Texans' Gamble on Brock Osweiler May Cost Them the AFC SouthNovember 29, 2016
This wasn't how things were supposed to go for the Houston Texans in 2016.
After winning the AFC South a season ago at 9-7 and getting smoked at home by the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round, the Texans made a move that was supposed to put them over the top.
A big move. An expensive move.
And yet, in signing quarterback Brock Osweiler to a $72 million contract that includes $37 million in guarantees over the first two years, the Texans are right back where they started—barely above .500, clinging desperately to first place in the NFL's worst division and hoping they can win football games not because of their quarterback, but in spite of him.
The Texans weren't able to do that in Week 12, falling at home for the first time this season. It wasn't hard to pinpoint why the Texans lost 21-13 to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. Osweiler was awful.
Against the Bolts, the 26-year-old failed to complete 60 percent of his passes. He posted a passer rating of less than 50. And most importantly, Osweiler threw three interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter as Houston attempted to mount a comeback.
Osweiler himself told Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com that he didn't play well against San Diego:
I just felt like the rest of the football team today -- and especially the defense, special teams, the offensive line -- I really felt like those guys went out there and truly battled and played great football. I need to play better for us to win. I feel like our team gave us the opportunity to win today. This is a damn good football team, and I let them down today. I need to play better.
The problem is that Sunday's clunker is far from an isolated occurrence. In fact, given how many eggs he's laid and the number of wobbling quackers he's chucked toward the sky in 2016, it's fair to wonder if Osweiler thinks he's a duck.
Osweiler has only two starts this season without an interception, and he has three in which he's thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. Sunday's passer rating of 45.6 was a season low and the fifth time in 11 games that Osweiler's rating came in under 70.
A glance at more advanced metrics doesn't make Osweiler look a bit better. Of 30 qualifying quarterbacks at Pro Football Focus, Osweiler is tied for dead last with Ryan Fitzpatrick—behind the likes of Case Keenum.
That's right—worse than Case flipping Keenum, who led the Los Angeles Rams to a 4-5 record before being benched in favor of rookie Jared Goff.
Osweiler is tied with Fitzpatrick and Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars for the NFL lead in interceptions with 13. The Texans signal-caller is also last in yards per attempt (5.77) and 27th in completion percentage (59.5).
The hits just keep coming. Osweiler is also last in PFF's modified QB rating, which accounts for "dropped passes, throwaways, spikes and yards in the air and further [adjusts] the old formula so it makes more sense and is a more accurate measure."
Osweiler fares a bit better in ESPN's QBR, another attempt at tweaking the outdated passer rating formula. There he ranks 25th of 32 qualifiers.
New math or old, the result is the same. Osweiler stinks. That's a discouraging realization.
After all, progress under center was supposed to be the point to doling out all that money for Osweiler in the offseason. He was supposed to be a big step in the right direction after Brian Hoyer imploded in the playoffs against the Chiefs.
Instead, Osweiler's numbers through 11 games look worse than Hoyer's in 11 games a year ago.
|Brock Osweiler 2016 vs. Brian Hoyer 2015|
The thing is, this isn't exactly a shock—or at least it shouldn't be. As ESPN's Bill Barnwell pointed out earlier this year, Osweiler's numbers over seven starts in Denver last year looked an awful lot like Hoyer's numbers over his first eight NFL starts (Hoyer tore his ACL in the eighth).
|Brock Osweiler vs. Brian Hoyer Early Starts|
In other words, the Texans talked themselves into paying almost $40 million over this year and the next for a Hoyer clone. They convinced themselves that Osweiler's performance in Denver was only the beginning, but now it appears that may be as good as it gets.
No wonder Broncos general manager John Elway was unwilling to engage in a bidding war with Houston.
As Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports reported, it's reached the point where Texans head coach Bill O'Brien had to address whether the team's shiny new franchise quarterback was going to get the hook.
"No," O’Brien said Sunday when asked about starting Tom Savage over Osweiler. "We’re going to come in here tomorrow. We’re going to correct mistakes and move on to Green Bay."
Of course, there isn't a lot more O'Brien can say. Benching Osweiler at this point would be an admission that a first-place team made a titanic mistake at the NFL's most important position; that the Texans' highest-paid player hurts them more than he helps them.
So Osweiler will stay out there—and try to erase any doubt that's what happened.
Just like in 2015, the Texans have a stifling defense this season. Even without the services of three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, Houston ranks fifth in the NFL in total defense.
But just like in 2015, the offense is putting the defense in an untenable position. It's forced to defend short fields after turnovers, left with zero margin for error by the offense's inability to generate any sort of consistent success.
Edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney admitted as much to Barshop. "We’ve just got to control the game," Clowney said. "The defense has to go out there and play better every week. We can’t have [any] letdowns."
However, unlike in 2015, it doesn't look like this Texans team will be able to hold on and win the South.
Last year, bad though the quarterback play may have been, Houston's hydra of mediocrity under center was at least able to make use of DeAndre Hopkins' considerable talent. The wide receiver caught 111 passes for over 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns.
|DeAndre Hopkins 2015 vs. 2016|
This year, with Osweiler at the reins, Hopkins' numbers have fallen off a cliff across the board. Houston has no shortage of skill-position talent with Hopkins, tailback Lamar Miller and rookie wideouts Will Fuller and Braxton Miller.
But pass-catchers are only as good as the player throwing them the ball, and under Osweiler, no team in the National Football League has fewer offensive touchdowns than the Texans.
Also, while the AFC South is still the worst division in the NFL, it's improved relative to last year. The Tennessee Titans are 6-6 and half a game out of first place. The Indianapolis Colts are 5-6 and have been all over the place in 2016, but both they and the Titans possess something the Texans lack: a competent quarterback.
|AFC South Standings|
|Houston Texans||6-5-0||—||at Green Bay Packers|
|Indianapolis Colts||5-6-0||1||at New York Jets|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||2-9-0||4||Denver Broncos|
This coming Sunday, a Texans team that's 1-4 away from NRG Stadium will travel to face a desperate Green Bay Packers squad at Lambeau Field. By the time they arrive in Indianapolis for a Week 14 duel with the Colts, it's possible Houston will be part of a three-way logjam atop the division with four games to play.
If the determining factor in the AFC South over the season's final month is quarterback play, then the Texans are finished. They're no better off under center than a year ago, and the argument can be made that things have gotten worse.
By every indication to this point, general manager Rick Smith and the Texans missed badly on Osweiler. He's less ascending young player and more marginal arm talent. Less work in progress and more flat-out inaccurate. This isn't a player struggling through a slump. There's enough of a body of work to reasonably assume that what you see is what you get.
And if that's the case, Brock Osweiler is far and away the most expensive mistake in the NFL in 2016.
One the Texans have only just begun paying for.
Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter: @IDPSharks.