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Sunday, November 17, 2013
Texans should not have benched Keenum

By Tania Ganguli

HOUSTON -- The way you look at the Houston Texans' handling of their quarterback situation in a 28-23 loss to the Oakland Raiders depends on your perspective about this season.

The advantage to pulling quarterback Case Keenum late in the third quarter and replacing him with Matt Schaub is that Keenum has played poorly in the second halves of each game he's started. Schaub isn't as good as Keenum is early, but he's better than Keenum is late.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak said after the game he thought the more experienced Schaub would be able to handle changes the Texans made in their protections to handle what the Raiders were doing better than Keenum would. Pressure in the second half of last week's game against the Arizona Cardinals got to Keenum, too.

Keenum said this about why he was pulled: "Not converting on third downs. As a quarterback, I think if you want to be a big time quarterback in this league and lead your team and be successful, you need to keep your offense on the field and get first downs."

That's true. But long term, benching Keenum was counterproductive. The move was a short-term fix in the hope that slightly better quarterback play would win the game. It felt very much like a desperation move from a coach under fire.

One victory today would bring the Texans closer to making a highly improbable playoff run, that likely would have taken winning the rest of their games this season. But is Schaub the quarterback to make that improbable playoff run? The fact that Kubiak went with Keenum a month ago, when there was much more on the line, indicates he doesn’t think so.

In that case, why not let Keenum learn? The mistakes he's making now, the inability to recognize blitzes and adjust to changing pressure, aren't things he can learn from the bench. He's not a guy with a frail mental disposition whose confidence would shrivel from early struggles. One of Keenum's biggest strengths is the ability to move on from some of the costly mistakes he's made this season and play well afterward.

The best the Texans can do now is win eight games. Barring a complete collapse by the 7-3 Indianapolis Colts, an 8-8 record will not win the division.

An 8-8 record could be a wild card team in the weak AFC. Right now there's only one AFC team with a winning record who isn't leading its division -- the 8-1 Denver Broncos. The New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins lead the race for the second wild card spot, both at 5-5.

A win today might have helped the Texans chances of being that team. But if they struggled this much with the 4-6 Raiders, what evidence is there that they could beat the Broncos, Colts or Patriots, all teams with winning records remaining on the schedule?

Their only chance would be to improve, especially as an offense. That starts with the young quarterback. If you think he could be the future, he has to be in the game figuring out what works and what doesn't.

Kubiak didn't believe in Schaub enough to let him start after his foot and ankle healed. He should have trusted his instincts on Sunday.