The Texans lost to the Saints today 40-33 in a game they certainly could have won if they made more of an effort to score points.
As a Texans observer, I’ve been vocal that the team will not make significant improvements as long as Gary Kubiak is head coach. Some decisions in the first half show why.
First things first– the Texans got into the red zone four times in the first half, and after scoring a TD on their first drive, coming away with three field goals, after stalling out at the 5, 5, and 10 yard line.
I don’t think Kubiak is an effective goal-line playcaller. Here’s a perfect example from this game. In the second quarter, on third-and-goal from the 9, Kubiak has Andre Johnson lined up inside and Matt Schaub throwing a quick pass to him. On the actual play, Schaub threw the ball low and it bounced incomplete, but even if he had completed the pass, there were three defenders around Johnson, and he would have had to beat them all and get six more yards to get into the end zone. Simply put, it was a play call with a low chance of achieving the desired goal. The Texans settled for another field goal. Really, this one isn’t near the top of Kubiak’s most baffling red-zone calls, but it’s a good example of ineffective play-calling.
Beyond that, Kubiak simply doesn’t take any risks that might put points on the board. At the end of the first half, on third and 17 from the Texans 32, New Orleans threw a middle screen to Darren Sproles who gained 15 yards and was tackled with about 1:15 on the clock. The Saints were clearly running down the clock to kick the field goal, and the Texans should have taken one of their two timeouts so they could get the ball back with over a minute left and a timeout. At the rate their offense had been moving the ball, they stood a favorable chance of scoring, certainly high enough to offset the worst-case scenario of a turnover that led to more New Orleans points. (They had already reached the red zone four times this half, and had four plays over 20 yards and ten plays over 10 yards.) But instead, they let the clock run down to :38 before the Saints called timeout, let New Orleans kick the field goal, and then on the offensive possession, handed off to Ben Tate and then let the clock run out on the half.
Setting aside for a second the gaps in logic the Tate handoff reveals (if Kubiak wanted to run out the clock, why not just take a knee?), these two plays are representative of Kubiak’s greatest failings as a coach: he simply doesn’t try hard enough to score.
If the game were won on yards, and not points, Kubiak would have a great offense on his hands and would win many games. But once he gets a lead, he rarely tries to pad it and usually takes the foot off the gas of his offensive machine, as though he could start running out the clock midway through the second quarter. it’s almost as if he doesn’t understand that passing up scoring opportunities isn’t “safe”, it’s foolish. Bad coaches are passive and reactive; good coaches are aggressive and go for points when they are there to be had.
The stats don’t fully support my argument, but I’ll use them to help it anyway. Through 3 games, Houston is 30th in red-zone scoring percentage, at 31.25%. The Texans haven’t been consistently this bad at red-zone scoring: looking back a few years, they were 5th in 2010, 13th in 2009, and 26th in 2008. I think there is an explanation that supports my theory, though: in 2010, the combination of a finally-strong running game led by Arian Foster and the fact that the Texans’ defense forced them to frequently play from behind (which opened up Kubiak’s play-calling, since I think he tends to be at his worst when playing with a lead) led to their red-zone success. In 2009, the team went 9-7, their best record under Kubiak, and I think the increase in red zone scoring is a large reason why (it also demonstrates they’re certainly capable of it, which is why it baffles me that Kubiak still makes so many obvious mistakes).
As far as not-terribly-useful stats go, I decided to calculate the yards per point of every team in 2010. It’s descriptive, not predictive, and it isn’t adjusted for anything (to really be more accurate in describing my point, it should be yards per offensive touchdown), but it works as an elegant shorthand in this case. It’s simply (total offensive yards / points) (lower is better), and the 2010 Texans, who were 3rd in offensive yards but 9th in points, ranked 22nd, just behind Tennessee (6-10; fired both their coach and their QB after the season) and just ahead of Denver (2-14; another fired coach) and Cincinnati (4-12; QB retired rather than come back to such an inept organization).
Anyway, even if you don’t buy that Kubiak doesn’t perform well in the red zone, or doesn’t perform well with a lead, you will probably agree that not trying to score at the end of the first half is a mistake emblematic of a wrong way of thinking about the game. The Texans had a one-score lead, their offense had been moving the ball, and the Saints were getting the ball to start the second half– and Kubiak willingly declined the opportunity to score points.
That’s just my observation. I get to watch a lot of the Texans in Houston, and I see them frequently lose games they could win. Today’s was another example, and it provided great examples of what I think the real problem is– Gary Kubiak’s inability or unwillingness to put points on the board.
(For the record, I think today’s game also demonstrated either a poor ability to make halftime adjustments on Kubiak’s part, or another example of Sean Payton being great at it. Given that Payton is the guy who called for the awesomest onside kick ever, I’ll give Kubiak the benefit of the doubt on that one. For now.)