Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his weekly notebook. The topics of this edition include:
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ASK THE LEAGUE: What's wrong with Brock Osweiler?
When the Texans signed Brock Osweiler to a blockbuster deal during the offseason, the football world wondered if the young passer was the missing piece to Houston's Super Bowl puzzle. But seven games into Osweiler's Texans tenure, the critics are out in full effect. Osweiler ranks near the bottom of the league in several major passing categories and looks nothing like the promising young talent who helped the Broncos hoist the Lombardi Trophy a season ago, going 5-2 as a midseason fill-in for Peyton Manning. With the football world wondering if the Texans (4-3) are experiencing a case of buyer's remorse, I thought it was the perfect time to reach out to some NFL personnel evaluators and get their thoughts on the matter. Here's what I asked:
NFC pro personnel director: "You have to figure out a way to make it right. He's not a $20 million quarterback, but you have to figure out a way to win with him. ... Maybe you take the ball out of his hands and let the rest of the team carry the weight."
AFC pro personnel director: "Even when he was with Denver, I just thought he was a guy. I think he's better than he's played, but only when he played within the confines of the offense. ... I don't believe he can take over a game with his mind and arm and carry a team. ... He was in a good spot in Denver because he had a support system, but not when the expectations are higher."
AFC assistant pro director: "I didn't think he was a franchise quarterback. I've always viewed him as an average starter who needed the right situation. He's talented, but the poise, pocket awareness and accuracy on short/intermediate throws bothered me. ... [John] Elway and the Broncos wanted to keep him, so he definitely has some tools to work with, but he needs a running game and to be able to utilize his mobility to be successful. ... In Houston, they are asking him to win games for them and he can't do that right now."
NFC scout: "I've never been a big fan. He's not a confident kid and constantly needs reassurance. I'm not surprised he ended up in Houston because he's always wanted it to be the 'Osweiler Show.' ... They need to follow the formula to help him. Lean on the running game and defense. Let him be a complement to that. That's how they can fix it."
NFC senior personnel executive: "He's so sorry that it's unbelievable. He can't play. ... I mean, he's a tall, athletic guy with a long release and decent arm talent, but he's not a good player. They paid him a lot for nothing."
In the NFL, quarterbacks are either "trucks" or "trailers." They can either carry a team to the championship with their individual talent or they must lean on the rest of the team to carry them to the winner's circle. Now, I know that's not what anyone wants to hear when they see their favorite team's quarterback cashing a hefty paycheck, but there are only a handful of signal callers who are truly $20 million guys or franchise quarterbacks. Although analysts, particularly former quarterbacks, will tell you otherwise, the overwhelming majority of QBs in the NFL are "trailers" who need the right supporting cast and system in place in order to take their respective teams to the Promised Land.
That's why we shouldn't be surprised that Osweiler has failed to live up to expectations. While he's in his fifth pro season, Osweiler only logged seven career starts as a pro prior to taking the reins in Houston. Now, that certainly doesn't excuse his poor play (8:8 TD-to-INT ratio, 71.9 passer rating), but it is important to remember that he is nothing more than a glorified newbie at this stage of his career, based on his experience. He simply hasn't had enough reps to "own" the position as a franchise player and his $72 million contract won't change that, no matter how much we gripe about it.
Thus, it's on the Texans to put their young quarterback in the right environment to succeed. To their credit, they've attempted to surround him with a cast of playmakers capable of alleviating the burden on him to carry the offense. Lamar Miller has the potential to spearhead a dynamic running game, and DeAndre Hopkins is a dominant WR1 with exceptional skills as a jump-ball specialist. Not to mention, rookie wideout Will Fuller has shown plenty of promise as a speed burner on the outside. In addition, the Texans have a talented defense in place, especially when three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt's healthy. All in all, this certainly appears to be similar to the situation he left in Denver, when he played alongside a pair of Pro Bowl pass catchers (Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas) and a suffocating defense sparked by an electric pass rusher (Von Miller).
Looking at the All-22 Coaches Film, there's no disputing Osweiler's struggles as a passer (58.2 percent completion rate), but he is also adjusting to a new scheme and a different WR1. While Bill O'Brien will continue to tweak the system to suit Osweiler's skills, the transition from throwing to catch-and-run playmakers (Sanders and Thomas) to a jump-ball specialist has been a significant change. Hopkins is at his best when targeted on vertical throws that allow him to utilize his basketball skills to wrestle 50-50 balls away from defenders. Ironically, Osweiler struggles as a deep-ball passer, as evidenced by his 27.3 percent completion rate and 45.4 passer rating on throws that travel 15-plus air yards. Thus, the Texans need to find a handful of passing concepts that allow their QB1 and WR1 to play to their strengths. Whether it's incorporating more back-shoulder fades or skinny posts, Houston to get its top offensive weapons on the same page to spark an offense that's underperforming at this point.
Finally, the Texans' coaching staff and front office must ignore the outside noise and focus on putting Osweiler in the best position to succeed, instead of justifying his fat contract. If the team can keep him on a pitch count (30 passes or fewer) and treat him like a complementary player on an offense that has plenty of weaponry, this team can win an underwhelming division.