Houston Texans: Full Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Quarterback
One of the often-heard criticisms of Gary Kubiak's offense during his time in Houston was the lack of freedom and control given to the quarterback. Maybe with how Matt Schaub played last year you wouldn't want to give him more control than necessary, but the leash Kubiak had on the quarterbacks went beyond just last season.
Kubiak came off as having the mindset that if his team executed perfectly, it wouldn't matter if the opponent had a read on what the Texans were going to do. However, perfect execution is impossible to achieve on every play.
If the quarterback comes to the line and notices the defense is running an overload blitz to the same side as the sprint out pass the offense is running, he should be able to change the play. If the opponent has a numbers advantage to the side of the field a run play is directed to, he should be able to flip the play. Quarterbacks were not given that freedom in Kubiak's offense, but will be in Bill O'Brien's offense.
#Texans WR coach Stan Hixon, who was at Penn State and worked with BO'B since '95, on offense: "Quarterback-friendly. He runs the show."— Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) May 30, 2014
With great freedom comes great responsibility. If Coach O'Brien is going to trust his quarterback to make more decisions on his own, he has to have a starter capable of making the correct reads and adjustments.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has 77 career starts; the other three Texans quarterbacks have 13 combined. The huge edge in experience gives Fitzpatrick an advantage, but I believe that both Case Keenum and Tom Savage have more raw talent and upside.
How quickly that raw talent can become polished and reliable will determine how quickly the other quarterbacks can get on the field, as I'll discuss over the following slides.
Wide Open Competition?
Through the first week of OTAs the quarterback competition has been labeled as "wide open" by Bill O'Brien, with each player getting an equal number of snaps. I think it'd be naive to believe that the coaching staff doesn't have a favorite leading the competition in their mind as of now, but I like that they're willing to let it play out.
It's possible that either Tom Savage or Case Keenum is their starter of the future, but the opposite is just as likely, and neither will be ready to lead the team in Week 1, so there's no point in rushing the competition.
From Stephanie Stradley of the Houston Chronicle, Coach O'Brien spoke about the competition:
I think initially you have to, in this part of the year, you have to make sure the reps are equal. Then you got to make sure that each guy gets a chance to rep with the starters, or the guys that are running with the first team. I think that’s important too. So we try to do that, try to make sure we get equal reps, then at some point, whether it’s two weeks from now, three weeks from now, two months from now when we get to training camp, we’ll make a determination on who gets the most reps to get them ready for the game, but we are not there right now. We got to continue to give these guys equal amount of reps and give them a shot.
In my opinion, the Texans coaching staff has decided on a starting quarterback but are letting all four guys compete in case one of the others is so impressive that they have no choice but to change their mind.
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines a "stopgap" as:
someone or something that is intended to be used for a short time and then replaced by someone or something better : a temporary substitute
They should replace that definition with a picture of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
We all know how high Fitzpatrick's ceiling is, and we're not talking about a skyscraper; you could live if you fell from that height. Fitzpatrick makes too many mistakes and doesn't have a strong arm, but what he does have over the other quarterbacks is experience.
That reason is why Fitzpatrick will most likely be the Texans starter in Week 1 against the Washington Redskins.
The former Harvard quarterback has played for four other teams during his career, and in the only two seasons in which he was the starter for all 16 games, Fitzpatrick threw 39 interceptions.
He wasn't brought here because they thought he was capable of leading them to great success or becoming their future quarterback; he was brought here as a short-term solution. I don't think he'll be an improvement over Matt Schaub—outside of his performance last season, of course.
I would be surprised if Fitzpatrick wasn't named the starter for Week 1, but how long he holds on to the job will depend on the Texans' record and how quickly the younger quarterbacks develop and learn the system.
That being said, if the Texans had gotten even an average performance level out of their quarterbacks last season, they would have won another four or five games. Matt Schaub was a disaster, and after a quick start, so was Case Keenum over his final five games.
Can Ryan Fitzpatrick play at least average football and help improve the Texans' record to maybe six wins? Yes he can, but don't expect anything more.
Remember Jeff Francoeur, the former Braves player? He was one of the top prospects in baseball about 10 years ago before making his MLB debut in 2005. Francoeur hit everything he saw during his rookie season and finished with a .300 average over 70 games.
Opponents adjusted and realized that he had trouble with plate discipline and handling the breaking stuff, and his batting average dropped to .260 during his second season. His opponents made the adjustment, he did not.
Except for not being a top prospect, I think there are some similarities between Francoeur and Case Keenum.
The former Houston Cougar started off hot over his first three starts with an average of 274 yards per game, seven touchdowns, no interceptions and a 105.1 QB rating. Over his final five starts his yards per game average dropped to 188, he threw only two touchdowns to six interceptions and had a 60 QB rating.
Keenum had difficulty identifying and picking up the blitz, and to make matters worse, went through his reads too slowly and held on to the ball too long. Opponents recognized those issues and exploited them.
Keenum also struggled with his accuracy. According to Pro Football Focus, Keenum ranked near the bottom of the league in accuracy percentage, which takes into account dropped passes, throwaways, batted passes and passes attempted while being hit. The only quarterbacks who ranked lower were Geno Smith, Eli Manning and Matt McGloin.
The Texans opponents adjusted while Keenum did not. The question going into this season is which version of Keenum will show up?
While his overall accuracy was poor, one thing Keenum did do well is throw the deep ball, as the earlier Pro Football Focus article pointed out. In fact, Keenum ranked first in that stat. Jayson Braddock of Sportstalk 790 noticed how well Keenum was throwing the deep ball during OTAs:
Keenum w 2 more great "go" throws. 1 barely misses Martin who was blanketed by Dre Hal. Other goes thru Hopkins hands who had step on Harris— Jayson Braddock (@JaysonBraddock) May 28, 2014
I like the potential and upside of Keenum, but I would be surprised if he was named the starter for the beginning of the season. Bill O'Brien can get the most out of whatever he has, but Keenum doesn't fit the profile of what he looks for in a quarterback compared to the other quarterbacks, Tom Savage and Christian Hackenberg, Houston has picked.
Either he or T.J. Yates will be cut or traded before the season starts. The question that remains besides which one it will be is how long Bill O'Brien decides to let competition play out. My guess is both quarterbacks will make it to training camp.
My preference would be for Keenum to get the early starts instead of Fitzpatrick, but my guess is the coaching staff doesn't agree. Keenum could be the odd man out.
If he makes the team, he'll likely spend the season as Fitzpatrick's backup. If Fitzpatrick stumbles early, Keenum could get a few starts. But if the coaches think Savage is ready, he'll likely get passed over like T.J. Yates did last season.
The fourth-round rookie out of Pittsburgh easily has more physical talent than any other quarterback on the roster. Every rookie has to deal with a learning curve, but Savage missed two years of football before last season at Pittsburgh, so early expectations need to be kept in check.
As of now, Tom Savage is considered their future at the position, but as you would expect with a fourth-round pick, he won't be rushed. As I pointed out in a previous article, Savage struggled with some of the mental parts of the game, like not looking off the safety or being able to anticipate and throw receivers open.
Until he shows the coaching staff some improvement in those areas, I don't think they'll put him on the field.
From Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle, coach Bill O'Brien talks about how hard it is for a rookie to learn his system:
We throw so many things at the quarterback when he comes in here, whether it’s knowledge of defense — even in the first night, we spend an hour and a half with the guy in individual meetings, and then expect him to go out there and execute at a high level. It’s hard to do. But that’s our expectation level here for that position.
If we see that he’s struggling with some things, then we’ll back it down for him. But so far it looks like he’s been paying attention. He’s done what we’ve asked him to do. He had his share of mistakes today, just like every guy did. But I thought it was a decent start for him.
"Decent start" to me is clearly code for he's not ready. Savage has more raw talent than any other quarterback on the roster, but he's starting with a huge deficit in knowledge and experience. There is no chance of him being named the starter to open the season in my opinion. If the Texans get off to a bad start and Savage develops well during practice, he could step into the lineup after the bye week.
That is absolutely the earliest point that you should expect to see Savage on the field. Expect Savage to start the season as the Texans' third-string quarterback.
I think T.J. Yates will be the odd man out.
There's no way that the Texans will keep four quarterbacks on the regular-season roster. Ryan Fitzpatrick was brought in to be the veteran leader, Tom Savage is their developmental quarterback for the future and Case Keenum costs them nothing as a undrafted free agent.
Yates doesn't cost much either as a former fifth-round pick and Patrick Starr of State of the Texans thinks Yates could surprise some people:
There is no about that T.J. Yates is the forgotten quarterback in this situation, but this offense is better suited for him. He has shown that he can make some NFL throws from the pocket and easily has the second best arm strength of the group behind rookie Tom Savage.
Yates looks much more confident on the field and it is showing with his early two days of work at OTAs. Quarterback coach George Godsey has been working hard with the quarterbacks and there is already a difference in his footwork and delivery of the football. There are some over looking Yates at the moment but he could be one to watch with a clean slate under this new coaching staff.
Starr and others believe that Yates is a more natural fit in the Texans' new offense with his strong arm and good size. Yates is bigger and has a stronger arm than Keenum, but in their limited time on the field, I like what I saw from Keenum more than Yates.
That's not a completely fair assessment since Yates had a better team around him in 2011 and was asked to be more of a game manager than Keenum was. Yates averaged 24 attempts per start in 2011, but that average was inflated from when the Texans trailed. If the Houston were ahead, or even close, they ran the ball with Yates under center. Keenum averaged 32 pass attempts per start and was put in more of a spread offense.
They were thrown into different situations so the comparison of their results is difficult. Bill O'Brien hasn't been very open about which quarterback is playing better than the other or what order he has them ranked, so figuring out who is the first, second, third or fourth-string quarterback is difficult.
I don't think what either quarterback showed on the field under Gary Kubiak will have an impact on this competition. Coach O'Brien seems like a coach that always looks forward, so only their physical tools and what they show him during OTAs and camp will determine the winner.
Fitzpatrick and Savage will both make the roster, so the question for Yates is if he can beat out Keenum. I would choose Keenum, but I don't have a strong feel on how it will play out. I do think that if the competition is close, O'Brien will choose Yates because he's a better fit physically.