HOUSTON — Matt Schaub may be three rings shy of being mentioned in the same sentence as Tom Brady, but the Texans’ signal-caller has been accumulating significant statistics.
He’s 15-1 in his last 16 appearances and has the NFL’s best road record (9-2) over the last two seasons. Schaub also has the seventh-highest career completion percentage (64.3), equaling Steve Young and ahead of Brady.
“I know our guy can throw the ball around,” observed coach Gary Kubiak, who’s been downplaying talk of a Brady-Schaub duel on Monday night. “It’s not those two guys playing. It’s our teams playing. I think our quarterback has played well and his performance speaks for itself. I know No. 12’s; his has spoken for himself for a long, long time.”
Schaub, who has been at the controls for six seasons after backing up for three years in Atlanta, gets an elite grade from teammates and coaches who appreciate how he’s managed to string together W’s and capture close games — two in overtime this year and three more by 7 or fewer points.
“We love what he does for our team,” said offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. “He gets us in the right spot and manages the game so well. The way he’s played this year, he’s doing great things for us and he’s a huge reason why we’ve been successful.”
Except for linebacker Brooks Reed (groin) and cornerback Alan Ball (foot), the rest of Houston’s walking wounded were back on the practice field Thursday as cornerback Johnathan Joseph (hamstring), linebacker Bradie James (hamstring), tackle Derek Newton (knee), and guard Antoine Caldwell (hamstring) had limited sessions.
“We’ll be smart as we work through the week,” remarked Kubiak, who said that everyone but the rehabbing Reed would be game-day decisions. Meanwhile cornerback Stanford Routt, the longtime Raider who was brought in this week when Brice McCain had foot surgery, is getting a crash course after being cut last month by the Chiefs.
“He’s played a lot of football, covered a lot of good players in this league,” said Kubiak. “This time of year to ask a guy to collect their whole playbook in a week is kind of tough, but as far as getting the game plan down and the things that you’re going to do, we’re getting him comfortable with that. He’s going to be put in a position to play this week.”
Count the ways
The main reason the Texans rank fourth in the NFL in total offense is because their Three Amigos — Schaub, receiver Andre Johnson, and running back Arian Foster — have started every game. That wasn’t the case last year when the trio was on the field together for only 45 of the team’s 1,046 plays. Johnson and Foster missed a combined dozen games with hamstring injuries and Schaub went down for the year with a foot injury in Week 10. This year Foster (1,102 yards rushing) and Johnson (1,114 receiving) are tops in the league as a duet.
If the surest way to beat the Patriots is to make Brady a sideline spectator, Houston has the goods to make it happen. The Texans rank first in time of possession with an average of 34 minutes 7 seconds, with 9:03 coming in the fourth quarter. Much of that is because their defense is skilled at getting off the field. Wade Phillips’s bunch leads the NFL in third-down stinginess, allowing only 46 of 162 conversions (28.4 percent). The Texans rank first in third-and-10-plus situations created (67) and second in three-and-outs (43), and have conceded only eight drives of five minutes or longer in 155 possessions and only 27 points.
Stuffing the run has been the key: They’re second in rushing defense (87.6 yards per game) and have only allowed two touchdowns on the ground. But they understand that facing Brady & Co. will be a daunting assignment.
“These guys spread the field as good as anybody, they get the ball out quick as well as anybody and the guy that gets it out is as good as anybody that’s ever played,” said Kubiak. “It’s a tremendous challenge for our team. We understand that. It’s going to be about team defense for us.”