FOX Sports Exclusive
Schaub hasn't been Texans' key, anyway
What the heck was Mike Smith thinking?
Do the San Francisco 49ers have the defensive player of the year?
My head hurts from looking at the AFC West.
And in my worst week ever picking games, what’s my biggest regret?
The NFL is better and crazier than ever. We are all over it, Schein 9 style:
1. The monologue
During the past four weeks, I have dedicated a healthy portion of Schein 9 to praising the Texans, the current No. 1 seed in the AFC. They have the best offensive line in football. They have a dominant run game. Wade Phillips’ defense is outstanding and changes games. Last week on FOXSports.com, I took the time on Cosmic Schein to call the Texans the best and most well-rounded team in the NFL. Gary Kubiak’s outfit made me look brilliant with its pasting of the Buccaneers.
Then, on Monday afternoon, we learned the shocking and sobering news that Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Schaub suffered a fracture of the foot. It’s one thing to lose your quarterback. It’s another when pretty boy Matt Leinart takes over.
Sound the alarms. Cue the usual refrain of the Texans choking away a playoff spot. Actually, that won’t happen this year. The Schaub injury is a big deal, but it will not derail the Texans playoff chances.
The transition to Leinart is, in theory, scary. In Arizona, the staff became totally fed up with Leinart. The former first-round draft pick seemed much more interested in being in the hot tub with bikini-clad women than the actual playbook. He infuriated coaches with his inability to step up and lead when Kurt Warner retired. Leinart didn’t have the drive that a quarterback should. He was goofy and, at times, aloof. He didn’t understand why he needed to turn his hat forward during national television interviews, with the backwards baseball hat portraying the look of a kid, not a leader of men. And his play was relatively poor, too.
Ken Whisenhunt cut the cord with the clown before the opener last year. Whisenhunt opted to go with Derek Anderson, John Skelton and the immortal Max Hall rather than actually look at Leinart for another second.
Yet, when Rick Smith, the outstanding general manager of the Houston Texans and frontrunner for executive of the year, put together his list of priorities in the brief offseason, retaining his third-string quarterback was high on his "to do" list. Seattle was on the verge of signing Leinart, reuniting him with his college coach, Pete Carroll. Smith and Kubiak wouldn’t let him get away, bringing him back and elevating him to the backup position.
Internally, the Texans believed they had one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL. With Schaub’s injury history, this is not a spot on the roster to take lightly.
Although Leinart was a total flop for the Cards, he has impressed Kubiak and his teammates with how he has practiced since the Texans picked him up. Leinart, by all accounts, has been responsible. His teammates and staff say Leinart is motivated by a chance to resurrect his career. Leinart loves Kubiak. He wants to play for Kubiak and believes he can succeed under the offensive guru. The Texans have been impressed with Leinart’s ability to make every throw. They think they will be more than OK.
Now, I think going from Schaub to Leinart is a significant downgrade. But think about the seven wins the Texans have. How many of them are attributable to Schaub? He has been very solid this year, but if you were ranking the reasons for the Texans' success, you would rank five other elements before you get around to quarterback performance.
These are not the Texans of old. The former weaknesses are now major strengths. Phillips’ defense, with a healthy DeMeco Ryans and a focused and dominant Brian Cushing, changes and wins games. The pickup of Johnathan Joseph has helped the pass defense morph from punch line to potent. Arian Foster and Ben Tate are the ultimate one-two punch at running back, behind the most cohesive line in football. The days of David Carr lying on his back are distant.
Don’t buy into the myth that teams now will stack the box with Leinart under center and stop the run. With star receiver Andre Johnson hurt, that’s exactly what teams have been doing for weeks, and Foster and company still have been incredible.
The Texans already have proven they can take a punch, dealing with Johnson’s injury and the loss of Mario Williams for the season. We are talking about the two best players on the team.
The Texans' schedule the rest of the season reads: at Jacksonville, Atlanta, at Cincinnati, Carolina, at Indianapolis, Tennessee. They will win at least four. The upside remains winning all six. Houston has the tiebreaker against Pittsburgh. New England will be a huge factor with its easy schedule down the stretch. The Patriots might not lose again. Houston is still in prime position to get a No. 1 or No. 2 seed and a bye, not just make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. I think the Schaub injury would hurt the most in the playoffs, depending on the matchup. But it won’t derail the journey toward the teams first berth in the playoffs.
And if Leinart keeps the train on the tracks, if the Texans get a top-two seed, as I predict, he will successfully shed the "pretty boy" label. A journey from the hot tub to the playoffs would be a heck of a story. I’m not a Matt Leinart guy. I’m the antithesis of. But it goes noted how much his coach and general manager actually believe in him. And it goes noted how good his team actually is.
2. Backseat coaching
Mike Smith going for it on a fourth-and-1 in overtime from his own 29-yard-line was the single dumbest, lowest percentage call I’ve ever seen from a coach. It wasn’t like the New Orleans Saints were putting on an offensive clinic. Atlanta made some stops in the fourth quarter. If you fail, you lose, putting the Saints in automatic field-goal range. The Falcons failed. The Falcons lost. It was totally ridiculous and unacceptable.
3. Amateur hour
New York Jets coach Rex Ryan had the Patriots right where he wanted them. He begged the rest of the league to beat New England. The Giants and Steelers obliged. He wanted to win a division and have home playoff games. And the Jets swung and missed in Cecil Fielder fashion.
Santonio Holmes tripped on the first drive and didn’t make it into the end zone. Nick Folk inexplicably shanked a 24-yard field-goal attempt. On the ensuing Patriots drive, Kyle Wilson dropped a pick on a third-and-17 and Stephen Gostkowski drilled a 50-yard field goal. Mark Sanchez later executed the “stupidest play in NFL history,” according to Ryan. Sanchez called a timeout with 1:24 to go in the first half and didn’t drain the play clock. Sanchez ran in a touchdown but left Tom Brady too much time. Brady predictably abused Eric Smith and hit Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown.
Then, to start the third quarter, rightly maligned offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer threw the ball three straight times from the Jets' 45-yard line. Where was Shonn Greene? Where was the ground and pound to set up the play action? How does Greene get only 13 carries in the game?
Then you factor in Joe McKnight fumbling a punt and Donald Strickland’s inability to recover. And Sanchez playing hot potato with the football. It was a miserable, unacceptable night for the Jets. They will hit the road for the playoffs again, if they make the playoffs.
4. Can't make it up
The Ravens swept the Steelers. After a horrible and stunning meltdown Sunday in Seattle, they have lost at Seattle, Jacksonville, and Tennessee. That’s fraudulent. Tarvaris Jackson a model of efficiency against the Ravens defense? I have nothing left to believe in any more.
5. Color me impressed
Talking to Niners coach Jim Harbaugh on the SiriusXM Blitz on Monday morning after the Niners' win against the Giants, he was raving about Justin Smith, who batted down an Eli Manning fourth-and-the-game pass inside the red zone. Harbaugh told us Smith should be considered for defensive player of the year and league MVP. "Two things," Harbaugh said, "he plays every snap. He’s been on the field 98 percent of the time this year. At the end of the Eagles game, he tracks down a screen pass and causes a fumble. It seals a win. If he doesn’t make that play, Philly would’ve been in field-goal range and in position to score and win.
“Yesterday, Smith says to (defensive lineman) Ray McDonald, ‘Rush the B gap; own the B gap; they are going to throw in the B gap.’ And what do you think happens? Eli throws in the B gap, and Justin gets his hands up and secures the win. He is the leader of this team.”
6. I'm a genius / moron
On the flip side, I picked against the Bears, yet again. Chicago’s defense was incredible and totally embarrassed and humbled Matthew Stafford. Devin Hester continues his march to the Hall of Fame. Bad news, Bears fans. I am buying in!
7. My guys
• Aaron Rodgers: He became one of five quarterbacks in NFL history to start the season with at least two touchdown passes in the first nine games of the season. Aaron Rodgers has 28 touchdowns against only three picks this year. It’s a season for the ages.
• Bill Belichick and Tom Brady: The duo passed Don Shula and Dan Marino for the coach/quarterback combination with the most wins together in NFL history.
• Rob Gronkowski: The Patriots tight end made Eric Smith look like, well, the overmatched safety he is.
• John Skelton: The Cardinals quarterback threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns in Arizona’s stunner in Philadelphia. Talking to Skelton on Monday on the SiriusXM Blitz, he told us: “I was frustrated after the Asante Samuel pick-six. The defense was playing great. But my teammates weren’t down on me. That gave me confidence.” Skelton struck back and hit Larry Fitzgerald for another touchdown. That’s awesome.
• William Gay: The Bengals had a chance to beat the Steelers. Or at least tie the game. Gay’s pick of Andy Dalton's pass, stepping in front of receiver Jerome Simpson, was the biggest play of the Pittsburgh win.
8. My goats
• Cleveland field-goal unit: Blame the snapper. Blame the kicker. Blame LeBron. That was the single worst attempt at a game-winning field goal.
• DeSean Jackson: The Eagles receiver has been a total non-factor this year. Jackson missed a team meeting Saturday, leaving coach Andy Reid no choice but to deactivate him for the loss against Arizona. That’s unacceptable.
• Andy Reid: Speaking of unacceptable, how is this team 3-6 after losing at home to the Cardinals? Reid keeps saying we should blame him. OK, you got it.
• Josh Freeman: It was another grotesque Sunday for the Buccaneers quarterback, in a blowout loss to Houston.
• Ron Rivera: It’s one thing to lose close games. But it is another when you get destroyed at home to the Titans.
9. Three nuggets of wisdom
• The Chiefs lost at home to Denver when Tim Tebow completed two passes. Oakland went on the road and beat San Diego. I have no idea what’s going on in the sub-par AFC West. But the best coaching move of the week was Hue Jackson giving Michael Bush 30 carries and having the offense go through the run game.
• I had to get Tarvaris Jackson on our radio show, since I’m putting my daughters through school by killing him. On his critics, like me, Jackson said, “Regardless of how people think I play, as long as my coaches are happy, I’m fine.” Let’s credit my favorite target, Jackson, for protecting the ball against Baltimore. Now, show me something by going on the road and beating the Rams.
• I couldn’t have been more impressed by Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys. And Dallas has a much easier schedule than the Giants down the stretch. But ask yourself, who do you trust? I trust the Giants more than Dallas.