The Texans have a Brock Osweiler problem
A Colts’ choke-job, Lamar Miller magic act and a Brock Osweiler throw were enough for the Texans to squeeze past Indianapolis on Sunday night.
But don’t let the ending of the game fool you.
For three quarters the Texans’ mega-money quarterback looked like he has all season: awful.
Entering the fourth quarter, Brock Osweiler had less than 100-yards passing and had failed to capitalize on Miller’s breakout.
The Texans signed Osweiler to a $37 million guaranteed deal to be the face of the organization. Their hope was that he would become the first legitimate franchise quarterback in the team’s history.
For all that cash, they’ve received little in return. They sat 32nd in offensive DVOA entering Week 6, and closed Sunday night’s Week 6 matchup with a minus-19 point differential for the season.
While it’s not quite time to completely panic. There are definitely major causes for concern.
Osweiler has struggled against the same defensive looks each week, regardless of the opponent.
When he was in Denver, Osweiler saw a high volume of single-high safety looks, with defenses keying in on the Broncos ground game. In Houston, without the support of a top-end run game — 30th in rushing DVOA prior to Week 6 — he has been forced to throw against two deep safeties.
The Patriots, Vikings, and Colts defenses all followed the same gameplan. They used mostly cover-2 man, with tampa-2 zone concepts mixed in. Those defensive looks force the quarterback to make throws to the second level or deep to the outside. They either split the safeties and boundary corners, or make intermediate throws that are between the linebackers and safeties.
Osweiler struggled in each game, failing to identify coverages and falling into defensive traps.
In Week 3, the Patriots baited Osweiler into throwing an interception by having Jamie Collins drop into a deep middle of the field zone. Osweiler misdiagnosed the coverage — tampa-2 — and threw the ball directly to Collins, targeting an in-breaking route down the seam.
The Vikings mimicked the same concepts in Week 5. Minnesota traditionally runs a base cover-3 defense, mixing in zone and pattern-match coverages. However, against Osweiler they ran the same two-deep safety looks, playing mostly man-coverage and sprinkling in some disguises.
Again, Osweiler threw an interception on an intermediate throw. Against man-coverage, he tried to split the linebackers and safeties. With little separation from any of his receivers, he forced the ball over the middle of the field, overthrowing his target, and dropping the ball directly into the hands of Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo.
Indy’s gameplan in Week 6 was a carbon copy. They played with two-deep safeties and begged Osweiler to take underneath throws, where his receivers were often unable to separate.
That style of defense has highlighted his biggest flaw: Accuracy.
Against the Colts he missed high, missed low and missed wide. And while that lack of overall accuracy has been a concern, it’s the poor ball placement has been game changing.
Osweiler’s third quarter interception — one that should have sealed the game — came on a simple underneath throw. Backed up to his own end zone, he forced the ball into DeAndre Hopkins who had finally created some separation from Vontae Davis. Had the ball been on Hopkins’ outside shoulder (or out in front) Hopkins picks up a big first down completion. Instead, the ball was behind Hopkins and Davis was able to make an excellent play on the ball and secure the pick.
Houston’s offense demands precision. And so far, Osweiler has been unable to deliver. Without consistently making those basic throws, defenses will continue too back up and showcase his flaws.
There have been some flashes of excellence. In the fourth quarter of the Colts game he finally delivered the perfect second-level throw on a touchdown pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz. The Colts continued to play cover-2 man and Osweiler was able to make a bucket throw that dropped over the linebacker and in front of the safety.
It’s exactly the coverage and type of throw he has struggled with all season. But the good plays have been limited. Mostly, he’s served up a steady dose of mistimed throws, misreads and a tendency to lock in on DeAndre Hopkins.
As NBC’s Cris Collinsworth astutely pointed out on the Sunday night broadcast, Osweiler and the Texans offense started to take off when he ultimately moved away from Hopkins in the fourth quarter.
Too often this year, Osweiler has stared down his All-Pro receiver, rather than work through the progression of the offense. Indeed, 5 of Osweiler’s 7 interceptions this season have come when he has been targeting Hopkins.
When he has moved on to different reads, he has looked hesitant. Against the Vikings and Patriots, the two-deep looks and bluffs had him second guessing, even when guys were wide open.
It may feel too early to judge Osweiler after just six weeks in Houston’s system.
There’s certainly no doubt Bill O’Brien’s offense is extremely complex and demands a lot of the quarterback pre-snap. And they’re also facing continuity issues. They radically upgraded their skill position talent in the offseason, and have faced turnover on the offensive line throughout the year due to injuries.
All those new players have had to learn the nuances of the system, something that will take time. In O’Brien’s scheme, quarterbacks are charged with setting and re-setting protections, as well as checking into the correct play and adjusting individual receiver’s routes based on the pre-snap look.
That’s a lot of communication before the snap, and it can take players some time to get on the same page with the verbiage and pre-snap signals.
However, what’s already abundantly clear is Osweiler isn’t going to give Houston what they paid for, a ready-to-go top-tier quarterback. He isn’t the caliber of player who elevates those around them. When he gets an effective run game, he can be productive. Without it, he struggles.
The Texans’ actions indicate they agree.
Against the Patriots, they consistently chose to run the ball in big third-and-medium situations. Not putting the trust in their $18 million a year quarterback is a pretty damning indictment.
Given all the new additions, it always felt like the Texans would be a second half of the year offense. But Osweiler has shown no indications he fits into the system that he was given the big money to perfect.
Fortunately, the contract won’t submarine the franchise. Osweiler has a cap hit of $12 million for this year and $19 million in 2017. After that, the Texans can get out of the deal for just a $6 million dead money hit. That’s not ideal, but it’s not devastating.
The Osweiler gamble was one worth taking, but six weeks into his Texans career it looks like an expensive miss.