Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub is entering his seventh season as the unquestioned starter in Houston. Since stepping into the spotlight, he's never ascended as one of the league's top quarterbacks. Quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell believes that will change in the 2013 season.
Dorrell praised Schaub's 2012 season on the Texans' official website, a year in which he led the Texans to a 12-4 record and AFC South title. But he also believes Schaub has a lot of work to do to become one of the league's elite quarterbacks. From HoustonTexans.com:
But I think it wasn't enough. In his mind and in my mind, there's so much more he can bring to the table. He's already a great leader. He's already a guy that really can operate this offense at the highest level with efficiency. We know that from our standpoint there was definitely stuff that we left on the table last year.
He's had an excellent offseason. He's in great shape physically, and I think he's ready to take it up a notch going into 2013. If you're an elite player in this league, you're able to be a crunch time player. I know Matt's really right there; he's on the cusp of being one of those players.
After missing part of 2011 with a Lisfranc injury, Schaub started all 16 games and reached 4,000 yards for the third time in his career. But there are some concerns about his season, notably his weak performance down the stretch. Over the last six games of the regular season, Schaub completed just 60.4 percent of his passes, averaged 6.89 yards per attempt and threw four interceptions to four touchdowns. Pro Football Focus graded him negatively on all but one of those six games. Houston went on to lose three of their final four games.
Despite the division title, the Texans' late-season swoon cost them a first-round bye, and they were routed by the Patriots in the Divisional round. There were rumors that Schaub was dealing with an injury during his cold streak, although he never appeared on the injury report. At any rate, it was a troubling trend downwards for Schaub and the Texans.
Now entering his age-32 season, can Schaub reach the potential his QB coach thinks he's capable of? The Texans gave him a new weapon in the draft with DeAndre Hopkins to pair with Andre Johnson. Arian Foster is still one of the top running backs in the league, but his workload is starting to become a concern. Foster racked up 956 carries over the past three seasons, and despite getting 1,424 rushing yards in 2012, his yards per carry plunged to a career-low 4.1. He also missed most of spring workouts with a calf injury. Foster should be healthy for the regular season, but the Texans' offense can only lean on him for so long.
The Texans have a run-heavy offense dependent on the play-action. Their offensive line crumbled down the stretch, which may have contributed to Schaub's erratic play, but his mobility continues to be a concern, as noted by Texans blog Battle Red Blog:
As the season progressed, it became increasingly clear Schaub no longer trusted the offensive line, and with good reason! But he also had a tendency to hit panicky idiot mode far too early in the pass rush. At times, he was David Carr-esque, aside from the hair.
What hurt most of all, however, was Schaub's lack of mobility. When we can't run a play action offense, when nobody is scared of Schaub being able to make the slightest move to free himself for a pass, Kubiak's offense simply cannot work. And play actions were not even secondary thoughts by the end of the season. No pocket presence and no mobility equals no Super Bowl with Matt Schaub. It's like math and stuff.
Instead of making a leap, it's likely that Schaub has hit his peak as an NFL quarterback. It's hard to picture Schaub being mentioned in the same breath as Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. The Texans are favored to win the division again, thanks to having one of the best defenses in the league, but if they're going to get past the Broncos or Patriots and bring a Super Bowl to Houston, they're going to need a healthy Schaub who can execute Kubiak's play-actions and get the most out of Hopkins and Andre Johnson.
That may not make for an "elite" quarterback, but Houston's quarterback situation is in much better shape than most of their AFC counterparts.