We can rebuild them.  We have the money.

I'm going to look at every player who played more than 100 snaps for the Texans from a number of different angles.  I'll give their regular statistics from this year and last year.  Similarly, I will bring in Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders numbers (and projections in FO's case) for the last two years and compare them.  A glossary of FO terms can be found here, and Pro Football Focus operates on a strict +/- system.  Finally, I'll give my impressions on each of them as someone who has spent probably 100 hours each year watching the game tapes and filling in charting numbers for FO.  For players with less than 100 snaps, I'll just give a brief summary.  From this, I hope to give a balanced reading of each player's ability and relative value to the team.


Matt Schaub



Scouting: Despite the fact that he still makes some baffling throws while trying to force the ball to Andre Johnson, Schaub had a much better year holding onto the ball.  I thought we might see him cap out as a turnover prone rollercoaster quarterback that was capable of great highs and great lows, but he really rounded out his game.  Will Carroll said, and I'm paraphrasing, that Schaub wasn't any less dinged up than he was last year, he just kept playing anyway.  Combine that toughness with the improvement of Duane Brown (we'll get into this later), and there were much fewer fumbles and no games missed.  Hard to ask for a much better season than this.

Overall: Before the season, the debate was whether Schaub was a Top 10 quarterback or not.  Now the better question might be: Which quarterbacks would you take over him for sure?  For me, the list is three deep: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady.  C'mon now, this man is MADE.  He's KILLIN all y'all jive turkeys.  

(F*** it, I'm) Going Deep

Rex Grossman: In just 18 snaps, Grossman managed to destroy the Texans offense, their chances of winning the second Jacksonville game, and the rest of his career.  It was the first time that he's ever been that efficient.  The decision to trust him over Dan Orlovsky was ridiculous, both because Orlovsky has the better 2008 and because it was made over the shredding of Tampa Bay's 8th stringers in the last pre-season game.  In a just world, the only places where Grossman would get work next year are the Florida Tuskers and perhaps the Raiders.

Dan Orlovsky: Orlovsky did not play at all in the NFL this year.  He still looked promising in Detroit despite the safety everyone loves to laugh about.   He threw some interceptions and took some sacks in the preseason, but he also completed 58.5% of his passes at 6.9 yards/attempt.  I think there's still a decent backup quarterback here: more Tony Banks than Brad Banks.  The mini-camps and preseason will be very telling though, especially now that he's had a full season in the system.

Chris Brown: Really needs to work on his form.  Not only is there no touch on his passes, but he just doesn't seem to have good pocket awareness.

Running Backs

Steve Slaton


(Sorry about how small the RB sheets show up, blame them for running and catching.  Click to zoom)

Scouting: While Slaton didn't seem to have the same burst as he had last year, he was definitely still running hard and wasn't an easy tackle.  The fumbles don't seem to be a long-term issue, as it's not like there was much different last year asides from the extra weight and injury problems.  He made nice crisp cuts and I think the PFF numbers sell his pass blocking a little short: he's about average.  

Overall: How you feel about Slaton coming into next year definitely depends on how you feel about mulligans: the nerve injury, the added weight, and the offensive line are all legitimate excuses for the decline in his rushing (and increase in fumbles), but you can't completely absolve him of blame either.  50th, by the way, is dead last.  He was dead last among all backs with over 100 carries in DYAR, DVOA, and Success Rate.  

I think he's much better than his 2009 statistics.  I find optimism in his numbers in the receiving game, which still say that when he gets the breathing space he needs, he's a tough matchup.  If anyone needs a quick start to 2010, it's him.  The more games he can go without fumbling early on, the more at ease Kubiak will feel about him.  I don't think he'll ever be a dominant back, but there are 15 good carries a game here, as well as a great 3rd down back/screen guy.  Let this career arc be a warning to people who want to sign Bernard Pollard to a long multi-year contract after 12 decent games.

Vonta Leach


(Leach isn't projected in FOA 2009 because he's a fullback, and didn't qualify for DVOA ranks on passing in 2008)

Scouting: As I said in the last Charting Notes, Leach was a step slow all year and I wouldn't be surprised at all if it came out that he was playing through an injury.  His run blocking definitely suffered as he blew quite a few assignments, though he was a reliable safety valve for Schaub on the play-action dumpoff, albeit one that had no chance of doing much after he caught the ball.  He was a problem this year.

Overall: It's an open question whether the Texans should keep Leach.  If he was hiding an injury, then I think it makes sense to keep him.  If he wasn't, it's not a devastating cap charge to release him and try to find a new fullback since he's in the last year of his deal.  He's right about 30, and while some fullbacks have played forever, blocking doesn't tend to be a skill that fluctuates wildly unless an injury has occurred.  If I were running the Texans, I'd be sniffing around for replacements.  Knowing how the actual Texans are run, I bet we'll see him back next year.  

Chris Brown


Scouting: There were the foibles that wrecked games, such as The HB Pass, getting stuffed on 4th and goal in Arizona, and fumbling on 2nd and goal against Jacksonville, but more than anything, the frustration of having Chris Brown see 200+ snaps came because he simply didn't add anything to the team.  His running repertoire consisted of going forward 2 yards and falling down .  He couldn't pass block, as much as Kubiak wanted to pretend he could.  He's an abysmal screen option.  His presence on the field was akin to a washed up nineties celebrity getting to host a game show on GSN, and even that at least has a pathetic novelty to it that Brown doesn't.

Overall: FO nailed their projection almost completely, except for the part about Brown getting double the snaps that they thought he would.  If he plays a down of NFL football next year, the Mayans might be right about 2012.

Ryan Moats


(PFP 2008 did not run a Moats projection)

Scouting: Moats has an excellent burst off the line and gets low enough to take quite a few hits and spin out of them.  He does give up on a few plays a little too early.  I don't think much of him at all in pass protection, which limits his 3rd down back capabilities in my eyes.  

Overall: While I like Moats, there are a lot of factors against his return here.  He's a shifty quick back, which would be great if Arian Foster and a healthy Steve Slaton didn't already give that to the Texans.  He can't really pass protect, to the point where Kubes was more comfortable with Brown, which is pretty damning.  He hadn't put up a year anywhere near this before, especially in the screen game, which makes me wonder if this was his career year.  He's not old, but he's not young either.  Add it up and I think you've got a decent third string running back, but he might be better off on a team that has power runners.  I certainly wouldn't mind having him around training camp again or anything.

Arian Foster


Scouting: Foster delivers a surprising amount of power for a player of his stature.  He proved that he could get yards not only by absorbing hits, but also delivering them.  He flashes great hands out of the backfield, and should be a reliable screen target in his own right, which means that defenses can't key on it coming only when Slaton is on the field next year.  He's medicore at pass blocking, but he's not a liability there or anything.  In summation: he's about as impressive a half-season player as I've ever charted.

Overall: I'm very interested to see what happens with Foster next year.  He and Slaton share a lot of similarities, especially if Slaton can get back on track in the run game.  I think he's got a chance to unseat Slaton because of how impressive the end of the year was.  It's going to be strange having two essentially similar backs, and my main prediction right now is that it drives Fantasy Football owners crazy.  

(F*** it, I'm) Going Deep

Chris Henry: I was never really impressed with him and thought he was an enormous overdraft in the 2007 second round.  He was barely on the field at Arizona until his senior year.  I ended up charting about a half game with him in 2007 and he made that Texans run defense look a lot better than it was asides from one long run.  If he ever makes it up past practice squad player again, I'll be surprised.

Jeremiah Johnson: His name was Jeremiah Johnson, and they say he wanted to be a football player.  The story goes that he was a decent all-purpose back of proper height and build, suited to running back duties.  Nobody knows where abouts he come from and don't seem to matter much.  He was a young man and ghostly stories about the tall hits that injured him were a cautionary tale far and wide.  He was looking for an NFL job, 50 snaps or better.  He settled for the practice squad, but damn, it was a genuine football player, you couldn't go no better.  Bought him a good helmet, and those stretchy armpads, and some nice shiny steel blue cleats, and said good-bye to whatever life was down there below.

Next: Wide receivers and tight ends.