Changing a quarterback in-season isn’t like changing a left tackle or inside linebacker. The ramifications are usually immense, mostly because it means the player chosen to be the trigger man of the team hasn’t worked out, and it usually has shown up on the won-loss record.
That’s why the Houston Texans – who visit University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday -- swapped in Case Keenum for longtime incumbent Matt Schaub last week. And it’s why, even with some struggles by Carson Palmer in the first half of the season, coach Bruce Arians would be reluctant to turn to backup
“There’s no doubt (it is difficult),” Arians said. “You’re talking about the leader of your football team and your franchise.”
Keenum was elevated in the lineup at first because Schaub was hurt. But Schaub was healthy enough last week to have returned to start against Indianapolis, and head coach Gary Kubiak decided to stick with Keenum.
It worked, with Keenum going 20-for-34 for 350 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Colts – except for the part where Houston couldn’t hang on to the lead and lost a sixth straight game.
“(Such a change) obviously always tough,” said Texans interim coach Wade Phillips, taking over this week after Kubiak collapsed at halftime of the Colts game. “That was a decision Gary had a hard time with certainly, and went ahead and made it. So that’s where we are now.”
Since Kurt Warner retired, the Cardinals have gone through a handful of non-injury related quarterback changes. In 2010, Derek Anderson, Max Hall and Skelton all got starts because then-coach Ken Whisenhunt decided a move was necessary at the position. Skelton played in 2011 only because Kolb got hurt.
Last year, Kolb replaced Skelton at first because Skelton hurt his ankle, but held on to the job even after Skelton was healed – at least until he got hurt again. Skelton, Lindley and Brian Hoyer all got starts after that as Whisenhunt desperately tried to find something that worked.
“You look at your quarterback as a leader,” Cardinals guard Daryn Colledge said, “but enough guys have been around long enough, it’s a profession and you have to believe in the guy no matter who the running back is or the quarterback is. Those guys will rally around that (new QB) and know it’s his chance to shine.
“I’ve done it before. Guys fall into that role pretty fast. Guys understand the process and the situation. When change happens, we kind of expect that.”
As Palmer’s interception total mounted this season, some wondered if the Cards would turn to Stanton, but Arians has been steadfast in defending his quarterback. The fact the Cardinals are .500 and in the thick of the playoff chase aided that choice.
The Texans were sliding quickly, in no small part because of Schaub’s errors – he set an NFL mark for having an interception returned for a touchdown four games in a row – and Keenum’s play thus far has made Kubiak look smart, even if it hasn’t shown up in the win column.
“It’s a doubled-edged sword because I have such a good rapport with Matt, but that’s just the business-side of the game,” Texans running back Arian Foster said after the change. “You have to take it in stride.”
Regardless, a change usually doesn’t come out of nowhere unless an injury is involved.
“Sometimes, whether you’re looking for a spark or injuries happen – you see what happened in Green Bay – you hope that whatever position it is it will create that spark,” Palmer said.