September 16, 2005
The End of an Error?
by Ric Sweeney
The David Carr era (error?) is officially on life support. Next of kin have been contacted and Hospice is on standby. Meanwhile, Texan fans have all gathered in the waiting room, anxious for news – any news – about the fate of the team’s franchise cornerstone.
Until we know anything definitive, we’re left with a lingering, perhaps unanswerable question to ponder: Where did everything go wrong?
Carr looked so good through seven games last year after two rocky, but decent seasons. He wasn’t all the way there in 2004, but closer. You could feel it happening. Then he, and the team, regressed over the final nine games, losing six. Preseason this year brought more concern as the offense picked up where it left off last year in their season-ending meltdown against Cleveland. And then came Sunday’s opener in Buffalo.
The day/night difference between Carr’s performance and J.P. Losman’s was startling. While Carr was making his 45th NFL start, Losman was making his first. But it was the Bill quarterback that played with composure and confidence, helping lead his team to victory. Especially early in the game, Losman hit open receivers, was able to exploit weaknesses on the Texan defense and did a wonderful job sensing and avoiding what the Texans swear is a pass rush. Canton doesn’t need to build a wing for Losman just yet, but he played well enough to make you wonder what’s up with Houston’s signal caller, who finished the game with a QB rating of 12.1.
And it’s not Carr’s talent that’s causing concern. At this stage, it seems debating whether or not he has the skills to become a top-flight NFL quarterback has taken a back seat to whether or not the organization has bungled his development past the point of no return. Or just missed on him completely.
When Carr became the first pick in Texan history, the team didn’t hesitate to hand him the keys to the franchise. The powers that be swooned over his potential. Everyone from Bob McNair to the concession stand workers at Reliant Stadium were convinced Carr could handle the mental and physical responsibility of hoisting an expansion team on his shoulders. I was among the kool-aid drinkers.
Four years and two Tony Boselli operations later, the Texans have seemingly deserted him. The front office has failed to upgrade Carr’s supporting cast, save for Andre Johnson and, to a lesser degree, Domanick Davis, who remains the most non-threatening 1,000-yard rusher in the league. Meanwhile, the coaching staff hasn’t developed a single viable talent to complement Carr, Davis or Johnson. The offensive line remains a sieve. Receivers don’t know where they’re going or what to do when they get there. And the game plan remains vanilla, passive and, apparently, not suited to whatever strengths Carr may have.
The problem may very well be with Carr – everyone involved may have simply overrated him. He does have his share of faults. But one thing’s certain, whatever talent Carr may have had coming out of Fresno State (and he obviously had quite a bit), the Texans have done little to nurture, develop or improve it, leaving him instead to languish.
My first taste of concern over the Texans’ handling of Carr came early in the 2003 season. Needing a touchdown late to beat the Jaguars, Palmer called a halfback option deep in Jacksonville territory, essentially taking the ball out of Carr’s young hands at a crucial juncture in not just the game, but possibly his development. Yes, I know Carr eventually scored on a one-yard plunge to win the game, but why, if you’re expecting Carr to carry your franchise, is Stacey Mack throwing passes, regardless of the eventual outcome? That troubling trend of babying Carr but still sending him to the wolves has continued unabated ever since. The coaching staff either doesn’t get it, doesn’t get Carr or their confidence in him has completely eroded and they enjoy watching him get sucker-punched each and every week. It came to a head Sunday on a play that will, when all is said and done, perfectly encapsulate this current group’s tenure.
Miraculously down only 12 with nearly eight minutes left in the third quarter, the Texans chose to run on 2nd-and-19 from their own 47. That’s right – they ran when needing 19 yards. After Davis predictably lunged forward for 2 yards, it left Carr with a nearly impossible 3rd-and-17, which might as well have been 3rd-and-pi. He was promptly sacked on the ensuing play and the Texans were forced to punt.
The scary thing is that running Davis was probably the right call, only because Carr and the offense had stalled most of the afternoon. Still, it placed him and the line in yet another precarious third-and-long situation, something the team faces often because opponents tee off on expected run plays on most first and second downs. When that’s coupled with the staff’s inability to compensate for their own obvious weaknesses in personnel, it essentially puts a target on all Texans wearing #8.
So say what you will about Carr, but who in their right mind could succeed in such a circumstance? More importantly, why, four years into this thing, are they still putting Carr in such a circumstance? Is it any wonder he looks rushed, gun shy and unsure of himself, even in those fleeting moments when he does see ample protection? Wouldn’t virtually anybody be tentative, regardless of talent, if they spent their entire careers running for their lives, enduring hits, slams and shots to the chest and being placed repeatedly in harm’s way? So why did the organization allow this to happen to Carr?
What’s most distressing is that if this is the current group’s last rites (and it figures to get worse before it gets better with Pittsburgh in town this week), and Carr has been mishandled beyond repair, the organization will have virtually nothing to show for nearly six years of effort. Johnson and Dunta Robinson would be the team’s only certifiable building blocks. Maybe another staff could save Carr; maybe they could also develop Jason Babin, Phillip Buchannon, Chester Pitts, Seth Wand, Jabar Gaffney and the host of other young talents who have failed to realize their potential under Dom Capers. Or maybe that’s asking too much because Charley Casserly and his cast of a thousand scouts simply missed on all of those guys.
It does bear mentioning that in four drafts, with additional expansion picks no less, the Texans have landed exactly five offensive starters (including Carr), but only Johnson and Davis would start for more than a dozen other NFL teams. Of that group, Pitts is the only pick that thus far has even remotely addressed the team’s pass protection problem with any degree of success and they’ve yet to find perhaps an even more integral part of the development process for a young QB – a tight end.
Billy Miller was inexplicably vanquished after a seemingly productive two years and then in a move that may very well be etched on his Houston tombstone, Casserly passed on the consensus top tight end in the ’03 draft, Jason Witten, in favor of Bennie Joppru, who, at last report, was auditioning for the role of Mr. Glass in the Unbreakable sequel. Witten, by the way, has become an All-Pro in Dallas with the likes of Quincy Carter, Drew Henson, Vinny Testaverde and Chad Hutchinson throwing to him. Other young quarterbacks – Drew Brees and Michael Vick come immediately to mind; Eli Manning after seeing him find Jeremy Shockey for a score on Sunday – have seen their status sky rocket thanks to dependable tight ends. So why haven’t the Texans followed their lead?
I mean, is it really that hard to build a team? Consider the Bills. Ten of their 11 offensive starters Sunday against the Texans have been acquired since 2002 when the Texans came into existence. Dear God, their coach is only in his second season. Yet they’re now poised to make a playoff run this year and have what many feel is a bright future. Should I even mention that Bob McNair passed on their GM (Tom Donahoe) to hire Casserly?
Ultimately, a young quarterback’s success or failure is dependent on the organization putting him in the best situation to succeed. If they can do that with relative degrees of success, then the quarterback controls his destiny from there. The Texans have thus far failed Carr. And may have set the franchise back to square one.
Ric Sweeney is wondering if Tennessee wants another NFL franchise. Not really. But seriously, would it hurt to ask. I’m kidding. Sort of.
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