Houston Texans: Making the Playoffs with a Third Quarterback

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Nov 29, 2011



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts Non-backup Plan


You almost have to feel sorry for the Houston Texans. After Peyton Manning’s injury and the Jaguars releasing David Garrard, the 2011 season was set up for them to cruise to the AFC South title, which would be their first playoff appearance.
 
They responded with a 7-3 start, featuring one of the league’s best rushing attacks and defenses. But after dealing with injuries to Andre Johnson and a season-ending injury for Mario Williams, the Texans were rocked by the loss of Matt Schaub after their Week 10 victory.
 
Insert Matt Leinart, and after taking the bye week to prepare him for his first start, he didn’t make it to halftime. A broken collarbone has knocked Leinart out for the year, leaving the Texans with unproven rookie T.J. Yates and Kellen Clemens. They do plan to add a veteran, and probably already have by the time you read this.
 
That’s a rough one, and for a team that is tied for the best record in their conference. Statistically, the Texans have been a dominant team, ranking 2nd in point differential (10.4/game), 3rd in turnover differential (+11), and top 5 rankings in both points scored and allowed.
 
The only competition the Texans have for the division is Tennessee, but they’re already two games ahead and have the head-to-head win. The chances of making the playoffs still look good, though right now the quarterback position is a huge question mark.
 
Their next two opponents are Atlanta and Cincinnati, which should be two tough games. Carolina is not an easy out, and the Colts may be trying to avoid the imperfect season on primetime. Then it’s a Week 17 finale with the Titans, which could be for the division.
 
With that schedule, the chance for a late-season collapse due to bad quarterback play is a real possibility.

The Historical Prospects

In projecting what type of finish the Texans might be headed for, we looked at every playoff team since 1960 that had to start three different quarterbacks in the regular season.
 
There were 36 teams that fit the requirements. 32 of them started 3 quarterbacks, while three more started 4 quarterbacks, and one team (1984 Bears, of course) started 5 different quarterbacks. That makes for an average of 3.14 starters used.
 
Five of these teams won the Super Bowl that year, and three more lost it. But don’t get excited Houston fans, because all but one of those teams had their #1 quarterback available for the playoff run.
 
Here is the breakdown for the average number of regular season starts the quarterback made:
 
Quarterback Average Starts
QB 1 10.3
QB 2 3.6
QB 3 1.5
QB 4 1.0
QB 5 1.0
 
“QB 1” represents the quarterback that started the most games for the team. It does not mean it was the team’s first quarterback used in a season. The larger the number, the fewer starts that quarterback made. The number of games started is listed in parenthesis after the quarterback’s name.
 
Team Year Result QB 1 QB 2 QB 3 Playoffs
Steelers 2010 Lost SB Ben Roethlisberger (12) Dennis Dixon (2) Charlie Batch (2) QB 1
Steelers 2005 Won SB Ben Roethlisberger (12) Tommy Maddox (2) Charlie Batch (2) QB 1
Broncos 2003 Lost AFC-WC Jake Plummer (11) Danny Kanell (2) Steve Beuerlein (2) QB 1
Titans 2003 Lost AFC-D Steve McNair (14) Billy Volek (1) Neil O'Donnell (1) QB 1
Eagles 2002 Lost NFC-C Donovan McNabb (10) A.J. Feeley (5) Koy Detmer (1) QB 1
Buccaneers 2002 Won SB Brad Johnson (13) Rob Johnson (2) Shaun King (1) QB 1
Buccaneers 1999 Lost NFC-C Trent Dilfer (10) Shaun King (5) Eric Zeier (1) QB 2
Falcons 1998 Lost SB Chris Chandler (14) Steve DeBerg (1) Tony Graziani (1) QB 1
Jaguars 1998 Lost AFC-D Mark Brunell (13) Jonathan Quinn (2) Jamie Martin (1) QB 1
Jaguars 1997 Lost AFC-WC Mark Brunell (14) Steve Matthews (1) Rob Johnson (1) QB 1
Colts 1995 Lost AFC-C Jim Harbaugh (12) Craig Erickson (3) Paul Justin (1) QB 1
Cowboys 1994 Lost NFC-C Troy Aikman (14) Rodney Peete (1) Jason Garrett (1) QB 1
Cowboys 1993 Won SB Troy Aikman (14) Bernie Kosar (1) Jason Garrett (1) QB 1
Lions 1993 Lost NFC-WC Rodney Peete (10) Erik Kramer (4) Andre Ware (2) QB 2
Redskins 1990 Lost NFC-D Mark Rypien (10) Stan Humphries (5) Jeff Rutledge (1) QB 1
Bears 1988 Lost NFC-C Jim McMahon (9) Mike Tomczak (5) Jim Harbaugh (2) QB 2, QB 1
Browns 1988 Lost AFC-WC Bernie Kosar (9) Mike Pagel (4) Don Strock (2) QB 3
Seahawks 1988 Lost AFC-D Dave Krieg (9) Kelly Stouffer (6) Jeff Kemp (1) QB 1
Bears 1986 Lost NFC-D Mike Tomczak (7) Jim McMahon (6) Steve Fuller (2) QB 4
49ers 1986 Lost NFC-D Joe Montana (8) Jeff Kemp (6) Mike Moroski (2) QB 1
Rams 1986 Lost NFC-WC Steve Bartkowski (6) Steve Dils (5) Jim Everett (5) QB 3
Bears 1984 Lost NFC-C Jim McMahon (9) Steve Fuller (4) Rusty Lisch (1) QB 2
Broncos 1983 Lost AFC-WC John Elway (10) Steve DeBerg (5) Gary Kubiak (1) QB 2
Dolphins 1983 Lost AFC-D Dan Marino (9) David Woodley (5) Don Strock (2) QB 1
Bears 1979 Lost NFC-WC Mike Phipps (10) Vince Evans (3) Bob Avellini (3) QB 1
Rams 1979 Lost SB Pat Haden (10) Vince Ferragamo (5) Jeff Rutledge (1) QB 2
Broncos 1978 Lost AFC-D Craig Morton (13) Craig Penrose (2) Norris Weese (1) QB 1
Vikings 1977 Lost NFC-C Fran Tarkenton (9) Bob Lee (4) Tommy Kramer (1) QB 2
Rams 1976 Lost NFC-C Pat Haden (7) James Harris (5) Ron Jaworski (2) QB 1
Steelers 1974 Won SB Terry Bradshaw (7) Joe Gilliam (6) Terry Hanratty (1) QB 1
Steelers 1973 Lost AFC-D Terry Bradshaw (9) Terry Hanratty (4) Joe Gilliam (1) QB 1
Vikings 1971 Lost NFC-D Gary Cuozzo (8) Bob Lee (4) Norm Snead (2) QB 2
Chiefs 1969 Won SB Len Dawson (7) Mike Livingston (6) Jacky Lee (1) QB 1
Oilers 1969 Lost AFL-D Pete Beathard (10) Don Trull (3) Bob Davis (1) QB 1
Oilers 1967 Lost AFL-C Pete Beathard (9) Jacky Lee (3) Bob Davis (2) QB 1
Colts 1965 Lost NFL-D Johnny Unitas (11) Gary Cuozzo (2) Tom Matte (1) QB 3
 
Here are the four teams that had to start 4+ quarterbacks (table would not display properly if included above):
 
2003 Denver Broncos: Jake Plummer (11), Danny Kanell (2), Steve Beuerlein (2), Jarious Jackson (1)
1988 Cleveland Browns: Bernie Kosar (9), Mike Pagel (4), Don Strock (2), Gary Danielson (1)
1986 Chicago Bears: Mike Tomczak (7), Jim McMahon (6), Steve Fuller (2), Doug Flutie (1)
1984 Chicago Bears: Jim McMahon (9), Steve Fuller (4), Rusty Lisch (1), Bob Avellini (1), Greg Landry (1)
 
We did not consider teams that had to use a QB 3 in the playoffs (such as Chicago’s Caleb Hanie in the NFC Championship last year), because we just wanted to find the teams that survived the regular season on 3+ starting quarterbacks.
 

Analysis

It’s not surprising to see some of the usual suspects on the list. Mike Ditka’s Bears went through a lot of quarterbacks in the 80’s, but they still won a lot of games because of their defense and running game. The Rams of the 70’s also routinely made the playoffs with many quarterback changes. They are the only team here to reach the Super Bowl without their QB 1. Vince Ferragamo started for them after taking over for Pat Haden.
 
How about the breakdown of who started in the postseason?
 
Playoff QB #
QB 1 25
QB 2 8
QB 3 3
QB 4 1
 
That adds up to 37, because the 1988 Bears started Mike Tomczak (QB 2) in the first playoff game, and Jim McMahon (QB 1) in the NFC Championship. Both quarterbacks played in each playoff game anyway, and the Bears lost to the 49ers that season.
 
As you can see, 25/36 (69.4%) of the teams were able to start their QB 1 in the playoffs. Looking at all 25, the QB 1 was in fact the best starting quarterback the team had that season (though don’t quote me as a Pete Beathard expert).  That is a luxury the Texans cannot rely on, as Matt Schaub is not coming back this season.
 
So while it’s nice that a team like the 1993-94 Cowboys held down the fort in the four combined games Troy Aikman missed, it’s not really relevant to how that season went seeing as how Aikman was right back under center for the playoffs. It’s the same thing with the recent Pittsburgh teams. Ben Roethlisberger, either by injury or suspension, was the starting quarterback down the stretch and through the playoffs.
 
The Texans got 10 starts out of Schaub, one out of Leinart, and who knows what will come next. Yates is expected to start against Atlanta.
 

Teams That Needed the Backup

Since we’re not interested in how teams fared with their good starter, we’ll take a look in reverse chronological order into the 11 teams that did have to go with a backup.
 
1999 Buccaneers: Trent Dilfer was injured in his 10th start of the season. Tampa Bay turned to rookie Shaun King, who made his first start the following week. They finished 4-1 with King performing respectably well. After the first-round bye, the Buccaneers fell behind 13-0 to the Redskins before rallying for a 14-13 win. They would challenge the Rams in the NFC Championship with their stingy defense, but in the end, they could not score a touchdown on their final drive to win the game, which brought about the Bert Emanuel rule.
 
1993 Lions: The often injured Rodney Peete had to be replaced after starting 10 games. Instead of going back to college bust Andre Ware, the Lions turned to Erik Kramer. Peete had just 6 TD and 14 INT during the season. Kramer started the last four games of the regular season, going 3-1 and throwing 8 TD to 3 INT (95.1 rating). He would start in the playoffs against Green Bay, the NFC Wild Card game with Brett Favre’s famous game-winning touchdown pass to Sterling Sharpe. Kramer was actually an improvement for the Lions in this season.
 
1988 Browns: Starter Bernie Kosar was injured and only able to start 9 games (6-3 record). He was missed, as Mike Pagel went 2-2 in his absence. Gary Danielson started one game, which was another loss. Don Strock (QB 3), the longtime Miami backup, went 2-0 as a starter and got the starting nod in the AFC Wild Card game against Houston. Strock would be injured early in the game on a fumble, and replaced by Pagel. The Browns lost 24-23.
 
1986 Bears: The defending Super Bowl champions actually allowed 11 fewer points in 1986 than they did in 1985. They needed that effort, because their four quarterbacks would combine for 12 TD and 25 INT (57.6 passer rating). Regardless of the passing game, they were good enough to go 14-2. Jim McMahon started the season, but would battle injuries (often a problem in his career) and be replaced by Mike Tomczak. Steve Fuller got in a couple of starts as well, but by season’s end, it was on the shoulders of rookie Doug Flutie. He had an impressive start and win in the season finale in Dallas, and Ditka actually chose him over Tomczak and Fuller to start the playoff game against Washington. Flutie would go just 11/31 for 134 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT on the day, and Chicago became the first 14-2 team to go one and done in the playoffs. Flutie remains the only QB 4 to start in the postseason.
 
1986 Rams: The Rams started the season with veteran Steve Bartkowski for 6 starts, but had to turn to Steve Dils for 5 more starts. Neither quarterback was very effective, even with Eric Dickerson having another fabulous season (1,821 yards rushing). Jim Everett, the 3rd overall pick in the draft, made his rookie debut by starting the last 5 games of the season, going 3-2. He started the NFC Wild Card game at Washington, which was a 19-7 loss. Everett (a QB 3) completed 9/18 passes for 136 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT.
 
1984 Bears: Leave it up to the Bears to be the only team that starts 5 different quarterbacks. Jim McMahon and Steve Fuller played well, but Rusty Lisch, Bob Avellini, and Greg Landry certainly did not. McMahon was lost after 9 games. Lisch and Landry started a game in December. For the playoffs, Fuller returned and had a good game against Washington in a NFC Divisional win. But in having to go to San Francisco to take on Joe Montana and the 49ers, Fuller was no match, passing for just 87 yards in a 23-0 shutout defeat.
 
1983 Broncos: It was John Elway’s rookie year, and while he got 10 starts, early on it was Elway being benched for Steve DeBerg to lead fourth quarter comebacks. DeBerg was 4-1 as a starter with a 79.9 rating. The rookie Elway was 4-6 as a starter with a 54.9 rating. Denver played at Seattle in the AFC Wild Card game, but DeBerg got the start. He would be replaced by Elway, getting his first playoff action, but the game had been long since decided. Seattle won 31-7.
 
1979 Rams: As mentioned earlier, this is the only team on the list to reach the Super Bowl with a backup quarterback. Pat Haden started 10 games, posting a 5-5 record. His broken finger led to Vince Ferragamo becoming the starter. Despite very pedestrian numbers (try a 49.0 rating), Ferragamo was 4-1 as a starter, and the Rams finished 9-7. Jeff Rutledge snuck in a start between the two. In the playoffs, the Rams pulled off a stunning upset in Dallas in what would be Roger Staubach’s final game. They shut out Tampa Bay 9-0 in the NFC Championship, and became the first 9-7 team to advance to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately they ran into the Pittsburgh dynasty, but did hold a fourth quarter lead. Terry Bradshaw led the comeback to win a fourth Super Bowl in six years for the Steelers. Ferragamo was a respectable 15/25 for 212 yards and an interception in the big game.
 
1977 Vikings: In his 9th start, Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton was lost to injury. The team was 6-3 at this point. Bob Lee would get 4 starts, going 3-1 in the process. Tommy Kramer would get a December start as well. It was Lee come playoff time, and he got a road win over the Rams despite only completing 5 passes for 57 yards. In the NFC Championship, Lee was no match for the Cowboys, losing 23-6.
 
1971 Vikings: It was a non-existent passing game, but the Vikings had the best defense in the league, hence the 11-3 record.  Gary Cuozzo started 8 games, but Bob Lee was starting 4 games down the stretch. Lee got the start in the playoffs, but Cuozzo finished with more passes (22) in the game. The quarterbacks combined for 4 interceptions, and Dallas won 20-12 on the road.
 
1965 Colts: This one’s a classic. Johnny Unitas was enjoying one of his finest seasons, but a knee injury ended his season after 11 starts. Gary Cuozzo started two games, but was also lost due to injury. The Colts brought in veteran Ed Brown, but were forced to go with running back Tom Matte as the emergency quarterback. Matte would throw just two passes, both incomplete, but rushed for 99 yards in the win. Against Green Bay in the playoffs, Matte would again get the start at quarterback. The wristband he wore with plays written on it resides in Canton. Matte completed 5/12 passes for 40 yards in the game. It went to overtime, and Green Bay won on a controversial field goal that didn’t appear to go through successfully. The Colts were forced to go with Matte in the playoff game due to existing rules that made Brown ineligible to play.
 
Eleven teams that had to start a backup quarterback, and seven of them went one and done in the postseason. That does not bode well for the Texans, even if they can show some faith in their ability to run the ball and play some defense.
 
Is a veteran looking for redemption like Jake Delhomme or Jeff Garcia the answer? Is T.J. Yates the next Jeff Hostetler or Tom Brady? It’s hard not to be pessimistic about their prospects. With the AFC being more inconsistent than usual, this was a perfect year for Matt Schaub to lead the Texans on a deep playoff run.
 
Now it’s going to have to be someone else – if they get there.

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