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Tale of the Tape: Matt Schaub

Let’s jump right in and start with the basics: Schaub, at 6’5” and 235 lbs, has prototypical size for a quarterback. He’s got a strong arm and can make throws at any point on the field. He’s an experienced, veteran starting quarterback in the NFL who’s had some success, although not as much success as Houston fans would prefer.

Schaub was selected out of Virginia in the third round of the 2004 draft by Atlanta. The Falcons traded him to Houston in 2007 for two second round picks and he has gone on to set every major passing record in Houston franchise history (not that that’s saying a whole lot).

Schaub has been to two Pro Bowls. His first, in 2009, was as an injury replacement to Tom Brady but he made the most of it, going on to win Pro Bowl MVP (again, not necessarily saying a whole lot, given the lack of effort by many in the Pro Bowl).  He was invited, again, after his 2012 season – this time he was not named as an injury replacement.

Statistically, Schaub has been one of the most successful QBs in recent NFL history. He has been over 60% every year that he’s started in his career. Every year that he’s been healthy enough to play for all 16 games in the season, he’s crossed 4,000 yards. His career passer rating is 89.8%.


So what did the tape show? As always, reviewing a player’s video shows good and bad tendencies and Schaub was no exception.

To start with, Schaub is comfortable in both shotgun and under-center formations. Some QBs can do both but clearly look better doing one but I did not see this with Schaub. He looked comfortable doing both.

Schaub isn’t the most athletic guy but he is able to evade a rush and make some plays with his feet. He has enough arm strength to throw across his body, too, which is impressive. Here’s an example, below, of both of his ability to escape a rush and throw across his body from week 1, versus San Diego. In the clip, Schaub sees the pressure coming from his left and escapes the rusher by sliding to his left. He makes a difficult throw – throwing across his body while moving to the left – to his left wideout, who takes it out of bounds for a 5 yard gain:


For a 6’5” QB, Schaub has a lower than ideal release point and that results in some passes being batted down at or near the line of scrimmage. He does vary the release point at times, however, which is a positive. On some throws, for example, he’ll throw more side arm to get the ball around a defensive end but too keep it low and in front of a crossing receiver.

Speaking of crossing receivers, Schaub definitely prefers crossing routes – probably more than any other route on the route tree. Crossing routes rely on good timing and anticipation and Schaub shows that he has these skills.

Here is an example of the kind of route that Schaub likes. In this route, Andre Johnson starts out wide right and goes up the field about 20 yards. He then cuts in on a crossing route and Schaub delivers a dart to him across the middle, hitting him in stride so that Johnson can continue his route for a very good gain (although the TD that Johnson thought he had was called back due to being down by contact):


When given time, Schaub is very accurate on these crossing routes but he loses a lot of accuracy when he is rushed. In fact, the amount of time Schaub was given by his offensive line was the biggest key I found to his success or failure as a quarterback.

I call it the 3-second rule: If his offensive line gives him three full seconds without any pressure, Schaub delivers an accurate and timely pass almost every time. If however, pressure got to or around Schaub before I was through counting “Three-one-thousand,” the results were typically less than desirable.

Typically, if his offensive line allowed pressure within three seconds of the snap, Schaub would get sacked – most of the sacks were on plays in which his offensive line didn’t do a good job of blocking and allowed pressure quickly, making it a situation where Schaub has to recognize pressure coming and get the ball out quickly to the hot read receiver, something that Tom Brady does exceptionally well,  or, as Raiders fans saw Terrelle Pryor do so frequently last year, escape the pressure on his own.

Schaub is, however, not on the same level as Brady as a quarterback and doesn’t have the athleticism of Pryor – he would typically succumb to the pressure for a sack in these instances. That isn’t necessarily a criticism, just an observation.

Taking a sack is sometimes the best play to make as, at least, it gives the team another down to try again or, if it happens on third down, it allows the team to punt.  Schaub does not do what Carson Palmer sometimes did when under pressure, for example; he does not simply throw it up and hope his receiver can come down with it.

It’s also not outside reasonable expectations that an offensive line give the quarterback more than 3 seconds the majority of snaps. Even Oakland’s much maligned offensive line, last year, did well with giving Pryor, Flynn and McGloin time under center. Pryor took a lot of sacks in his starts, but he also held the ball for the longest time of any starting quarterbacks last year.

The Raiders focused on the offensive line this year before they knew they would have Schaub’s services on the team. The focus on offensive line, however, is a positive. Schaub needs a solid three seconds to get into his drop, scan the field, and deliver the ball. If they offensive line can give him that time, he’s likely to make a good pass.

Outside of sacks, pressure also makes Schaub struggle to complete passes. There were multiple examples of Schaub trying to throw off-balance on his back foot or trying to jump-pass the ball to his receivers and failing miserably. Schaub does many good things well, but making crazy throws off-balance is not one of those things.

What he does do, however, is make the most out of those situations by avoiding the sack so that he can have a decent down and distance on the next play.

Here is an example of him making a positive play that won’t show up on the stat sheets. This clip is an example of something that Schaub does frequently – namely, coming out of a broken play without any yards lost.

In the clip below , the blocking breaks down in front of him and he is forced to escape pressure coming up the middle. He rolls to his right but, with the runningback covered, he instead throws it at an area near the running backs feet, not expecting to complete the pass. This allows him to avoid the sack and avoid an intentional grounding call so that the team can come up with second and 10 instead of second and 15+:


Schaub uses tight ends, frequently. Some quarterbacks like tight ends and some do not – Schaub is a guy who likes to use them. As mentioned earlier, he likes crossing patterns and many tight end routes are release routes underneath as a safety outlet, but he also isn’t afraid to go vertical with them.

Here is an example of a fantastic pass to one of his tight ends, who is able to beat a safety deep for a long TD pass. In this play, Schaub either gets to the tight end as part of his progressions or he looks off the safety to give the TE more space because he starts out with his head to the left and then comes back to the tight end before making a great throw:


No conversation about Schaub can be had without discussing his record of pick sixes last season. Schaub had pick sixes in four consecutive games, an NFL record. I watched each one of these games and did not come away with any serious concerns.

While they were not positive plays, they mostly were not terribly negative ones, either. I coded one as a mis-read, by Schaub, of the coverage on an option route. He thought the receiver would break off the route and come back. The receiver appeared to have read the coverage correct and was running a go route. Schaub appears to have thought that the receiver would break off the route and he threw underneath the coverage. The cornerback was able to cut under and take the interception back.

Here is an example of one of the INTs that was returned for a TD, from the San Francisco game. In the play, the defensive back reads the play and cuts off coverage on the outside receiver to undercut Andre Johnson. Schaub’s placement wasn’t bad on this throw, although it looks like he telegraphed the throw a bit. I put some blame on Johnson, as well, as he makes the cardinal sin of waiting for the ball to arrive instead of trying to pluck it out of the air. That allows the defender to cut in front of him for the touchdown:


Looking at the scope of Schaub’s career, it seems likely to me that last year’s struggles were the result of many different problems and were not indicative of him suddenly being a terrible quarterback.

For the first six games of 2013, at least, Andre Johnson looked slow and ineffective and so Schaub was operating without a player who was previously his x-factor in the passing game.

Schaub isn’t going to be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees – he isn’t a guy that can take a team on his back and carry them to wins single-handedly. He is, however, a savvy vet, who can make throws at all levels of the field and has seen every defensive formation, yet, in his 10-year NFL career.

At 32, he has the potential of multiple good years before his body truly starts to betray him. He came cheap for the Raiders, who only had to pay a 6th round pick to Houston for him.

There is no reason to believe this is a bad pickup and many reasons to believe that it is a good one. Many of you know that I was a proponent of Carson Palmer and I felt that he was blamed for many things outside of his control.

Schaub looks to be a more consistent, if less spectacular, quarterback. Even with that number of pick sixes, he didn’t make any truly jaw-dropping negative throws – he didn’t try to fit the ball into triple coverage, or try to wing the ball to a receiver as he was being sacked.

I think that the streak of pick sixes was more about bad luck, than anything else. The defenders made good plays on the balls and there wasn’t anyone on Houston that either was in the position or had the desire to make a play to stop them.

I expect Schaub to rebound and his presence under center should mean the difference in games, this year. If it does, the trade will have been a resounding success. If I’m wrong, McKenzie and Allen will likely not be around next year; Schaub may not be, either.