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Gary Kubiak: Dead Man Walking

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(Freddy is taking a break this week, if you need a reason, just imagine that he is in Child Protective Services after a domestic violence incident following The Q-Tip.)

The one tidbit I'll always take away from the Gary Kubiak era is from Gary's press conferences. He seems like a really thoughtful and organized man, and the local media always praised him about his accountability. The phrase that jumps out at me is simply:

"That's on me." 

After following that up with "we'll get it corrected," or "we're working to fix the problems," he would stride off the podium with a gracious "thank you," for the media. Then it would be forgotten, only to never be corrected.

Bad defense defines the Kubiak era.

When the Texans finally fired Dom Capers, Gary Kubiak inherited an absolutely abysmal offense. The 2004 Texans had a last hurrah of sorts, getting Dom Capers up to seven wins behind an extremely old defense (three full-time starters under age 28) and despite David Carr's best efforts to ruin a team that had the shifty rushing of Domanick Davis and the blossoming star of Andre Johnson. Age and injuries hit both sides hard, Carr cratered, and by the time Gary Kubiak took over, the Texans had never had an above average offense and had little on either side of the ball that looked good outside of Johnson and Dunta Robinson.

Despite being anchored by Carr, Kubiak took the Texans old offensive players, mixed them with a dose of Ron Dayne and a side of draft picks, and came out barely below average in year one despite what many would say was the least talented offensive team in the NFL. Five players from the modern Texans offense were a part of the team at that point: Johnson, Kevin Walter (who was buried for most of the season on the depth chart), Vonta Leach, David Anderson (ditto Walter), and young rookie tackle Eric Winston. Despite their shortcomings, Kubiak's system raised that team up to almost average. And as the offense added necessary pieces (Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Owen Daniels, an offensive line) and the parts put in place early came into their own, the Texans developed one of the more talented offensive cores in the NFL.

Unfortunately, the defense tells another story. Up until 2009, the Texans under Kubiak had never had a defense outside of the bottom five in DVOA. Crony-ism muppets Richard Smith and Frank Bush continued to put into place some of the worst defensive schemes in the NFL. When Bush desperately inserted Bernard Pollard into the lineup against the Raiders in Week 4, the Texans finally found their first safety in franchise history who was more than a speed bump. The run game corrected course, and a weak schedule helped propel the Texans defense all the way up to mediocrity in DVOA's eyes. After adding absolutely nothing to that lucky defense last year, the Texans find themselves with the worst defense in the NFL and maybe one of the worst defenses in league history. 

While you can't put everything on the defensive coaching staff, with a unit that has this much "supposed" talent, a good defensive coach is worth his weight in gold. The Colts have never had a great defense, and in fact routinely have defensive players with less talent than the Texans have had outside of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. They have managed to get average results anyway due to good coaching, good schemes, and a way of finding talented players for that scheme that fall outside the normal realms of what football managers consider valuable.

The Texans have had a defensive head coach that didn't know anything about offense and an offensive head coach that didn't know anything about defense. Lets hope, next spin around, Bob McNair is able to see that we need a good mind for each side of the ball. Kubiak was never able to look past the Denver tree for a defensive coaching candidate that would truly help his defense.

That one's on him.

The devil is in the details.

It's impossible to touch on nearly every way the Texans have found to lose games in the past few seasons that has been heartbreaking. Some of these can definitely be traced to Gary Kubiak's decisions: the halfback pass in Jacksonville, the inability to get Arian Foster the ball in Indianapolis on Monday Night Football, the complete unwillingness to deviate from a gameplan that was clearly getting killed against the Giants. Some of them were unlucky: The Q-Tip. The Rosencopter. Critical pick sixes by Matt Schaub. 

It's unfair to blame Kubiak every time the Texans have a player mess up. Football players do mess up sometimes, and it doesn't just happen to the Texans. But there sure does seem to be a pattern of it happening a lot more for the Texans. Fair or not, the Texans fans are on season three of waiting to get over the hump, and every time they've come close, somebody fails in a crucial spot.

When the Texans have won games, it's not because of anything Kubiak has done in-game. The system, which is great, hasn't really changed since he's been here. Sure, there have been slight play-calling adjustments from coordinator to coordinator, but as a whole, most of the system is the same thing Texans fans have seen since day one. Last Sunday against the Jaguars, Matt Schaub threw a ball down the middle with under 15 seconds left to Joel Dreesen. It was Third and 15, and the Texans had no timeouts. Dreessen fumbled the ball, making the play call a moot point, but even if he'd gone down there, the Texans weren't going to be able to get the field goal unit out there in time. Against the Redskins, in range for a long field goal on a Fourth and 4 in overtime, Kubiak passed on both running an offensive play or taking the field goal attempt to punt the ball away and trust a defense that had spent the better part of the evening getting absolutely murdered. Only when the Redskins missed a field goal (the second field goal attempt they blew) were the Texans able to win.

Those are examples from just this year. They aren't the only ones. Kubiak has installed a great system, but his management of the details around that system, whether it's been clock management (throwing two underneath balls to the middle with three timeouts left and around thirty five seconds on the clock, and not using any of them), game management (not understanding how the dynamic of this offense has changed with Foster), or even player management (sticking with Jacoby Jones even as he's dropped passes on intermediate route after intermediate route while Anderson sits on the bench) has just been atrocious. The Texans offense is a souped up car engine that should probably be illegal, but when you put it into a 78 Yugo with two flat tires, a broken transmission, a left turn blinker that is stuck, and let it be driven by the monkey from Dunston Checks In, every drive is going to be an adventure.

Gary Kubiak, for all of the accountability that has been ascribed to him, has had four seasons to figure out this stuff. Play some Madden, come up with a system that works for getting quicker with challenge flags, learn advanced game theory. He didn't.

That's on him.

What we're left with

I don't know if the Texans will fire Gary Kubiak after this season.

Historically, Bob McNair has given his guys a season or two too long to embarrass themselves before finally sending them to the streets. Keep in mind that he just extended him this offseason, and with the NFL seeming more and more likely to go to a lockout, there will be many millions of reasons for McNair to not want another owner on the books.

But Houston fans have seen the scores. We backed Kubiak, we were there for his failings, we know who he is and who he isn't.  He's a good Houstonian and a good offensive mind, a good country boy who connected with the fans and was good in the community. He's also someone who, to employ as a head coach, costs you wins with his game management and anchors you to a defensive scheme and style that forces his offense to play nearly perfect football to win. We know not to expect any better than nine wins out of him. He's had four years, along with Rick Smith, to revamp this defense into something approaching the level of the offense. We hear a lot about how mental mistakes are being corrected, but we don't hear much about the Texans searching for more talented players when their starters fail them.

That's on him.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.