Nearly nine months ago, the Houston Texans earmarked $72 million for Brock Osweiler in hopes of being better. Better than Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. Better than T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden.
Not only has that plan failed through 11 games, Osweiler is statistically worse than that aggregate. And if this season finishes that way, there is going to be plenty of blame to go around. Start with the person who pressed this plan into action (team owner Bob McNair), extend to the general manager who championed Osweiler (Rick Smith), and keep going to the coach who was on board with the move, but is struggling to make Osweiler a better player (Bill O’Brien).
If Osweiler’s free-agent signing is ultimately the lemon that undoes the Texans down the stretch, everyone will have a hand in that mistake. And thus far, that’s what this is looking like, a frustrating mistake that appears to have made the Texans worse at the quarterback spot.
That’s what Sunday’s clunker, a 21-13 home loss to the San Diego Chargers, signaled. Houston saw Osweiler put up a remarkably Brian Hoyer-esque performance: 22-of-37 for 246 yards and three interceptions, no passing touchdowns and a 1-yard rushing plunge into the end zone. It was a performance so bad that O’Brien was asked if Osweiler would continue to be his starting quarterback.
That’s a nightmarish question 11 games into a four-year, $72 million franchise quarterback deal. And it comes with the Texans still leading a poor-but-improving AFC South. Rarely is a franchise quarterback questioned when his team is leading his division. But few in Houston seem to be kidding themselves at this point. The Texans are winning games largely with defense and running the football … and sometimes in spite of the starting quarterback.
That’s how you end up with Sunday’s loss and some wondering whether backup Tom Savage may be worth a look, a suggestion that will irritate the hell out of O’Brien, who from an economics standpoint has no second choice on the table, even if he wanted it.
“No,” O’Brien said Sunday when asked if he’d consider starting Savage over Osweiler. “We’re going to come in here tomorrow. We’re going to correct mistakes and move on to Green Bay.”
Pressed on whether Osweiler was still his unquestioned starting quarterback, O’Brien reached into the bag of close friend Bill Belichick and repeated himself.
“We’re going to come in here tomorrow,” O’Brien said. “We’re going to correct mistakes and we’re going to move on to Green Bay.”
Again, O’Brien can’t say anything else at this point. Either because Savage isn’t better than Osweiler, or because the organization would look atrocious having to sit down the highest-paid player on the roster. This means either the Texans are going to drag Osweiler’s growth forward, or they are going to have to continue to win in spite of his mediocrity.
Meanwhile, people are going to start looking for someone to blame for this failure. If that story sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The Texans are basically doing en encore of the 2015 season, which featured a playoff team that won a poor division and eked out a winning record despite the failed four-headed monster of Hoyer/Mallett/Yates/Weeden.
Entering the pivotal stretch of the schedule, it’s fair to question whether Osweiler is any better than that collective. Undoubtedly, the Texans would say no. And to be fair, there is a wealth of nuance when it comes to rosters, seasons and quarterback appraisals. But just from the black and white statistics, there isn’t a tremendous stride forward that can be found. Consider:
• Hoyer played in 11 games last season, starting nine. In that span, Hoyer was 224 for 369 for 2,606 passing yards and fielded a 19-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His passer rating was 91.4, with a 60.7 percent completion rate and he went 5-4 in his nine starts.
• Osweiler’s 11 games (and 11 starts) this season: He is 238 for 400 for 2,307 passing yards with a 12-to-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His passer rating is 72.2, with a 59.5 percent completion rate. He’s 6-5 in his 11 starts.
From a statistical standpoint, that’s not a great look for Osweiler. And it might look worse considering he has a better surrounding cast than Hoyer did last season and DeAndre Hopkins, a wideout who played at an All-Pro level last season. It’s also worth noting that Hoyer had taken the Chicago Bears’ starting quarterback job from Jay Cutler and was still statistically outplaying Osweiler this season (despite a much poorer surrounding cast) when he went down with a season-ending injury.
Now consider these projections:
• Osweiler is on pace to finish 346 for 581 for 3,355 passing yards with a 17-to-18 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
• The four-headed monster of Hoyer/Mallett/Yates/Weeden finished 356 for 615 for 4,051 passing yards with a 28-to-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Should those statistics come to fruition, it’s going to be awful for this franchise. The Texans can’t explain away a mediocre-to-bad quartet outplaying the banner franchise quarterback. In a one-off season, that’s failure no matter how you slice it.
The Texans will argue that Osweiler is still an improvement. Why? Because he’s one player, not four. Because he’s still getting acquainted with the offense and players around him. And because this whole thing is about making an upward climb in development, no matter how slow that appears.
All of that is fine. But it’s also far from guaranteed. And should it fail, some realities are going to get accentuated. Things like McNair sending his marching orders to the front office that it was time to get a centerpiece quarterback – maybe without considering whether one was actually available in the free-agent market. Things like Smith and O’Brien having the collective opinion that Osweiler was that guy, despite the Denver Broncos (who had intimate knowledge of him) being unconvinced.
And of course, there will be the never-forgotten reality that neither McNair, O’Brien or even offensive coordinator George Godsey managed to speak with Osweiler before he signed his massive deal with the Texans.
The struggles, the comparisons to last season’s quarterbacks, the way the whole free-agent signing went down, there’s too much there to not expect someone to get thrashed with the blame if this doesn’t get better.
So all three will share it. McNair, O’Brien and Smith, one leadership collective that united to resolve the failed quarterback collective. Of that trio, O’Brien will always shoulder a little more of the criticism because he’s the quarterback expert who is supposed to make guys better. Thus far, we haven’t seen anyone break through to an elite level under his watch.
Maybe that will be Osweiler. Maybe it won’t. But one thing is clear: The Texans spent a lot of money to get better at quarterback and may have gotten worse. And if that doesn’t change, the $72 million blame game should include everyone who had a hand in it.
More NFL on Yahoo Sports