It is very unlikely for the Houston Texans to re-sign Matt Schaub, because keeping Schaub around would mean that the team is not interested in drafting a quarterback with the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Not only should teams picking first inherently key in on the QB position (unless if they have a very good trade/FA option like the Kansas City Chiefs did last year), but new head coach Bill O’Brien probably wants to hand-pick his own QB rather than stick with someone who will be 33 next season and threw an interception on 3.9% of his pass attempts in 2013. That said, Schaub had plenty of past success, as he never had a below-average season as a starter according to Pro Football Reference’s Rate+. Teams looking for a veteran quarterback in free agency need to take a close look at Schaub, because he looks like a great option given his bounce-back potential.
So just how bad was Schaub last season? Well, he notched career-lows in touchdown rate, interception rate, yards per attempt, yards per completion, and QB Rating. For the first time in his career since his first year as a starter in Houston, Schaub had a QB Rating under 90 with a ghastly 73.0 QBR, and his grade from the Pro Football Focus is even more disturbing, largely thanks to a real clunker of a performance against the San Francisco 49ers.
The wheels basically flew off in the worst way possible for Schaub last year, and it’s interesting looking at how a quarterback who was one of the league’s most consistent suddenly turned into a rash decision-maker who threw 14 picks in just 358 attempts. Before last season, his worst INT% was 3.1%, when he was a 26-year-old in 2007 and starting for the first time in his career. And even then, that interception rate was about at the league average, which makes his sudden regression last season all the more surprising. I mean, how many veteran quarterbacks become worse decision-makers later on in their careers than they were when they were a first-year starter? Is this regression legit? Did he lose a lot of velocity on his throws? Is he done? Is he thrown into the rubbish bin mentally forever?
The stat-geek in me tells me not to buy this, because it’s highly unlikely a 32-year-old would suddenly turn into Mr. Hyde. If we were using a simple “Marcel” system weighing his three seasons prior to 2013 (multiplying his QBR in 2012 by three, in 2011 by two, and in 2010 by one before adding them all up and dividing them by six), then Schaub’s projected quarterback rating would be 93.0, which would have been ninth-best in the NFL this past season. So 73.0? A whole 2o points lower? It’s hard to wonder if that isn’t fluky.
One interesting thing about Schaub’s 2013 stats is that he averaged the least amount of yards per completion, and usually less yards per completion means that there is less of a chance at an interception. That obviously wasn’t the case for Schaub, who attempted as many passes of 15 yards or greater as his career averages dictate, per Advanced NFL Stats. Could it be because of a lack of yards after the catch from the Texans receivers? That seems like a legitimate argument, because Advanced NFL Stats charts Case Keenum and Schaub with the fourth and sixth-lowest YAC% totals of the 2013 season, meaning that the Texans receivers did a poor job of generating yards after the catch. Is it because the Texans quarterbacks did a poor job of leading their receivers? That’s possible, but remember that Keenum’s YAC% was even lower than Schaub’s.
There’s also the matter of the Houston Texans offensive line, which gave up far too much pressure. According to the Pro Football Focus, Keenum was pressured on the second-highest percentage of his drop-backs, and Schaub was pressured on the sixth-highest percentage of his pass attempts. The Texans will have to get better pass protection out of their line next season, and making sure that Derek Newton never starts at right tackle again would be a nice start.
To get a better idea of how Schaub threw his interceptions, I found a great YouTube video in which somebody uploaded the All-22 of his first nine interceptions of the regular season. Out of all those picks, I saw that he was pressured on three of them, two picks resulted from tipped passes, and about five of those nine picks were horrible throws that never should have been thrown.
The common thread when looking at those nine interceptions was that they were all on shorter routes, and both timing and placement were issues on the poor throws. There was a total “WTF?” throw in which he was under pressure and threw it right to a Tennessee Titans defensive player who was nowhere near a receiver, and his pick six against the Titans was the result of poor placement (he should have thrown it deep instead of severely underthrowing a receiver who had a step on the double-coverage he faced). It’s difficult to try and evaluate his INTs, but the last one on the video against the San Francisco 49ers was the result of him being fooled by a zone blitz, whereas that infamous Richard Sherman pick six was the result of a bust play-call from Gary Kubiak.
There is a lot to take in regarding those nine throws, but it’s clear that Schaub was at fault for most of them. Some of those (tipped picks, bad play-call) picks can be attributed to things other than poor quarterbacking, but by and large, Schaub should have done a better job. It was especially troubling to see him take such poor care of the football, and he really should have taken sacks instead of trying to rashly throw the ball out. Maybe that has to do with purported mental pressure and struggles, but it’s clear that he should have done better and that these picks were uncharacteristic of Schaub based on what he did in the previous five seasons.
Essentially the numbers tell us that he regressed in just about every facet last season, but it seems to me like the regression will normalize in 2014. It’s incredibly unlikely for a QB to just fall off the face of the earth in one season, especially when this QB added a better No. 2 WR and had a well-deserved reputation for being one of the league’s most consistent QBs (career average QB Rating over 90). Schaub is a prime bounce-back candidate next season, and something tells me that a team in need of a quarterback should go hard after him as at least a stop-gap option due to his past success and the unrealistic chances of his poor 2013 season carrying over to a poor 2014 season. There’s risk involved when signing somebody who was as poor as Schaub last season, but I don’t think one bad seasons of data should crush his value.
Plus, Schaub had better overall statistics than fellow QB Case Keenum, who had lower WPA/G and DYAR totals. In fact, Football Outsiders has Joe Flacco and Eli Manning with significantly lower DYAR totals than Schaub, and most advanced stats have Flacco and Manning below the Texans veteran passer. So why do they get a free pass for poor pass protection and inconsistent route-running from receivers? All three QBs have established track records, yet Schaub gets more of the hate (despite also having better career numbers than Flacco). Is it because the other two QBs have rings? Because that’s a totally unfair way to look at it, and nobody is thinking of replacing either of those two QBs any time soon (and rightfully so).
It’s always hard to believe in somebody who threw interceptions at the rate Schaub did last season and had such poor numbers, but, again, I think it’s worth believing in a bounce-back year from Schaub. He needs a change of scenery and a better mental state of mind to achieve that, so it’s best for both him and the Texans to move on. I think that’s what will ultimately happen, and hopefully he can land in a favorable situation and play out the final few years of his career as a solid passer, just as he was for the five seasons prior to 2013.