Ask and you shall receive. NOW we actually have a quarterback controversy in Texas. No, not in Dallas. Instead, we’re staring at a mess in Houston after the Texans benched Brock Osweiler in favor of the rarely used Tom Savage last weekend. A second early interception by Brock precipitated the gutsy move from Bill O’Brien, and it paid off with a comeback win over the Jaguars. For his efforts, Savage earns his first career start in Week 16 against the Bengals.
Houston, you definitely have a problem.
When he entered Sunday’s game, Savage didn’t light the world on fire or re-define the position. But he looked comfortable in the pocket, even under pressure, and easily chucked the ball all over the field. He led the Texans on five scoring drives, albeit four of them for field goals. With nothing to lose, O’Brien let Savage open up the offense. He gave his third-year QB a green light, and Savage racked up 260 passing yards. He got star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins involved in the game, and he didn’t turn the ball over — two things Osweiler has consistently failed to do in Houston. Can Savage carry that rhythm and flow into Christmas weekend and help keep the Texans in first place? Starting is a whole different ballgame than taking the field in relief. Savage missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, so his experience is extremely limited. Honestly, though, this move isn’t about him. It’s about Brock.
Let’s put the money on the table right away. Anytime the name “Brock Osweiler” is mentioned, his price tag follows almost immediately. The Texans were desperate for a franchise quarterback in the offseason, and they lured Osweiler away from the Broncos with $37 million in guaranteed money. No matter what happens from this point forward, he’ll bank $21 million this season and $16 million for 2017. Denver offered him $16 million per year to keep him in the fold, but he wanted a fresh start where he had no history of getting benched in the middle of a critical late-season game. Oops.
Of course, it was a risky move — giving a quarterback with only seven starts to his credit the keys to the kingdom and branding him the franchise savior. When he stepped in for an injured Peyton Manning last year, there were promising signs. Brock was nearly perfect in a road victory over the Bears with a 127.1 passer rating. He threw for 270 yards in a snowy overtime victory against the Patriots and then posted four touchdowns in Pittsburgh. He also passed for 300 yards with no turnovers in a critical overtime defeat of the Bengals. Those were the positives. On the flip side, the Broncos were wildly inconsistent on offense during their championship run; and with Osweiler, they stumbled through 25 straight drives with no touchdowns.
It would be easy to label Brock a bust, talk about buyer’s remorse and push the Texans to cut bait before it gets any worse. But it’s not that simple. And honestly, Osweiler isn’t as bad as he’s played the last month (3 TDs versus 6 interceptions). Yes, his regression is stunning. It’s also mental. He does possess a set of physical tools necessary to be a starting QB in the NFL. He’s smart with an ability to read defenses. He’s mobile, so he can utilize bootlegs or designed QB runs. He commands the offense and brings poise to the position. Or at least he did in Denver.
The most glaring and puzzling step backward for Brock is the erosion of that calm and steadiness in the pocket. Instead of settling in behind a stout offensive line and looking more comfortable with every start, the opposite is happening. He’s awkward and uneasy, especially when defensive pressure gets close. Instead of growing bolder and more aggressive with additional games and extra reps, he’s become more conservative and unwilling to challenge defenses downfield. Like a nervous turtle withdrawing into its shell, he appears hesitant and tentative, afraid of making mistakes. Naturally, that’s when mistakes happen. His 19 turnovers are absolutely killer.
There’s a good chance Osweiler wouldn’t be struggling this mightily if he’d stayed in Denver. He already knew the offense, the receiving corps, the coaching staff and the locker room. The Broncos expected him to take over as their offensive leader, and the learning curve to full-time starter was far less challenging. The organization isn’t desperate to break through and become elite; the culture and confidence are firmly established in Denver. But he wanted a clean slate, his own path and probably the chance to stick it to John Elway and Gary Kubiak. Be careful what you wish for. Being “the man” isn’t as easy as Peyton Manning made it look.
Despite prevailing sentiment and a standing ovation when Osweiler got benched on Sunday, all hope is not lost for Brock in Houston. THIS is his chance to get his act together and work on developing the mental toughness required to be a productive quarterback. He can use this weekend on the sidelines as motivation, an opportunity to sharpen his focus. It’s clear the pressure to perform, the massive contract and the weighty expectations have become a burden he carries with him. He needs to shed his fear of failure and block out those extemporaneous, doubting voices in his head. He’s got to stop worrying about disappointing his teammates.
Osweiler’s road back to starter and his path to success won’t be simple. He’s dug himself a fairly deep hole. But if it were easy, every quarterback would do it. This is Brock’s moment of truth. The second year of guaranteed money in his contract almost certainly guarantees him another shot. For now, he still controls his future. How he handles this setback and navigates the days ahead will determine what happens next.
A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @.