Any Given Sunday: Rams Over Texans

Any Given Sunday: Rams Over Texans

by Mike Ridley

Everyone knows the narrative coming into Sunday's game between the Texans and the Rams. Matt Schaub had set an NFL record by having an interception returned for a touchdown in four straight games. This effectively shattered his confidence and made Gary Kubiak seriously ponder replacing him with T.J. Yates. The city of Houston began to revile him in such a manner they bought new jerseys just to burn them. In just four short weeks, Schaub had done something completely unthinkable in 2012; he had become the most scrutinized quarterback in the state of Texas.

So coming into this game, had you told Texans fans that Schaub would have a turnover-free day, Arian Foster would run for 141 yards on just 20 carries, and Houston would outgain St. Louis by nearly 2-to-1 while dominating the time of possession, they would've likely assumed the Texans ran away in a rout. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details.

Houston gave the game away thanks to sloppy play, bad penalties -- notably a 40-yard pass interference call -- and too many turnovers (a reoccurring theme in this column). The Texans committed four turnovers on the day while once again failing to generate a takeaway. Two of these turnovers directly resulted in touchdowns (welcome to the TAINTer Club, Mr. Yates), with one more leading to a field goal. This helped the Rams to become just the fourth team since 1991 to score 38 points or more while passing for less than 120 yards and netting less than 220 total yards.

Red zone performance also played a large role in deciding the outcome of this game. Sam Bradford and the Rams had a perfect day inside the 20, scoring touchdowns on all three opportunities. The Texans, on the other hand, continued to see long drives result in three points of less. They scored just 13 points on five red zone possessions (not including DeAndre Hopkins fumble at the St. Louis 14), with their lone touchdown coming long after the game was out of reach.

By the VOA

Just like the score, the VOA results were a blowout.

One-Sided VOA
Team Off. VOA Def. VOA Special Teams VOA Total VOA
STL 23.7% -15.8% 13.3% 52.9%
HOU -34.3% 36.1% -16.3% -86.7%

Houston struggled in all three phases of the game Saturday. The offensive DVOA gets weighed down because of Gary Kubiak's propensity to run draw plays on third-and-long, despite Arian Foster's strong performance.

Sequence of the Day

Halfway through the third quarter, Bradford hit Brian Quick on a slant for a four-yard touchdown to cap off a 79-yard drive, making the score 24-6. On the ensuing kickoff, Rodney McLeod torpedoed into return man Keshawn Martin. The ball popped out and fell into the hands of Daren Bates, who easily returned it for a touchdown, making the score 31-6 in the span of just six seconds.

Schaub's Confidence

In comparison to the last four weeks, Schaub had a fairly successful day. Although he couldn't produce any touchdowns, he did complete over 71 percent of his passes while reaching season highs in yards per attempt (8.9), QBR (63.5) and DVOA (11.8%). On a spreadsheet, these numbers present growth and hope for Houston's quarterback situation; on film, they tell a different story.

Watching Schaub's pass attempts shows how shaken his confidence is at this time. Multiple times, he failed to pull the trigger on deeper, riskier throws. Many of these led to Schaub either being sacked or hit, including the play that ended his day. When he did throw the ball, it was usually to wide-open targets on checkdowns or crossing routes. Of his 21 passes, just five went more than 10 yards downfield, with his longest being a 17-yard attempt to Hopkins in the end zone.

Schaub's refusal to throw in tight windows has a particularly damning effect in the red zone. With a smaller field, many of the checkdowns aren't available. As a result, the play-calling becomes more conservative and the offense sputters, often settling for three points instead of seven. If this offense is to regain any potency, Matt Schaub must regain his confidence.

Sam Bradford, Mr. Efficiency

On the other side of the field was Sam Bradford who, despite the lack of raw numbers, was the model of efficiency Sunday. Although he racked up just 117 passing yards, Bradford made great decisions with the ball and handled blitzes perfectly. According to ESPN's Stats & Information, Bradford was 8-for-8 against Texan blitzes, including his three touchdown passes. The performance led to a QBR of 93.2, the highest of the week through Sunday's games, making this the first time Bradford has set the week's high mark.

After rushing his first two throws, Bradford settled down and went on to hit nine of his next 11 passes, including a 40-yard defensive pass interference penalty that played a large role in setting up the Rams' first touchdown. Bradford was able to take advantage of the Texans secondary, especially safety Shiloh Keo. Of the 17 throws Bradford made on afternoon, 12 were considered successful plays, leading to a DVOA of 107.2%, also the best of the week.

Six weeks through the season, Bradford is showing signs of coming into his own. ESPN Stats & Info noted he became the first NFC West quarterback to have two consecutive three-touchdown games since Kurt Warner in 2007. He now owns a 13-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio that is third best in the league. With the emergence of Zac Stacy, the Rams have become much more balanced on offense, easing Bradford's burden. Without the need to push the ball downfield, he can deliver the short, quick throws he excels at.

Going Forward

The Rams may have come away with the upset, but it wasn’t because they stopped the run. After Foster ran through their defense at 7.1 yards per carry, the Rams are now 31st in the league against the run, allowing 130.5 yards per game, including a 165.3 yard average over last four contests.

Things only look to get worse for the Rams. Over the next four weeks, they’ll face the second, fourth and eighth ranked rush offenses by DVOA. If the Rams hope to stop any of these teams on the ground, they’ll need improved play out of their back seven. St. Louis ranks 29th in 2nd Level Yards and 30th in Open Field Yards.

In Houston, the quarterback situation went from bad to worse. Despite all the grief Schaub had been given the last several weeks, he’s the only real option they have at quarterback. T.J. Yates has failed to deliver in his two relief appearances. On Sunday, he amassed a Gabbert-ian -102.4% DVOA, highlighted by his pick-six and end zone interception. With Schaub's status for Sunday uncertain, Yates and Case Keenum are both options for a Texans team heading into Arrowhead to face DVOA's top-rated defense. With Kansas City coming off a 10-sack performance against Oakland, it's likely to be a long day for whoever gets the call.


8 comments, Last at 27 Nov 2013, 3:04am

1 Re: Any Given Sunday: Rams Over Texans

" As a result, the play-calling becomes more conservative and the offense sputters, often settling for three points instead of seven. If this offense is to regain any potency, Matt Schaub must regain his confidence."

That doesn't sound like a Matt Schaub confidence issue, that sounds like a Gary Kubiak having confidence in Matt Schaub issue.

2 Re: Any Given Sunday: Rams Over Texans

Yeah, I'm not sure who's more to blame here. Schaub definitely looks like he can't throw deep any more. On the other hand, Kubiak has always been notoriously ineffective in the red zone, even when Schaub still had the arm and Andre Johnson to throw to. (On another bizarre note, Kubiak basically never called plays for Andre Johnson in the red zone, which is just baffling.)

Kubiak's play-it-safe mentality on offense is now bumping into talent limitations caused by Schaub's decline (and the fact that the team never seems to have more than two NFL-caliber receivers at a time). I think someone said in the Audibles that the ideal Kubiak drive is "get to 3rd-and-3 and hope you convert", and now the team can't even count on that.

4 Re: Any Given Sunday: Rams Over Texans

It's not just that he can't throw deep (he never could, really); it's that he can't make the intermediate throws with enough velocity, and his accuracy's taken a real hit too. I think the least worst option may be an ultra-conservative offense helmed by Yates, consisting mostly of handing the ball off to Foster and Tate with the occasional deep shot off play action and an acceptance that you're going to punt a lot. Yates is the worst of three very unattractive options with a big deficit, but in a neutral situation or with a lead he might be the least awful.

7 Re: Any Given Sunday: Rams Over Texans

And is it just me, or do the Texans have games where a poor offensive performance is Kubiak's self-fulfilling prophecy? By which I mean, in game like Sunday's, as well as Baltimore, Kubiak's play calling, based on a fear of his own players' incompetence and/or the opposing team's defense, precludes the offense from running the way it was designed to run and guarantees a low point total. And this is odd, because it seems that Schaub has turned the ball over on rather basic plays they run when they get too conservative!

5 Re: Any Given Sunday: Rams over Texans

That sequence early in the second half really killed the game. At half time the Rams were up 17-6, but it felt like the game was much closer than the score. Then after one drive it went to 31-6, and that was it.

The problem with the Rams run D is that the safeties are horrible. TJ McDonald habitually missed tackles when he came up to make plays in run support, which I'm willing to put down to just rookie lumps, and now he's hurt he's replaced by Darian Stewart, who doesn't even get close enough to miss tackles. Anecdotally it feels like a run either goes less than 5 yards, or at least 20.

Zac Stacy is just what the Rams need. Heseems to make really good decisions, and has really good vision, especially for a rookie. He'll probably get compared to MJD because of his size, but to me he seems a bit like Arian Foster - obviously his vision is more than a couple of notches below Foster's, but he just looks really good at waiting for a hole to open up and then finding his way through it very quickly. Over the two games he's played, I can't remember a single instance of him seeing that the hole he's supposed to be heading for isn't there, and not having a clue what to do next. I've been very impressed.

8 Re: Any Given Sunday: Rams over Texans

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