What’s Wrong With Matt?

Can Matt Schaub pull himself out of the rut and save the Texans’ season (and maybe his job)? A veteran quarterback explains the mental toll of mistakes—how they can build on one another and ruin a player’s confidence

Matt Schaub set an NFL record last weekend, recording a pick-six for the fourth straight game. The Texans pulled Schaub from the game but announced this week that he will start Sunday against the Rams. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Matt Schaub set an NFL record last weekend, recording a pick-six for the fourth straight game. The Texans pulled him in the second half but announced this week that he’ll start Sunday against the Rams. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: Quarterback Sage Rosenfels had an 11-year NFL career, mostly as a backup, including two years as a teammate of Matt Schaub’s in Houston.

By Sage Rosenfels

Recently, I’ve been asked by friends, current and former players, coaches, and even my son, “What’s wrong with Matt Schaub?” I struggle for an answer. I don’t think there is anything wrong with his mechanics. Watching from afar, it seems the offense Houston is running still uses the same battle-tested concepts I remember from my time with the team that head coach Gary Kubiak has used for years. The Texans still have a lot of talent on the team and have continued to run the ball well, throw for a lot of yards and play solid defense. So why the interceptions, and why the four straight games with a pick-6, the deadly interception run back for a touchdown?

I spent the past few days trying to figure out why, at what seems to be the most inopportune times, Schaub has thrown interceptions, causing a team with Super Bowl aspirations to be in soul-searching mode—and, according to Kubiak, maybe even quarterback-searching mode. The only thing I can do is relate this to a situation I went through as a player and how it affected me.

Rosenfels (18) was teammates with Schaub in 2007 and 2008. (Tom Olmscheid/AP)
Sage Rosenfels (18) played alongside Matt Schaub in Houston in 2007 and ’08. (Tom Olmscheid/AP)

It was Week 5 of the 2008 NFL season and we, the Texans, were winless at 0-3 (we had an early bye week that year). The previous season I had played the best football of my career as a backup to Schaub. I ended the year with a 4-1 record as a starter. Matt kept his starting job, and I was again relegated to the backup role, a position I always accepted, but not as graciously this time because I had played so well the year before. As we entered the game against the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts, I found out at the team breakfast that Schaub had come down with the flu in the middle of the night and there was a good chance I would be playing. I wasn’t officially told I would be the starter until about 90 minutes before kickoff. I was excited to get back out there and show I could turn our team’s fortunes around. I also knew there was a huge challenge in front of my team and me. But I hadn’t practiced with the first team since training camp. And so starting a game against a premier team with no practice reps is not an ideal situation. 

For the first 56 minutes of the game, I played the best game of my life. High school, college, NFL. Hands down. We built a 27-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. Manning led a touchdown drive to score with 4:04 to go, and the Colts onside-kicked. But we recovered. We ran two running plays to run off some clock as the Colts burned their first two timeouts. On 3rd-and-8 at the Indianapolis 39, we decided to run a bootleg to the left. I got to the edge and saw nothing but green grass in front of me. Run it, I thought. A Colts cornerback left the tight end he was covering and came up to make the tackle. Rather than playing it conservative, I made the split-second decision to try and dive over the cornerback and hopefully land near a first down. This is what I had always done in the past, so my instinct told me to go for it rather than slide. When you are a backup quarterback fighting every year for a roster spot, earning respect and turning heads by pushing the envelope is one of the reasons I had made it in the league to that point.

What happened next changed everything.

As I leaped over the defender, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis hit me while I was in midair and spun me around. I lost most of my senses and the ball before I hit the ground. Linebacker Gary Brackett returned the loose ball 68 yards for a touchdown. Now we led only 27-24. Shocked by what just happened, I got strip-sacked by Mathis on the next possession, and Manning took two plays to get the Colts in the end zone. Colts, 31-27. I got picked again on our last possession.

My crown jewel moment?  No. In only a few minutes, it became my worst nightmare.

Mentally, getting beyond that game was nearly impossible. I was disappointed that I let my team down. I knew I missed a huge opportunity to possibly be the starter going forward. It was difficult to look my teammates, coaches and even support personnel in the eye. I knew how hard everyone worked to create a winning organization, and I carelessly threw it away.  The moment and game burned deep into my conscience, and it was a challenge for me to focus about anything else. This game haunted me for months.

I ended up having four more starts for the Texans that year and went 2-2, but my confidence was still shaken, as I battled day to day to get over what happened months before. I was more game-manager than playmaker. My play was tentative. I didn’t want to screw up again. I played overly conservative, which led to worse results. I couldn’t wait for the offseason so I could get away from football and regain my confidence.

Schaub has nine interceptions in five games this season; in 2012, he threw 12 total. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Schaub has nine interceptions in five games this season; in 2012, he threw 12 total. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Fast forward to 2013. I am retired from playing, and I’m watching one of my old teams, the Houston Texans. They are playing a Super Bowl contender, Seattle, and have built a strong lead heading into the fourth quarter. With a few minutes left, Schaub gets called to run a bootleg on a key third down to possibly ice the game. He gets pressure, and instead of taking a sack or throwing it away he attempts to make a play and throws a lofted ball into traffic. It ends up going the other way for a touchdown. A week later he threw another pick-6 90 seconds into a huge game at San Francisco. Heartbreaking loss, again. On the news, fans were shown burning his jersey and booing him. There were calls for his benching despite having been the franchise quarterback for roughly six years and owning nearly every quarterback record in the team’s young history. Pro Bowls, passing records, playoff runs, and being a captain of the team are all disregarded by many fans because of some very untimely turnovers that might have cost the Texans some early-season wins.

Whether the fans are right in asking for Schaub’s benching or if he gives the Texans the best chance to win is not the reason I am writing this article. My point is to give you an inside look at what might be going through a player’s head after a handful of devastating mistakes. These can overwhelm a player and cause more bad things to happen. It is a huge challenge to get out of that mental rut, but it is possible. I’m not sure what’s going on in Schaub’s head as he battles through a difficult stretch in his career.  What I do know is the experience I went through and the challenge and perseverance it took to overcome it.  

Being that I played the best football of my NFL career in Houston under Gary Kubiak, I am rooting for the Texans to get back on track.  Having played with Schaub for two years and knowing how mentally strong and dedicated he is to his team and his profession, I believe he will get his play turned around soon. But only one person, Matt himself, knows his confidence level after being mentally battered early this season. And the mental part of the game, the part no one sees, plays such a big part of success and failure in the NFL. I know. I’ve felt it.

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44 comments
doublegg
doublegg

file this under entirely worthless

charles.pavlovich
charles.pavlovich

What in THE hell does Sage know about quarterbacking?  How to be a crappy back up? Stfu Sage.

HorizontalGophers
HorizontalGophers

When a QB is constantly thinking "Don't throw a Pick 6" his neuromuscular system can get confused. In that millisecond of conscious decision making his muscle memory might only react to "......throw a Pick 6".  Thus the term 'think positive'. Easier said than done but to steal a line from Cool Hand Luke -you gotta get your mind right. 

WR2

MickPatrick
MickPatrick

By way of observation, and not excuse, NFL QB obviously is an extraordinarily difficult job. A country of 320,000,000 or so cannot produce, at any given time, more than a small handful of men -- maybe five or six -- who can play well, week to week, and year to year.  Physical ability is only part of the picture -- very few people have the psychological makeup to deal with constant and public adversity. In addition, even the most talented QBs are at the mercy of their teammates and their systems. Eli Manning and Tom Brady are good examples of that.

That's not to say that fans have no right to complain. They pay high prices and for athletes, criticism is the price to be paid for untold riches and adulation.

JacobJones
JacobJones

One of these days, probably soon, if Schaub gets benched, people will finally wake up to the fact it's Kubiak's archaic system that's to blame.. And Kubiak, himself.. The game has changed, and Kubiak hasn't, that's the root cause of the problem..

Centennial
Centennial

I'm wondering if Schaub doesn't have some kind of undiagnosed medical problem; because if you watch his play since the start of the season, he seems to be moving in slow motion and his passes have no zip on them at all.

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

ROSENCOPTER!!  Yeah, well Sage, I hope you know as Texans fans we actually got over that, but the nickname is funny so it carries on.  By the way, there was no doubt in my mind you were busting your tail to try and win the game and that fumble was just pure bad luck.  

I don't know what it was Sage, but back then you AND Matt had struggles with making mistakes in games the team had won.  Y'all would look awesome and then have these critical turnovers that turned the game.  What Matt is going through is a continuation of what you both went through back then.  OH, it wasn't just you two, there were fumbles or a big return or a big play against the defense.  It is very hard to win in this league and dam near impossible to play mistake free games.  

I don't think it is just Matt's confidence I think it is the team's.  I think it is a matter of proving they can win against elite teams in big games.  They have yet to prove they have arrived and are still trying to build themselves into perennial winners.  

BenWilliam
BenWilliam

He writes considerably better than a lot of the columnists at CBS, I'll say that about him. 

octaviogarcia11
octaviogarcia11

rosenfels was the better quarterback in those backup years wit the texans. no accounting for luck sometimes.

CMFJ
CMFJ

Interesting article.  I think the Texans are better off letting Schaub work through the confidence problem (or whatever is causing the turnovers) and not using a "short leash" mentality.  I think Schaub has enough of a record of playing well over the course of a season to indicate he will recover.  Even using games from this year, he played well in "the clutch" to help the Texans win their first two games.  Benching Schaub does not necessarily solve the problem.  Yates played fine for an inexperienced starter when he last got serious PT, but it is not clear that he will be an upgrade over Schaub's current performance level.



MickPatrick
MickPatrick

What a remarkably non-insightful piece. Any casual fan could have ghost-written the article without ever having talked to a player.

BrianBlake
BrianBlake

Thanks for the inside look Sage! On the other hand, that video with Peter King is absolutely TERRIBLE. Holy eff SI, I've watched gardening segments on my local news that were more lively than that. Wtf, how gave that the green light? Some 85 yr old geriatric? If you can't be excited about what you, idk why any of us should be.

southpawsugar
southpawsugar

was this another paid leave matt schaub alone article by the texan's organization? The fake stalking incident at schaub's house wasnt enough? 

schaub has got to go. He's had 7 freaking years to get the job done and he always comes up short in big games in big moments. 

The entire city of houston is done with him. 

southpawsugar
southpawsugar

a pathetic article by another back up quarterback who didnt tell us anything about what;s wrong schaub but a failed quarterback reliving his failures. thanks for nothing sagerosencopter.

adrianzv05
adrianzv05

As always great article Sage!!! 

Starstruck
Starstruck

Sage's perspective is that of an insecure, struggling backup who had not earned the respect of the lockerroom as a team leader. He wasn't cut from the same cloth as the incumbent veteran starting QB, so he can't assume that he understands Schaub's perspective.  

Hammer109
Hammer109

This is what separates the good from the great. Everyone who makes it to the major leagues in any sport is a phenomenal athlete.  If you played with the last guy on the bench you'd be blown away by his talent.  So at this level, it's all mental.  Derek Jeter, Larry Bird, Joe Montana. These guys were not the best athletes in their sport, but they are mentally toughest.  That's why some athletes - particularly quarterbacks - seem to get better as they get older.  They've figured out the mental part of the game, even if their raw skills have eroded somewhat.

HalCooper
HalCooper

I'm impressed he linked to that video, since it makes fun of him.  Should have chosen D ;-)

BY
BY

Great article that shows how these players are humans, with flaws, and not robots. Most "fans" don't grasp this. No player ever screws up on purpose. I wonder if these fans apply the same standard of never screwing up in their own lives, at work and at home.

DennyCrane
DennyCrane

They should ask Peyton Manning how he deals with his failures. This is a guy who builds very impressive personal stats in the regular season only to flame out in the post. He has the worst post season record of any qb in the history of the game. He owns the one-and-none record. Perhaps PK should ask his bro to comment on how he can come back from that especially since most of the losses are PM's fault.

MarkPost
MarkPost

Great article.  It's very difficult knowing what someone goes through in any circumstance unless you've dealt with it yourself, but this paints a very vivid picture.

JessicaGrey
JessicaGrey

Sorry 0-4

Wish you guys the best of luck for rest of season...ouch

Can't get much worse than the current record huh, or can it?

Noooo! Let's hope not!

JessicaGrey
JessicaGrey

I feel sorry for people like you, that chooses to "LOL" at a man that's struggling with something most of us normal people do at dome point in our lives, lack of confidence due to a series of events, mistakes, nerves, whatever it may be, only he knows what caused it, and then to have to deal with the critics, coaches, commentators, family and friends and people like you! Ugh How miserable of a person are you to find humor in that man's troubles.

SMDH

DeeEmm1
DeeEmm1

@JacobJones That was my immediate reaction when Sage said "they're still running the same stuff". The best teams in the league today continue to evolve. Look at my Saints as a prime example. They've gone from the balanced offense of 2009, to an explosive offensive unit in 2011 full of skill players in their prime, to a ball control team in 2013 in which the offense's entire concept has changed based on the current personnel.

This whole time, the Saints offense has been near the top of the rankings every year. They adapt and suceed. The Texans have continued to regress on offense year by year.

Mike26
Mike26

@CMFJ And I win the lottery on Saturday night I'll finally be able to pay my telephone bill.....

esgalan2
esgalan2

@southpawsugar  


OMG,  you one of those loonies who dismiss anything that doesn't fit their "wolrdview  as the product of  a conspiracy....

On the other hand, one shouldn't be surprised by that,  considering the evident pleasure you seem to take in "firing" Matt Schaub  in the name of "the entire city of Houston".

Kicking a man while is down is the hallmark of loosers....

Good day Mr "southpaw Vulgar"


esgalan2
esgalan2

@southpawsugar Yet another post by a looser, insulting people he has never met, and passing judgement on a subject on which he has no real expertise whatsoever.... 

thanks for nothing you bozo...

CMFJ
CMFJ

@Starstruck 

While I agree with you that Schaub's ability to rebound will probably be better than Rosenfels, I think the article lends insight into how devastating mistakes can be to a players confidence and what Schaub will have to overcome.

sero.evo
sero.evo

@BY You mean the people that spend more time and effort following a team then they do raising their own children? Nah, those people are heroes. 

AnthonyPatterrson
AnthonyPatterrson

@BY 

Agreed, and interestingly, I was wondering if there was a Sportscenter based on fans lives (Fancenter), what would be on it? How many "failures" would we be talking about? Based on the unemployment and bankruptcy figures, I don't think it would be pretty.

scBlais
scBlais

@DennyCrane Manning has the second most playoff losses, but not the worst record.  For active QB's I would say that gem goes to Romo.

HalCooper
HalCooper

@DennyCrane Who is PK?  And yeah, everything you say is overstatement in the extreme, life must be hard for you, all that reality...

JoshChrenko
JoshChrenko

@DennyCrane " He has the worst post season record of any qb in the history of the game." You must be joking right? He has been to 2 superbowls and won 1. Somehow I don't think that qualifies as the worst postseason record.

Christopher32
Christopher32

I wouldnt say they have regressed year by year.. They had their best offense, 8th in scoring last season in franchise history, and their last three years have been their best three offensive years for that team.. Last year in the playoffs they had 420+ yards of offense in back to back games. If it wasnt for the D giving up 41 to New England they might have been inthe super bowl. Schaub and Andre Johnson have aged and regressed.

The issue is getting talent. Outside of Duane Brown, Ben Tate is probably their best offensive draft pick in the past 10 years, since drafting Andre Johnson. That is a track record for a bad team.

The saints offense is near the top of the league for one major reason, they took Drew Brees over Daunte Culpepper. They havent adapted a whole lot. Run a bit more when the d is good and they have big leads and backs with talent. But they are on pace to be tp 4 in passing yards again this year, which Payton and Brees have always been. 19th in rush attempts and 26th in rush yards isnt exactly ball control or balance. They throw it. 2nd in passing yards and 4th in tds.

Mike26
Mike26

@sero.evo @BY All they have to do is put their kids into the strongest gangs in the neighborhood and get back to the TV...

JBlack94
JBlack94

@scBlais @DennyCrane Even Romo can't get that record. He's 1-3. Matt Ryan is 1-4. That's the worst winning percentage among active QBs, if you take away the guys who are 0-1 or 0-2.

Mike26
Mike26

@JoshChrenko @DennyCrane He has a losing record in the postseason yet is considered one of, if not THE, best QB of all time.  What's your deal?

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