clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Myths Of Gary Kubiak: Part II

In the second entry in a three part series, Matt Weston rummages through the numbers and investigates the truths of behind the group think the Gary Kubiak era. This time he measures if Kubiak warrants the "Conserviak" nickname he was given.

Jim McIsaac

In case you missed it, click here for Part I.


"Conserviak," along with "battle-fightin'," "seriously, effing' fire Joe Marciano," "Hologram" and many others are part of the vocabulary of every Texans fan on the entire planet (on a related note, UprootedTexan is coming out with the newest version of the glossary this week, so watch out for that). We all have laughed and giggled together in our own secret code of language and memes that an outsider simply would not understand. We all have watched games and groaned in defeat after every run-run-pass three and out, every third down draw, and every 27 yard field goal. The combination of this snowballed in into the Conserviak name we all have used at least once in our lives. However, there were times when I watched the Texans play where I thought the Conserviak name was unfairly deserved. Just like halftime adjustments, no one has ever gone back and measured if it's true. Today let's tackle the myth of Conserviak.

The first way we will measure the conservatism of Kubey Snacks (since I am going to be writing his name hundreds of times, be prepared for lame Kubiak puns) is by looking at how often he goes for it on 4th and 2. The first two columns are the Houston Texans. The second two are the league average.

Year 4th and 2 or less Conversion % 4th and 2 Conversion
2006 9 (6th) 88.90% 6.78 64.50%
2007 9 (10th) 77.80% 8.34 60.30%
2008 12 (3rd) 75% 8.125 67.30%
2009 12 (4th) 66.70% 9.06 60.30%
2010 11 (5th) 90.90% 7.87 60.70%
2011 11 (20th) 27.30% 13.40 42.20%
2012 3 (31st) 100% 6.56 63.30%
2013 10 (1st) 40% 5.375 62.20%

Ahhhhh, 2006 Kubiak was a young battl- fightin' first time head coach ready to take the league by storm. He loved to go for it on 4th and 2. Nine may not seem like a high number, but remember back then every coach punted on fourth down. Nobody wanted to take risks. Kubiak was in the top ten in this department every season in his first five years (2006-2010) and was also above the league average. Then 2011 happened, and the Texans went for it on 4th and 2 11 times, converting for the first down at a rate of 27.3%. Additionally, there is a huge jump in the number of times coaches went for it on 4th and 2 because of the analytics movement in professional sports. That increase led to a decrease in success, and coaches have started to go for it in this situation less and less.

Like most coaches in 2011, Kubiak's was burned by 4th down. He was afraid to love again and went for it on 4th and 2 or less only three times in 2012, which was 31st in the league. This is despite the fact that the Texans converted 4th and 2 or shorter every time (small sample sizes, anyone?).

Now, 100% is unsustainable, but with Arian Foster and what used to be a great offensive line, it is incredible that Houston went for it in this situation only three times. This season, one could say that Kubiak reignited his love for going for it on fourth down because he leads the league in plays like this. Of course, Kubiak went for it on fourth down mostly because the Texans were down by two scores or more, so he was forced to go for it. In 2013, Kubiak went for it on fourth and short only five times in a one possession games, which puts him right around league average. Overall, what we see is that Kubiak was a risk taker until 2011 happened. Then he started yelling at kids to get off his lawn.

The Decision: Recovering Gambler

Let's expand on this thought and look at Kubiak's overall numbers on fourth down.

Year Total 4th down Conversion % Total 4th Down Conversion %
2006 13 69.20% 14.875 49.80%
2007 15 73.30% 16.68 47.80%
2008 23 60.9% 15.34 52.10%
2009 12 66.70% 17.4 49.60%
2010 19 47.40% 15.12 47.50%
2011 11 27.30% 13.40 42.20%
2012 7 57.10% 14.09 50.30%
2013 16 37.50% 10.53 46%

The first thing that pops out to me is that Houston was right around league average in the beginning of Kubiak's head coaching career. The Texans took risks when the team was abysmal and become conservative when the Texans became a contender. The numbers show that Kubiak took risks on fourth down either right at or below league average except for in 2008, 2010 and 2013. 2008 Gary Kubiak went for it on fourth down 11 times, taking the risk eight more times than the league average. In 2010, one would think Houston's conversion rate dropped because they had to attempt to convert long 4th downs in the second half when they had no choice. Actually, the opposite is true. The Texans went for it thirteen times when they were down by less than ten points, and the average fourth down they went for needed 3.05 yards for the conversion.

After that season, Kubiak stopped taking fourth down risks and opted to go for it only on 4th and short situations. Since 2010, Kubiak has only gone for it on 4th down ten times (0-2011, 4-2012, and 6-2013). This year we have seen a spike in fourth down tries; Houston actually leads the league in this category. The Texans have been taking risks in a season where nothing really matters. Of their attempts, 6 out of 16 came outside of 4th and short. 9 out of 16 attempts came in games where the score differential was no more than ten points. The problem is most of these attempts came when the team's season was already over.

In the aggregate, Kubiak has gone for it 116 times. Only 39 of those times have come outside 4th and 2. So what we see is that Scary Gary is conservative when it comes to going for it in situations greater than two yards and suffers from a case of recency bias when it comes to 4th down conversions. Gary does go for it on fourth down more often than the league average. The catch is that he is a house cat who has never smelled fresh air and is frightened every time he has to leave his Two Yard Apartment. The other issue is that Kubiak tends to only take on risk when he is coaching a horrendous team; he opts to play more conservatively when his teams are good. This will be a bigger issue when we look at red zone field goals later on.

The Decision: Conserviak

Let's continue looking at down situations by measuring third and longs. As most have noticed and claimed, Kubiak hates going for it on third and long. He often opts for a draw or screen instead of a 12 yard pass. Most believe that the Texans give up on too many drives and hand the ball back to the opponent instead of going for the first down and utilizing the skill players they have. Let's test the validity of this statement.

Plays on 3rd and Long Run Pass Conversion% Avg to go League Average Conversion Rate
88 (30th) 22 (3rd) 64 (32nd) 23.9% (26th) 10.67 26.90%
90 (26th) 15 (18th) 75 (6th) 31.1% (8th) 11.2 27.30%
89 (27th) 15 (16th) 74 (30th) 28.1% (21st) 10.96 26.30%
86 (29th) 16 (11th) 70 (27th) 27.9% (12th) 10.71 25.90%
86 (32nd) 8 (27th) 78 (31st) 27.9% (14th) 10.55 26.60%
111 (12th) 27 (3rd) 84 (24th) 18.9% (31st) 10.72 26.30%
103 (16th) 26 (1st) 77 (28th) 22.3% (28th) 11.35 26.80%
90 (7th) 14 (10th) 80 (6th) 15.6% (32nd) 11.76 26.40%

Here are the numbers when Houston was faced with 3rd and 7 or longer. This is when the conservatism starts to shine. What we see is that Kubiak is more risk averse once the run game and defense picked up in 2011 and 2012. These numbers are understandable in 2006 when Gary opted to run on third down because "He Who Must Not Be Named" was the quarterback. Kubiak could not and wisely did not trust that man to throw on third down. As a result, Houston was last in the league in passing attempts on third down.

When Matt Schaub came to town, Kubiak decided take chances. The Texans jumped from 32nd to 6th in the league on third and long pass attempts. With it came an increase in Houston's third down conversion rate. From 2007 to 2010 (it's hard to use the league standing in number of plays run and passed because Houston was great at keeping themselves out of that situation), Houston rarely ran the ball on third and long, instead opting to go for the first with Schaub at the helm. This can be seen by looking at the run pass ratio (2007-75:15, 2008-74:15, 2009-70:16, 2010-78:8).

Then the defense sprouted from the Earth when Wade Phillips took over. The run game flourished in 2011 and 2012. As a result, Kubiak hid behind it and the Texans began to run more draws and screens on third downs. In both of these seasons, the Texans led the league in runs on third and and long, and their conversion percentage in these same situations dropped as well. In 2010, Houston picked up a first on third and long at a rate of 27.9%; it then dropped down to 18.9% and 22.3%, respectively, over the following years. This is simply inexcusable for a team with the skill players and quarterback the Texans had (after what happened this year, it is weird to talk highly of Schaub).

In 2013, we have seen the same sort of strategy, but it is not as egregious as years past. Yes, Houston has run the ball 14 times on third down, but they are 7th in the league with 90 plays in this situation. Of those plays, they pick up a first down at a rate of 15.6%; that puts them last in the league. To pour on the Case Keenum hate, Case is 26-57 (45.6%) for 328 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and 10 sacks when faced with third and long. The real problem is the sheer number of times the Texans have put themselves into this situation. Kubiak has thrown the ball 80 times, compared to running 14 times, on third and long. He has taken more chances on third down this season. If you want to quickly find out the who the worst offenses are in the league are, do a search on the numbers of plays faced with on third and long. Here is the list:


To sum it up, Kubiak was wise to not taking chances with Rhymes With Star at the helm. He did change up his tendencies once Schaub took office. In 2009, 2011, and 2012, Kubiak became too protective of his offense and forced them to give up on third down instead of letting his offensive skill players go for it. In 2013, Kubiak did throw the ball more often on third down, but the real issue is the number of times Houston has been in this situation this season. The point is Kubiak was overcautious in running his offense during his tenure with the Texans, especially considering the players he had.

Decision: Conserviak

This next category is something that has infuriated me for some time now. For many years, we could name off great skill players who seemed to waste away, not utilized to their optimal level. This is exactly why I fell in love with Keenum for two weeks. He actually took chances throwing deep, unlike the 7-12 yard bubble we saw with Schaub/ After watching Keenum play more, however, I quickly changed my mind and blamed the lack of deep passes on Schaub's arm, not Kubiak failing to take chances. The throws had been there all season. The Texans just needed a quarterback to take some chances throwing the ball down the field.

I feel most share the same view point as I do, but let's take a look at the numbers and see if Houston fails to make plays down the field.

Plays +15 Yards Run Pass Avg Play Leage Average
2006 67 (32nd) 15 52
22.45 97.46
2007 93 (19th) 11 82 23.96 97.71
2008 124 (2nd) 21 103 25.73 99.21
2009 118 (8th) 12 106 24.75 103.59
2010 131 (2nd) 27 104 24.6 106.53
2011 127 (13th) 35 92 24.44 113.9
2012 114 (13th) 25 89 24.3 109.81
2013 93 (8th) 16 77 24.3 84.5

Out of all the numbers we have looked at so far, this is the group of numbers that has surprised me the most. I have no idea how Kubiak did not lose his mind running this offense with the original #8 at the helm in 2006. In 2006, Houston had only 67 plays that went for more than 15 yards, with only 52 passing plays in that same category. When Schuab arrived, Houston's offense finally blossomed and turned into the monster Kubiak had dreamed of. This graph does an excellent job of showing the changes in long plays during the Kubra's reign of terror.


As you can see, the offense peaked in 2009 and has slowly declined since then. However, I do think this is more of a result of T.J. Yates starting for a good chunk of 2011 and Schaub losing his mojo in 2012 and 2013 rather than Kubiak not taking chances. This can be seen by the drop in passing plays over 15 yards in each of these seasons as well. This year we have seen an increase in plays of fifteen yards; Houston is 8th in 15+ yard plays thanks to Keeeeeeeenuuuuuuuuum. The graph does not show it, but there should be an uptick this year since there are still three games left in the season. Despite the drop we can see in these number of plays, Houston still has had more plays go for 15+ yards than the league's average every year except for 2006.

I do understand that these numbers are inflated by the large number of runs in 2011 and 2012, but 92 and 88 passes 15+ yards is still respectable. These numbers were surprising to me. My pessimism was more of a result of the idea that Houston could have taken even more chances and thrown the ball deep more often. Yes, Kubiak could have taken more chances down the field in 2011 and 2012, but the numbers are more of a result of Yates and Schaub losing his mojo. Kubiak is in fact a coach that enjoys stretching the field.

Decision: Not Conservative

The last category to measure Conserviak is the number of field goals kicked in the red zone. There is nothing worse than watching a team drive the ball 65 yards into the red zone and settle for a field goal. Especially so if a team is trying to keep up with one of these modern era high flying NFL offenses. Last year, I ripped my Kubik hair out after every short Shayne Graham field goal, yelling at not only the stagnancy of the Texans' red zone offense but also Kubes being too frightened to go for the throat to try to grab six. Here are the Houston field goals kicked in the red zone since 2006:

Year HOU Redzone FGs League average HOU % drives in redzone FG League Average
2006 9 (32) 16.72 23% 35.80%
2007 14 (26th) 17.25 30% 40.00%
2008 20 (10th) 17.72 33% 35.2%
2009 22 (3rd) 16.96 34% 32.30%
2010 19 (9th) 16.93 35% 34.60%
2011 24 (2nd) 17.03 39% 34.70%
2012 20 (4th) 16.09 36% 33.20%
2013 11 (23rd) 13.21 31% 32.20%

In 2006, Houston was 32nd in field goals kicked in the red zone simply because they had no idea what the red zone was back then. Since then, however, Houston has been in the top ten in red zone field goals in every season since 2008 before recently dropping out of the top ten this season. This is the result of a poor red zone offense and Kubiak not taking chances to score touchdowns.

Over his entire career, Kubiak has been more than fine with kicking field goals inside the twenty yard line. In 2012, Houston kicked more field goals than they scored touchdowns in the second half. Of all the stats, this is the one that makes me burn my esophagus with stomach bile as I blauuuurrrgghhhhh all over the floor. This is the one that makes me furious more than anything. To let points in the end zone sit there and motion Gary to come hither with their index finger, Kubes decided to play it safe despite the weapons and run game he had.

Coach Kubiak, did you know that six (really, seven) is greater than three?

Decision: Conserviak

The key trend that we have seen in this entire study is that Gary Kubiak did take chances when he first suckled Matt Schaub in 2007. He then took a conservative route in 2009 before having to take chances in 2010 when the offense had to pick up the slack behind a defense that would have given up 300 yards to Blaine Gabbert. In 2011 and 2012, Kubiak went back to his old conservative ways; Houston took a lead, ran the ball, played defense and kicked field goals until the game was over. The only categories where Kubiak stood out above league average was in plays over fifteen yards and going for it on fourth and short.

Before I ran these numbers, I stood behind the idea that Kubiak did not deserve the Conserviak label. After going through the data, it is crystal clear that Kubiak is in fact a conservative football coach.

All hail Conserviak!

Stop by tomorrow to read the last part in Matt Weston's three part series.

Texans vs Colts coverage