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Thursday, October 17, 2013
It's not time to bench Matt Schaub

By Jeffri Chadiha
ESPN.com

Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has found an angry stranger standing in his front yard and heard bitter hometown fans cheer when he was wincing in pain. He also has set an NFL record by having interceptions returned for touchdowns in four straight games and has listened to constant questions about whether the Texans should bench their long-time starter. About the only thing Schaub hasn't experienced yet is coach Gary Kubiak completely giving up on him. It says here that such a move would be yet another mistake for a Texans team already in freefall.

For all the frustration that is simmering in Houston, benching a healthy Schaub is not the answer. Teams make such moves when they have better options standing on the sideline. They choose that path when it's apparent that the starter never will reach the potential the organization had envisioned for him in the first place. They hit the eject button basically because they have lost all hope of anything positive ever coming from the incumbent again.

Schaub's situation doesn't fall into any of those categories. He's a talented quarterback going through a slump at the worst possible time. He's the offensive leader on a 2-4 team that largely has disappointed since the final month of last year, when the Texans lost three of their last four regular-season games. As easy as it is to blame Schaub for all of Houston's struggles, he isn't the only problem. And as simple as it might sound for the Texans to improve with T.J. Yates replacing him, that mindset simply doesn't make much sense.

Matt Schaub
Insult was added to Matt Schaub's injury when Houston fans cheered while he was down.

Schaub still has plenty of credibility for people who want to look at the entire body of his work. He's still the same player who led the Texans to two straight AFC South titles. He also has played in two Pro Bowls, compiled respectable numbers (including a career passer rating of 90.9) and set all sorts of franchise records for passing. Schaub literally is the best quarterback to ever pull a paycheck from that organization. He's also the best quarterback still on that roster.

Those facts still matter in times like these. The problem is they tend to disappear when idiotic fans decide it's within their rights to confront Schaub at his home or post pictures of his family on Facebook (as was the case last week). Those same credentials also become a distant memory when Texans fans are cheering the ankle injury that sidelined Schaub during Houston's loss to St. Louis last Sunday. It's amazing how quickly people can forget what life was like with David Carr under center and seasons that ended with double-digit losses. Those same ingrates surely have a hard time remembering how Schaub helped improve the Texans upon his arrival in 2007.

That isn't to say Schaub, who was ruled out for this week's game at Kansas City and will be replaced by Case Keenum, doesn't have to play better. Everybody can see that his numbers -- which include eight touchdown passes and nine interceptions -- aren't what people have come to expect. It's only to say that Schaub deserves the benefit of the doubt. His history with this franchise demands that he have an opportunity to clean up the mess he has made for himself thus far.

For example, you don't see the New York Giants debating whether their quarterback, Eli Manning, needs to sit after throwing a league-high 15 interceptions through six games. They're riding with him because he has two Super Bowl rings and offers them the best chance at victory, even during an 0-6 start. San Diego's Philip Rivers threw 20 interceptions in 2011, and he now looks like a new man under first-year coach Mike McCoy. That also proves that things can change fast in this league. The key is that the player being asked to make the change has the talent to do so.

Schaub isn't in the category of a Mark Sanchez (a young quarterback who couldn't live up to the high expectations of being a first-round pick) or a Matt Cassel (an overrated signal-caller who impressed as a backup before disappointing as a starter). The biggest problem Schaub faces is that he isn't on the same level as the elite quarterbacks in this league, stars like New England's Tom Brady, Denver's Peyton Manning, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and New Orleans' Drew Brees. Those players make their success look easy, week in and week out. They thrive regardless of their circumstances, whether their supporting casts are depleted by injuries or plagued by inexperience.

What most people need to understand is that there's a reason why such players are classified as "elite." They're rare. They're the best of the best. They've accomplished things that put them in a class by themselves. But this league is filled with too many fans and media members who expect too many other quarterbacks to reach the same rarefied heights. The reality is that most teams have to live with quarterbacks who fall into the category that Schaub now finds himself.

It's also not surprising that he's facing such a backlash. You could've seen this coming when the regular season began because Schaub is an easy target and he hadn't shown the ability to elevate his play beyond what we've seen. The Texans were a sexy Super Bowl pick, which meant their quarterback was an easy whipping boy if they fell short. Right now, it's quite likely that Schaub is only getting a taste of how ugly it will be if this team continues its current nosedive.

The sad thing is that few people will point their fingers at a Texans defense that is giving up 29.5 points a game. They also won't remember the way their starting quarterback played in Houston's first two wins, when he led the team back from sizable deficits in victories over San Diego and Tennessee. That Schaub can still regain his rhythm if he's given the opportunity. And considering what he's done in Houston -- and what they have behind him -- the smart play for the Texans would be to give him as many chances as he needs.