The term “game manager” is overused and usually has a negative connotation. It usually means “that guy kind of sucks, but his defense won the game and he didn’t make any really obvious errors in the last five minutes when we were watching.”
In truth, though, a game manager should be applauded, and it should represent someone who understands situation and what is required, based on time, score, and other details.
Schaub was not a good game manager on the decisive play of Seattle’s come from behind victory over Houston. With just over two minutes left, on a 3rd and 4, he put the ball up for grabs under pressure, and it was returned for the tying touchdown by Seattle’s Richard Sherman.
This is a true rare event in the NFL. How rare? You know the last time that a quarterback threw a pick six that allowed the opponent to tie or take the lead in the last four minutes of a game? None of the key figures are still playing in the league.
You have to go back to 2005, the first game after Terrell Owens was suspended by the team and the Eagles played Dallas on Monday Night. Donovan McNabb threw a pass that was returned by Roy Williams 46 yards for the eventual winning score.
Three times since 1999 it has happened now, with Joey Harrington being the other quarterback. That is three times over the course of 1,052 passes thrown by quarterbacks leading by 8 or fewer points, with 4 minutes or left remaining. So yes, it is a truly rare occurrence for a quarterback to make a play as awful as what Schaub did yesterday. A true game manager would have understood the situation and reacted under pressure. The goal is obviously to try to get the first down and effectively end the game. Once the play broke down, though, you have to get down, protect the ball, and run the clock. The loss of yards is not a factor here, given the field position. They would be punting into a short field whether he loses seven yards or not. The second best option is to throw it away, even if it results in an intentional grounding call.
Schaub chose Door Number Three, put it up for grabs on the outside, falling away and throwing an off balance pass. He chose poorly.
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Of course, that decision might have still worked out, if Daniels had been wide open on the bootleg, and if the Seahawks did not also win the high stakes game of poker and strategy to set the wheels in motion.
I’ve gone back through several Texans plays, including short yardage key plays this year and last, and cannot find where they ran something similar in a high pressure situation. The only one in this game that bore some resemblance was 11:21 of the 2nd quarter, out of trips formation. That one was also a play action pass, where Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels ran a similar route combination, while the third receiver actually stayed in and picked up the backside blitzer.
That’s not to say, though, that Seattle did not see something in their many, many more hours of preparation that made them take an educated risk on this play, because it seems pretty obvious they did, and won. Let’s go through it. We don’t even need the all-22 tape to see the defensive alignment to start, as everyone is on the television feed. That’s actually Daniels to the top of the screen, with Sherman aligned in front of him. Kam Chancellor is in the slot, over Andre Johnson. There is a single high safety.
Daniels comes in motion behind Johnson. The Texans were likely anticipating a switch here, because as we will see, Daniels releases to the inside of the field, and the most likely response would be for Sherman to pick up the outside of the two receivers off the line. Just before the snap, Chancellor glances at Daniels coming to a stop, back at Sherman, then rushes to the line to blitz right at the snap.
Finally, here is the shot right at the point where Schaub is completing the fake to Foster. You can see two other defenders crashing on the back side, and Chancellor just taking a run right at the spot where Schaub will come out of his fake to turn. Sherman, meanwhile is just hanging out in that short zone, and let Johnson go. He’s waiting for Daniels to come back to him, which Daniels is getting ready to do. Seattle leaves Johnson running down the middle of the field, alone with the deep safety.
The rest as they say, is history. Schaub turns and lets the ball go under pressure. Sherman is waiting and cuts in front of Daniels. Game tied, and Seattle is now 4-0. Seattle’s defense won the chess match, blitzing in the direction of a bootleg, taking away the short pass, and guessing that Schaub would not have time to find Johnson. That should have been enough to win the play. Schaub did the rest, and it went from a play win to the most pivotal play in a comeback victory.
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