Greg Cosell's Week 15 Review: Why Brock Osweiler was benched, and why Tom Savage impressed

Tom Savage will make his first career start this week. (AP)
Tom Savage will make his first career start this week. (AP)

In watching the Houston Texans’ film from Week 15, it was clear why Brock Osweiler needed to be benched. That’s no epiphany; Osweiler’s struggles have been clear all season.

What stood out on the film was the play of Tom Savage. After seeing about five throws from him, I knew he had to be the Texans’ starter this week. It was not even a discussion. It sounds strange to say about a quarterback with no career starts and had 19 career passes before Sunday, but Savage was much more polished and refined than Osweiler.

Let’s start with Osweiler’s two interceptions that led to his benching. The play call on the first one was great against Cover 3 zone, and off bang play-action Osweiler threw it too high. This should be pitch and catch, but Osweiler’s accuracy issues – a problem all season – came up again. He threw high and Jalen Ramsey picked it off.

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The second interception was more complicated than just a bad throw. It was the classic quarterback sin of throwing late in the play into the middle of zone coverage. Osweiler climbed in the pocket in response to outside pressure and tried to hit DeAndre Hopkins in the middle. Osweiler lost coverage clarity and did not see underneath linebacker Telvin Smith sitting in the middle. It was a lack of awareness and a bad decision.

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Osweiler was benched due to a multitude of issues we’ve seen throughout the season. He perceives pressure when it’s not there and breaks down in the pocket when it’s not necessary. He struggles with accuracy from muddied pockets. He speeds up and hurries himself. He struggles with processing coverage and isolating. He plays too fast with a hurried and frenetic look to his drops and movements. He isn’t a fluid, compact mover because he’s very tall and struggles to move in the pocket and reset.

Savage, on the other hand, had the look of an NFL pocket passer. He’s a natural thrower and there’s a poise and comfort to his presence in the pocket.

On his first possession we saw a really nice throw. The Jaguars ran a zone blitz, and when Ramsey looked back inside it allowed Wendall Williams to get on top of him. Savage made a tight-window throw just over the top of Ramsey. What made the throw even more impressive was that Savage trusted his protection, with running back Lamar Miller picking up linebacker Paul Posluszny, and he stayed composed in the pocket. He planted his back foot and delivered with a firm base and good balance and had a 32-yard gain.

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Savage has the ability to sit on his back foot in the pocket and deliver the ball with velocity at the intermediate levels. He can do that due to higher-level arm strength. This 18-yard pass to Ryan Griffin is a good example. It was a three-level stretch concept against Cover 3 zone. Griffin ran the intermediate corner route from the inside slot and an excellent timing throw set Griffin down in the void of the zone.

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In the third quarter we saw a play from Savage that Osweiler can’t make. Right tackle Chris Clark was beaten badly by end Yannick Ngakoue and got immediate pressure on Savage. But Savage has a quick drop and delivery, and that compensated for Clark getting beat. He was able to throw fast and hit Hopkins on a crossing route for 13 yards.

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Savage did a lot of good things against the Jaguars. His quicker drop and delivery helps the offensive line. Savage had no trouble turning passes loose, especially to Hopkins against Ramsey. Savage has the mindset to throw to one-on-one coverage, and that will help a talented receiver like Hopkins. Savage was not bothered by pressure, setting his feet and throwing with the rush coming at him (he did so against an unblocked blitzer on an 8-yard touchdown to Griffin last week). He was 8 of 13 for 112 yards against the Jaguars’ blitz.

From a physical talent standpoint there’s no comparison between Savage and Osweiler. Savage has better physical attributes. Also, he’s more naturally comfortable in the pocket. There was no surprise when Texans coach Bill O’Brien announced Savage would start this week. When you watch the film of last week’s game, it was pretty obvious why.

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.