Matt Schaub: Next Level

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EDITOR'S NOTE:This article first appeared in the Houston Texans Gameday magazine on Oct. 4, 2009, for Houston's showdown at home against the Oakland Raiders.

Matt Schaub came to the Texans as a work in progress. Now, he's progressed.

He has thrilled Texans fans at times in his two-plus seasons. He's made steady improvement with performances that conjure dreams of a winning season and, shall we say it out loud, the playoffs.

Schaub has absorbed head coach Gary Kubiak's offense. The Texans were fourth in the NFL in passing yards last season under Schaub's guidance. He directed determined game-winning touchdown drives. Already this season, he won AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors in Week 2.

"He's so sharp," Kubiak said. "He can handle so many things. He handles the team extremely well. In a hostile environment as a coach, I don't have to worry about calls. I don't have to worry about anything. He's done a lot of growing up."

Before arriving in Houston, Schaub was best known as Michael Vick's backup with the Falcons. He arrived untested as a starter but with great potential.

"You can tell he's very comfortable with where he's throwing the ball," right tackle Eric Winston said. "He's not afraid to go the other way or pull back a ball that he's not sure about. He is very businesslike in the huddle. He knows how to have fun, but he knows when it's time to work. I think we all respect him for that. We respect what he's done."

Although he still hasn't played a full 16-game campaign, Schaub has shown glimpses of what he can do when healthy. Through three games this season, he's tied with Peyton Manning for the AFC lead with seven touchdown passes and ranks second with a 101.9 passer rating.

"Every week brings new challenges and brings new things and obstacles," Schaub said. "We just have to go out and prepare the way we do and go out and do our thing and concentrate on us and not necessarily on them. We've just got to go out and play consistently good football."

Schaub has shown a steady hand at crunch time. He has four game-winning touchdown drives with the Texans in the tense closing minutes of games.

His latest, in Week 2 this season at Tennessee, earned Schaub player of the week honors. He rallied the Texans from a 21-7 deficit to a 34-31 victory, engineering the 63-yard drive that led to Kris Brown's decisive field goal with 2:55 left to play.

Last December, in the bitter cold of Green Bay, Schaub drove the Texans 75 yards for a winning field goal by Brown as time expired. Two months earlier, he constructed a 12-play, 76-yard drive for the winning touchdown over Miami with three seconds remaining. In 2007, Schaub led a 59-yard drive for the winning field goal against the Dolphins.

"Nothing that he does really surprises me," wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "I think it surprises other people because he takes so much criticism. To me, it really doesn't. I know what kind of player he is. I talk to him a lot. I watch film with him every morning, so we know what each other is thinking."

{QUOTE}Schaub had the Texans marching to another comeback last Sunday against the Jaguars before an untimely penalty and fumble at the Jacksonville goal line kept the Texans from tying the game and possibly forcing overtime. They lost 31-24.

While the Texans' defense is struggling to find a winning form, Schaub and the offense have made great strides. Schaub has posted 657 passing yards and seven touchdowns in the last two games.

"It's just a comfort level," he said. "You come to a new team, new situation, new offense and new guys, and you try to just learn as much as you can as quickly as you can. But until you reach that comfort level in your role and in your job and with the guys that you're playing with, it's hard to really have things just click like that."

Still, many fans hold their collective breath when the ball is snapped.

Schaub has missed 10 games over the past two seasons with injuries and illness, and that will be a part of his resume until he proves that he can stay upright for 16 games.

Winston appreciates Schaub's development and how the quarterback has dealt with criticism from fans and the media.

"He's handled it great," Winston said. "I think the criticism is unfair, but it is what it is. It's the NFL. It's a tough league. He's the kind of guy that is going to show up and play. That's the kind of guy that he is."

Three times in the past two seasons, Schaub has been sidelined by illegal hits that drew either penalty flags or fines. He played the first game of the 2009 season not fully recovered from an ankle injury suffered in the preseason.

Schaub threw for only 166 yards and an interception in that game, a 24-7 loss. But Johnson defended the quarterback's Week 1 performance.

"The guy is out there on one leg, and he's still out there playing and no complaints," Johnson said. "That's what people don't realize. That just shows the type of person he is—what type of leader he is and what he means to this football team."

At this juncture in his career, Schaub's body of work on the field outweighs his list of injuries. When healthy, he can rattle defenses, as his performances in the last two weeks have shown.

"I think he's going to continue to feel better, and for as long as we've got his back, he's going to continue to play well for us," tight end Owen Daniels said.

Schaub was a big part of last year's 8-4 finish that resulted in the Texans' second 8-8 record. He had 1,281 passing yards in December to lead all NFL quarterbacks in that category. He passed for 3,043 yards in 11 games on the season and ranked fourth in the league with 276.6 passing yards per game.

He has produced enough outstanding games that his teammates now compare his best performances. The consensus is that it's between last year's Green Bay game and this year's game at Tennessee.

"I guess it's hard to compare that game (Tennessee) and the Green Bay game," Johnson said. "Me and Kevin (Walter) were actually talking about that, comparing the games and seeing which game we thought was better. It probably was one of those two."

Schaub isn't into self-aggrandizement. He liked his performance against the Titans better, but he attributed his success at Tennessee to the help of his friends.

"For me to feel that way, a lot of other guys in the huddle have to be feeling that way," Schaub said. "And so I think the guys up front, with what they were presented with, they played their best game they've played since I've been here, and our guys on the outside stepped up and made a lot of good plays for us."

Even after last Sunday's cliff-hanging loss to the Jaguars, Schuab remains the consummate stoic.

"It's very frustrating, but last week is history," he said after the game. "We've got to go get better for next week. We have a new opportunity in front of us, a new challenge. We've just got to go out and play our best football."

That's not exactly Knute Rockne stuff, but it's Schaub's personality – and his teammates are listening.

EDITOR'S NOTE:*Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky., Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro teams.
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