Earlier this week, Gary Kubiak was swallowed up in his futon and sipped on his favorite beverage, Pepto Bismol and Pepsi Blue, while wondering what to do. That day the team doctor broke the news and dreadfully whispered," Gary... Schuab won't be able to play this week." So there he sat with his forehead wrinkled like a leather couch, questioned his existence and tried to comprehend that either T.J Yates or Case Keenum would be holding the fate of his job and the Texans' season in their right arm. As George Jones's A Picture of Me Without You wailed through the tape deck he headed for the back yard and plucked a daisy from the garden. He gently caressed it in his hands while slowly shuffling his way to the creaky, stained rocking chair where he rocked many hours of his life away. He swayed on its curved legs and began to pick petals off one by one as each fallen piece of earth was accompanied by the words Yates or Keenum. Back and forth he muttered their names until there was one white piece of silk remaining. "Keenum," Kubiak stated as he continued to swing his way underneath the smile of a waxing crescent moon.
At 3:05 central time, in Kansas City, Missouri, the Texans third string quarterback Case Keenum, will be making his first career start at the raucous Arrowhead Stadium.
The Case for Keenum
Earlier this week I wrote in depth about Case Keenum and why he wasn't the answer to the Texans problems as a way to squash all momentum to bench Schaub for Keenum. Then that sly nymph Fortuna spun her wheel and stopped Schaub from being able to recover in time from the injury he sustained against the Rams. After Kubiak plucked his petals, the Texans are now left with Keenum starting over Yates in this week's game. It was the right decision because Keenum brings an unknown factor. No one knows exactly what he can do, unlike the five yard check down machine T.J Yates. Despite the fact that there's a 99% chance Keenum is going to be ripped to shreds like the man from Day of the Dead, he still has a chance to improve the offense.
Most have continued to wonder what the problem was with the offense and failed to accept that Matt Schaub's arm is dead. He can't put zip on the football, which has led to him being unable to complete passes in man coverage and his inability to throw the deep ball has cornered the offense. When he's played well it was because the defense was running zone coverage and his intelligent receivers were able to find holes in the zone with ease. The problem is that against man coverage he can't get the ball to the receiver fast enough. Even when Andre Johnson or DeAndre Hopkins is open the ball is picked off or incomplete because of how it flutters. His weak arm gives the defender a larger margin of error to make a play on the ball even when he gets burned. This is seen by his inability to complete passes outside the numbers and the interceptions against the 49ers two weeks ago (I wrote about this last week and the link is here for those who are interested). So when the defense goes man to man he waits for the first player to get kind of open in the middle of the field or tosses the ball to the flat. This is why Houston completes 3rd and 7 and longer at a rate of only 16.3%. If Keenum has enough arm strength to throw against man to man coverage the offense will be considerably better.
The other problem Schaub has had is throwing the ball deep down the field. When the Texans offense is at its best they are able to throw the deep ball off the play action when the defense starts to creep up. The problem is Matt Schaub can't do that anymore. This season Schaub has completed 16 passes for 20 yards or more. However, only 9 of those passes traveled 15 yards in the air and the rest were plays that were either a screen or had a large YAC. This means only 6% of Schaub's completions were caught 15 yards past the line of scrimmage and the longest pass he's thrown was the 31 yard touchdown pass to Garret Graham against the Seahawks in week 4. The main problem with the offense is that it's stuck in a 15 yard box because there's no possibility of a long play. It's like a sheep dog that needs acres of land to roam around and chase cattle to be successful and happy. However, now it's moved from the pastures to a studio apartment where it's cramped and has nothing to do but lick itself.
The St. Louis game displayed this problem perfectly. With 9:47 left in the first, the Rams brought it's strong safety, Rodney McLeod, into the box in order to stop the run game that ran the ball for 31 yards on 4 plays. This is a strategy that works against high school teams with a 16 year old quarterback, not in the NFL where professional quarterbacks make teams pay for stunts like this. Since Matt Schaub can't throw the ball farther than 15 yards the Rams were able to use eight guys to stop the run without worrying about being beat deep.
This strategy was used off and on from the first drive of the game onwards and Houston managed to complete exactly zero passes that floated fifteen yards down the field and attempted only two. It's not a case of his receiver's being covered on the outside since he has Andre Johnson, who's open on every play, and DeAndre Hopkins going against Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson.
On this play Schaub has Andre Johnson at about the 50 yard line who faked the deep post inside, got the safety to turn his shoulders and then cut back to the sideline wide open. As you can see he's directly in Schaub's cone of vision, but he doesn't throw the ball to his Hall of Fame wide receiver. Instead he checks down and completes a short pass to Greg Jones in the flat. Matt settles for a gain of five yards rather than throwing the ball deep to Dre for twenty.
Here we are again. The Rams run Cover Two on this play where the corners have the flat, the safeties play over the top, and the linebackers cover the middle of the field. Andre Johnson nestles in a nice piece of grass and has ten yards separating him and the safety. Again Schaub can see Johnson open since Graham is occupying the same part of the field as him. And again we see Matt opt for the shorter route instead of throwing the deeper pass. Andre Johnson is now sitting next to Larry Fitzgerald, Justin Blackmon, and Vincent Jackson at the Horrendous Quarterback Rehab and Recovery Center.
Andre Johnson "Optimus Prime" (via canesfreak47)
We feel for ya, Dre.
Since there is no chance the Texans can throw the ball deep, opposing defenses can play tight and stop the run game. The pass game suffers because the defense can shrink the field down and constrict the space the receivers have to work with. The throws are there to be made for a quarterback willing to take some chances and has the arm strength to do so. The question left to be answered is, can Keenum make these big boy throws against NFL defenses? Sunday will be much different than playing against Rice on a Saturday night, but the opportunity to succeed will be there for him.
Score on Us?
This couldn't be a worse week for Keenum to make his first start since he will be going up against the NFL's best defense. Yes they have played against a fairly easy schedule, but they still shut down the Giants and held the Cowboys to 16 points. If you want to look at any metric, DVOA, yards allowed, turnovers or points allowed they are either in the top five or number one in the league. They have a DVOA of -23.1% (1st), have sacked the quarterback 31 times (1st), a pass defense DVOA of -38.8% (1st), allowed 65 points (1st), and 1838 yards allowed (5th). This talented defense that underperformed last year has turned into the best in the league.
First we'll focus on the passing game, but more specifically how they have performed against young quarterbacks since the undrafted Keenum is making his first start and taking his first career NFL snap in a regular season game. This season the Chiefs have played against two quarterbacks we can qualify as young or inexperienced and they are the Real American Blaine Gabbert and Terrell Pryor. In these two games the Chiefs held the opponent to two points (zero if you want to be picky) and seven points. There is a little Chad "My Favorite Pasta is Penne" Henne sprinkled in, but the quarterbacks stats in those two games are:
The Chiefs have feasted on young quarterbacks who don't do well against pressure. What they did in both of these games is get to the quarterback early and change their eye level. What this means is that instead of looking for receivers down the field they spent their time staring at the line in fear of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali sprinting towards them. Their entire rhythm is thrown off, they can't find the open players that are there and spend 33 minutes or so running for their life. Add this to a defense that has forced 18 interceptions and we have a disaster on our hands.
What's troublesome is that Houston's offensive line has had problems protecting the passer this year. They've given up 17 sacks and have an adjusted sack rate of 6.5% (12th). These numbers maybe over valuing the unit as a whole because it doesn't factor in hurries, quarterback hits or pressures. Duane Brown is having a down year, Michael Brockers ate Wade Smith alive last week, and Derek Newton has been putrid in pass protection. The only good news is that Ryan Harris should split playing time 40% to 60% with Newton this game. He played 36% of the snaps last week and he's a much better pass protector than Newton. They'll lose some production in the run game, but his superiority in the pass game is worth the substitution. For the offense to have any consistency throwing the ball they must be able to give Case Keenum time to sit back there and throw the football.
The other factor that is worrisome in this game is how difficult it is to score on the Cheifs. This year they have allowed 65 points, 7 TDs, and 5 FGs. That's it. The other problem is that to beat the Chiefs you have to capitalize on the chances you get and you must score touchdowns, not field goals. Dallas is the only team to come close to beating them and their undoing was that they made three field goals compared to one touchdown. As a result of that necessity, I looked at drives where Kansas City had allowed a touchdown. When looking at these drives it seems that there is one clear way to score on them and that's the big play.
|Plays||YDs||Time of Drive||Big Gain|
|9||42||4:54||Alex Smith INT, Started drive at KC 42|
|6||55||3:20||22 YD Punt Return|
|6||78||3:16||39 YD TD Pass|
|5||78||1:21||41 YD Run|
|2||74||:54||69 YD TD Pass|
|3||87||1:16||61 Yd Run|
|5||82||2:51||49 Yd Pass|
Every touchdown the Chiefs have allowed has been because of either great field position or they allowed a play 40 yards or longer. This season the Chiefs have given up 9 plays that went for 35 yards or more and the opponent has scored a touchdown on 5 of them. The dilemma is that Kansas City doesn't give up many of these plays and Houston is impotent when it comes to large gains. In 2013 the Texans have 21 plays greater than 20 yards and only 2 plays over 25 yards. The probability that Case Keenum can lead the Texans to some large gains is crumb sized and if this is the only way to score touchdowns on a great defense the possibility to win wanes instantly.
Now although there has been a love affair with the Chiefs defense so far, offenses can run the ball on them. Kansas City has a run defense DVOA of 3.1% (27th) and has allowed 5.1 yards a carry (31st in the league). Houston has run the ball for 4.7 yards a carry (5th), but it hasn't translated into wins yet. This is because of the penalties, turnovers and deficits Houston has had to overcome in the six football games they have played this year. The game plan for Houston to win will be simple; get a lead and run the ball 45 times. Arian Foster is finally starting to overcome the rust from not playing football this preseason and is starting to look like his old self. Oh and that Ben Tate guy has been pretty good too. Houston has yet to have a dominating ground performance this year because of the situations they have had to play under. However, if they can get and keep a lead and run behind their backs while limiting the chances for Keenum to make a mistake an upset is possible.
We Have an Offense Too
Underneath the greatness of the defense the Chiefs offense has been as mediocre as mediocre can be. Their offense has a DVOA of -4.2% (18th), they are in the bottom half of every passing category, but their run game has been rejuvenated by Jamaal Charles and not having BRADY QUIN start at quarterback. Despite their average DVOA and yardage rankings, the Chiefs have managed to score 152 points (9th in the NFL). However, when we go back and look at how they scored their points a few key trends emerge. The Chiefs' points scored has been inflated by the defense and that they are opportunistic.
This year Kansas City has scored 152 points. However they've returned one punt for a touchdown, gulp, and have returned three interceptions for touchdown, grab a brown paper sack to breathe into. Side note-There has been 25 pick sixes this season and the Texans' offense has accounted for 20% of them. The Bears lead the league with four and the Chiefs are second with three. So when we subtract these 28 points Kansas City has scored 124, which drops them from 9th to T-17 with Tennessee. This hasn't been an issue this season because of how well the defense has played, but this is a cause for concern in the future for the Chiefs.
What they do well is take advantage of what the defense does for them. They don't make mistakes and they hang back and wait until their defense gets a turn over, changes the field position or for the special teams to break a big return. This year the Chiefs have scored 7 field goals and three touchdowns off drives where they received the ball because of a turnover. This means that Kansas City has created only 54 points under normal conditions and 35.4% of their points were created by the defense's efforts in some way. On drives where Kansas City crosses the goal line their average starting field position is the 44 yard line, which is second in the league. They don't have to rely on Alex Smith to lead the team to victory, they need the offense to do just enough and take advantage of the opportunities given to them. They have so far this year and it has led to them beating the Jags, Giants, Cowboys and others, but it will problematic against tougher opponents like the Broncos. Despite these issues, the Chiefs are a perfect Darwinian monster to beat a turn over prone team that's starting an inexperienced NFL quarterback.
It is possible, but extremely unlikely the Texans win this game. For them to pull off the upset and hand the Chiefs their first loss this year a multitude of things have to go right. The most important thing will be to not to turn the ball over, but based on turnover numbers this is highly unlikely. Houston will need to carve out a lead and run the ball for 150 yards or more. The Texans must protect Keenum and give him enough time to make decisions and he'll need to repay the favor by completing passes to his receivers deep down the field. Then the defense will have to smother Jamaal Charles and force Alex Smith to beat them. If it's the fourth quarter and Houston is up 17-7 they will win this game. However, the problem is reaching that goal since the largest deficit the Chiefs have faced this year is six points and the Texans haven't had a lead in the last 120 minutes of play.
What will likely happen is Kansas City will force a big turnover and the offense will do what they do and take advantage of the short field position. Houston will go down by 13 or so and will have to stop running the ball in order to come back, despite Arian Foster running for 100 yards. The Chiefs will hit Keenum early and often and change his eye level to the line of scrimmage and devour him as he holds onto the ball longer than he should in fear. Also I'm predicting a pick six this week and an enormous special teams play in favor of the Chiefs and yes I'm putting that evil on you. NCAA football season is officially starting and let us all fall in love with Aaron Murray's dreamy eyes or Taj Boyd's slender arms.
Chiefs win 27-6