The Stepford Lives

June 22, 2003
The Stepford Lives

by Keith Weiland

Something strange is happening in the town of Houston.

Why is everything so perfect here?

Houston has become a town where the local tackle football team does and says all the right things to please the city and their fans. Isn’t there something just a little too eerily copasetic here?

Ever since Bob McNair somehow boot-scooted past the myriad of Los Angeles bids to secure the NFL’s 32nd franchise for this fair city of ours, it’s like we’ve all been swept along the most mystical magical carpet ride through Candyland. In a word, the past five years have been nothing but sweet.

So aren’t we due for a tummy ache?

For the first two seasons in franchise history, the Texans have been granted – and rightfully so – a free pass on fan expectations. The NFL handed out few cigars when birthing this team. A couple supplemental drafts picks and an expansion draft littered with a mere few gems amongst several potholes of fool’s gold was all the team had to start with in 2002.

Of course the Texans struggled mightily for the wins they earned in Year One. In Year Two, the team’s biggest Achilles heel – depth – was exposed when a league-high seventeen players found their way onto the injured reserve. The team has a total of just nine victories in two seasons, yet honestly, to have hoped for more would have been foolish as well.

So what to make of Year Three? Obviously, no levelheaded fans are thinking this team will represent the conference in this season’s Super Bowl. For a team that hasn’t even posted consecutive victories, anything more than an even record seems a tad bit brazen.

And yet, something is different about Year Three. The carte blanche on second-guessing this team and their play is eroding.

Into new territory we trod. Off come the bulletproof vests.

Perhaps the player under the hottest spotlight this fall will be none other than the team’s golden boy himself, David Carr. No longer the lotto winning first overall pick, Carr is now expected to begin producing some measurable results this season.

Fewer moral victories. More actual victories.

That is how great quarterbacks are measured, isn’t it? If Carr needs a roadmap, he should look no further than to another #8 about 250 miles north up Interstate 45.

Troy Aikman was battered and bruised as a rookie coming off a draft in which he was the first overall selection. He started – and lost – eleven games for the Cowboys in 1989 and missed five games due to injury.

In Year Two for Aikman, he led a team that was 1-15 to show marked improvement on the scoreboard, engineering six comebacks among his seven victories in 1990. By Year Three, Aikman was a Pro Bowler and a playoff quarterback.

The first two seasons for Carr have been comparable to Aikman’s in that both were initially surrounded by either sub-par or inexperienced talent (and sometimes a little of both). Carr, too, was battered and bruised his rookie season. While a shoulder injury robbed him of a healthy portion of his second season, Carr demonstrated his moxie on several occasions, be it diving headfirst for a game-clinching touchdown over the Jaguars or scampering thirty-six yards downfield to lead a second half charge to beat the Falcons.

From a statistical point of view, Carr’s first two seasons closely resemble Aikman’s as well.

Troy Aikman Year Cmp % TD/INT Rating 1989 52.9% 0.5 55.7 1990 56.6% 0.6 66.6 1991 65.3% 1.1 86.7
David Carr Year Cmp % TD/INT Rating 2002 52.5% 0.6 62.8 2003 56.6% 0.7 69.5

So might Carr have an ache-man to Aikman-like progression in Year Three?

Like the latter, Carr has the skill players assembled at the other key offensive positions. He has the big, aggressive wide receiver. He also has the shifty, faster-than-he-looks running back.

It’s not enough to make the jump. The sunshine factory at Reliant Park will need to start working overtime if Carr can’t accomplish two things in 2004:

1) Become a more accurate passer.

This is well within Carr’s reach. He completed 65% of his passes his senior year at Fresno State and had a TD/INT ratio through the roof at 6.0. He has the arm strength to put the ball exactly where it needs to be.

Ah, but figuring out where that actually is has been the tough part. Carr will need to read through his progressions and make better decisions with the football than he has the past two seasons.

2) Win the fourth quarter.

Great players perform in the clutch. Carr has shown sparks of being a clutch performer, but it hasn’t been consistent enough to evoke images of Aikman or other comeback greats like John Elway or Joe Montana.

Ouch. Heady comparisons for sure, but remember Stepford fans, we’re ready to exit Candyland for the promise land. Tummy aches be damned.

Keith Weiland has admitted (under considerable duress) that he has performed the robot dance. More than once.