Paradise Lost

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Paradise Lost

by Keith Weiland

As the man who essentially created the Texans, owner Bob McNair took great care in sculpting his idyllic franchise. Reliant Park became his Garden of Eden, and in it he cast his players, staff, and fans.

In the beginning, there was youth and optimism. McNair’s team shied from anything it viewed as less than perfect. No one over the age of thirty was allowed to wear Steel Blue on the playing field in McNair’s Eden, and only those players with the purest backgrounds were allowed through Eden’s locker room doors.

From a certain distance, it was quite a pretty picture. Reliant Stadium opened as the jewel of the league, and the team’s first draft selection, David Carr, unblemished and exuberant, had his whole career in front of him.

Over the years, Carr has symbolized the Texans franchise moreso than anyone or anything else. The team is comprised of 52 other players and countless coaches and front office staff, but the image of the team, both on and off the field, has been tied no more closely to a single person as it has been to Carr.

In the years since his draft selection, Carr suffered mightily for McNair. In what has become a recurring trend over his career, Carr entered most seasons like a lion only to leave like a lamb. Consider his midseason splits over the the past five years:

Games 1 – 8 Games 9 – 16 TD/INT 38/32 21/33 Yds/G 196.5 154.8 Pct. 61.6 58.4 Rating 82.5 67.9

Similar numbers exist over the past three seasons and over just last season alone. It has been a repeatable trend that states very simply that Carr has been abused, and that its effects have resulted in his declining play over the course of each season.

It is folly to look back on the past and think that history might somehow be rewritten, but perhaps the greatest mistake McNair’s franchise has made to date was not in the hirings of Charley Casserly or Dom Capers; not in the misguided belief of a one-day healthy Tony Boselli; not in the unfulfilled promise of Phillip Buchanon or any other failed transaction.

No, the greatest mistake of all might very well have been in the decision to start young Carr without proper pass protection from the very beginning and keep him in for games and entire seasons as long as he could still stand on his own two feet.

Carr has not been linked to any quantity of concussions he may have received over the past five years in the same way they were discussed with 49ers quarterback Steve Young or with Carr’s NFL idol of his youth, Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman. But perhaps he should begin to be, though in spite of it all Carr has apparently suffered very few "official" concussions.

Concussions can come in a variety of forms depending on an individual’s definition, but generally it is simply an injury to the brain caused by collision. Concussions can of course include the types of trauma that render a player unconscious, but they can also include the sort of hits or stingers which cause lingering headaches, dizziness, and lethargy. Players, certainly Carr among them, are routinely asked to play through the pain if conscious and able to walk, and most of them at this level, including Carr, are such devout competitors that they really don’t need any encouragement to snap on the chinstrap again for another play.

In watching the retirements of players like Young and Aikman, we know that brain trauma can have a cumulative effect. Watching Carr at times down the stretch, particularly during the 2004 and 2006 seasons, we are reminded of another cumulative ailment commonly referred to within the sport of boxing as being “punch drunk”.

To my knowledge, Carr is not technically punch drunk, and it is a disservice to anyone truly suffering from the condition to toss the term around loosely. But the symptoms were increasingly present for Carr in the back-halves of those seasons, as he appeared to be someone bewildered, groggy, and sometimes slow to react.

It’s a shame, really. Carr still possesses the physical traits to succeed in the league. With an offseason to mend his mind as much as his body, he seems to start each new season fresh.

Judging the fault between the pass protection and what goes on between Carr’s earholes is a fruitless discussion because one side always seems to feed the other in Carr’s situation. They both seem able to exist independently, and the chicken-and-egg question is not a productive one at this point anyway.

As evidenced from fan discord over the years, we know all of this to varying degrees, but we also now chew on new fruit from Eden’s tree of knowledge, digesting word that the Texans are actively listening to offers for Carr. With it comes a likely realization that Carr has fallen from McNair’s grace and might soon be cast from his Garden of Eden. And lo and behold, should Carr leave, the most oft-rumored player to replace him is none other than a Snake, Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer.

Plummer is tempting. Under the tutelage of Gary Kubiak, his coordinator in Denver and now head coach of the Texans, Plummer had a 60-34 touchdown to interception ratio. Plummer was under center for a team which in 2005 came to within a game of the Super Bowl.

Plummer though succeeded in Denver thanks in large part to the success of the pass protection he received. The Broncos have been renowned for the excellence of their offensive line over the past decade, and it has no doubt had a positive effect on Plummer’s performance. Over the three complete years in which Plummer started for the Broncos (2003-05), Plummer absorbed just a total of 51 sacks.

Comparatively, over Carr’s last three seasons, he has taken on 158 sacks, more than triple Plummer’s count. Sacks alone don’t translate into the cumulative effect of minor brain trauma, but they are indicative of the abuse Carr has absorbed during his tenure with the Texans.

Such is not to say that the Texans should keep or dump Carr, though the concern of recovery and cumulative damage is worrisome. Nor is it necessarily a treatise to either pursue or ignore Plummer, as he has not suffered this sort of pounding since his first two years in the league and at five years older than Carr, might not be as physically nimble to rebound from a similar amount of brutality.

In order for McNair’s paradise to truly be restored at Reliant Park, the Texans must finally establish the sort of pass protection necessary to keep a quarterback, regardless of whom it is, from suffering this level of abuse in the future. Hope lies ahead in the dawn of free agency next month and in the draft the month after. Each offers potential paths toward that restoration.

Oddly enough, Keith Weiland did not write this article on an Apple Macintosh. David Carr David Carr Home

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