When a football team willingly goes into a regular season with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting quarterback, they're giving themselves a very thin margin of error in the present.
Because of this, any signs of life on Houston's quarterback depth chart would be amplified tenfold in the quest for a relevant future. The fact that there is no noise just goes to show how out of their depth Case Keenum and Tom Savage looked throughout the preseason for the Texans.
In a 40-13 laugher, which featured just six offensive points for the home team, both quarterbacks looked overmatched against even the most vanilla of 49ers schemes. Keenum played most of the first quarter and came in for the two-minute drill, where he was intercepted. Savage was in for the remainder of the game.
Keenum played like he and the receivers at the bottom of the depth chart had just met last night. I counted at least three miscommunications with his receivers, including on the interception, where his receiver ran a curl and he threw for the post.
Obviously Houston's coaches have been working hard to change who Keenum is in training camp, because the Case Keenum we watched last year never would have thrown three straight checkdowns on a series that started at 1st-and-25.
In fact, Keenum barely threatened the deep area of the field at all.
It's the preseason, so we can't pretend that this is what the offense is going to be and this is how Keenum is going to play in the regular season. But the fact that Keenum struggled mightily when asked to develop his checkdown game—an aspect that he struggled at as the starter last season—shows that there hasn't been much growth. Keenum fell off dramatically after his first three starts. The late-season version of him shouldn't start in the NFL and realistically shouldn't even be second-string.
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But thanks to Tom Savage, he has a chance to back up Fitzpatrick.
Savage had a nice drive against Denver's eighth-string defense, lobbing a ball to a wide-open Ryan Griffin on a post pattern for the game-winning touchdown. Outside of that, the polite way to describe Savage's play in the structure of Bill O'Brien's offense is rudimentary.
Savage's throws have rarely advanced beyond slants in the route tree. He has routinely looked skittish and uncomfortable in the pocket when his first read or two have been covered. He has taken sacks or rushed for short gains often, which, according to Mike Tanier of Sports On Earth, is something of an indicator for poor quarterback play in the preseason. Oh, and then there's the brutal pick-six he threw to Chris Borland in the third quarter.
When you're watching a quarterback who isn't a franchise guy, sometimes you'll still see him put together a play or two that makes you believe.
Keenum clearly had no pedigree when he was thrust into things against the Chiefs last season, and it was also very obvious that he was more comfortable outside of structure. But he still managed a few throws that made you think there could be something there.
With Savage, I have yet to see his first throw that makes me believe this.
He's thrown some decent slant patterns. A nice out. But at this point, his play is so embryonic that I think the Texans could do better on the waiver wire.
That doesn't necessarily mean that Savage can't develop into something more than he is. I don't believe he will. But he could—In fact, I'd rather see J.J. Watt run the single wing than let the Savage that we've watched so far play in an NFL game.
Tom Savage learned at Denver and tonight that somedays you're the bug and somedays you're the windshield.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) August 29, 2014
Bill O'Brien's offense demands precision timing and smart play, something that none of the quarterbacks on his roster have as their calling card.
I can buy the idea that O'Brien didn't believe that any of the quarterbacks in the 2014 draft class were special. I don't agree with it, but I can understand how a football mind might come to that conclusion. And given how coaches are essentially tied to their quarterbacks these days, there may be extra hesitation in committing to someone who is a "maybe" in the categories O'Brien looks for.
But this is what happens when you have a quarterback situation that is devoid of hope. Empty quotes about improving and getting better every day become the norm.
Jadeveon Clowney is a scary edge rusher, and the Texans have drafted more talent for both of their lines.
Everything has changed from 2013. It's just that, since the Texans have accomplished little for all their quarterback shuffling, nothing has actually changed from 2013.