In dud of a return to Denver, Osweiler shows Broncos he did them a favor by leaving

Texans QB Brock Osweiler was dreadful in his return to Denver on Monday night, and his performance likely leaves the Broncos feeling relieved that they're not stuck paying him millions.
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To say that Trevor Siemian outplaying Brock Osweiler on Monday night serves as some sort of vindication for Denver GM John Elway overlooks the fact that Elway did try to re-sign Osweiler—he reportedly offered the quarterback upwards of $45 million for three years, before Osweiler signed an $18 million-per year deal (with $37 million guaranteed) in Houston.

Instead, consider the Broncos’ 27–9 win over the Texans to represent a sigh of relief for the defending champs.

Is Osweiler a better quarterback than Siemian? Maybe, there is limited evidence to date of that conclusion, and he certainly wasn’t on Monday night. And were the Texans not utterly desperate to find someone, anyone other than Brian Hoyer to be their starting QB, Denver would be sitting on a hefty Osweiler contract and likely would not have 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch in tow for the future.

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In defense of Osweiler, if we must, the Broncos are better than the Texans. That’s just an indisputable fact at this point, with Elway’s team still wearing the crown it won last season. Plus, if that’s not enough, Houston played extended stretches Monday without banged-up starting RB Lamar Miller and lost right tackle Derek Newton to a devastating, potentially career-ending injury (Newton tore the patellar tendon in both knees, per reports).

To pull off the upset, the Texans would have needed a great day from their starting quarterback.

They didn’t even get a good one. Osweiler finished 22 of 41 through the air for a measly 121 yards, all but two of his completions coming on passes of 10 yards or less. He clearly was overly mindful of Denver’s pass rush, even though the Broncos did not record a sack in the game, so he remained content to dump off the ball to the closest available option.

The problem is that if you’re paying your quarterback $18 million per season—only mid-range these days for a starter but a significant scratch nonetheless—you do so with the expectation that he’ll elevate the rest of the team. And if anything, Osweiler again held Houston back Monday.

“We’ve got to really work on the passing game and try to fix that, and try to learn from our mistakes and get ready for Detroit,” Houston coach Bill O’Brien said, referencing his team’s Week 8 foe. “[Osweiler] battled. He competes, he battled hard. He’s into the game on every snap. He’s got good poise, a tough environment, and look we’ve all got to do better ... and that’s what I just said to him.”

The few passes Osweiler did attempt downfield seemingly were as much for show as anything—he wrapped the night 0-of-5 when throwing for 21-plus yards, including an ill-fated attempt for Will Fuller into triple coverage. His accuracy, as it tends to do, waxed and waned on his shorter attempts, too. To wit: With the Texans down just five in the third quarter, Osweiler somehow missed an uncovered Ryan Griffen in the flat for what would have been a sizable gain.

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Siemian wasn’t exactly Hall of Fame-caliber on the other side (14 of 25 for 157 yards), but he was good enough to help move his team to 5-2. His 4-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in the first half gave Denver what turned out to be an insurmountable 14-6 lead; he later set up another score with a 31-yard deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders.

The Broncos won Monday not because of Siemian, but because their defense stuffed Osweiler and their struggling run game came to life. The latter, riding a combination of C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker, churned out a season-high 190 yards.

Much as was the case for the 2015 Broncos, or as is true for this year’s Vikings, the goal for Denver’s offense is to exhibit some ball control and not lose the game. If Siemian can chip in a big play here and there, it’s a bonus.

“I think we’re continuing to build on what we are,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said, when asked if this game exemplified the mold by which Denver can succeed. “We’ll see, that’s more about young players becoming better players for us right now, so we’ll keep going.”

That approach works when you’re paying your starting quarterback a little less than $800K, like Denver is Siemian. Had the Broncos locked up Osweiler on that three-year, $45 million-plus deal, the expectations would have been far higher for the passing game. Osweiler, based on what we’ve seen so far in Houston (and what he mostly showed as a Bronco last season), is not yet capable of living up to such billing.

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The Denver crowd let Osweiler have it Monday night, booing him from the moment he set foot on the field. Osweiler brought on that reaction by opting for a little extra cash and a fresh start over settling in as a starter for the defending Super Bowl champs.

As it stands right now, though, he did the Broncos a favor.

Elway tried to keep Osweiler in the fold, with a relatively significant payday. Osweiler decided to split town for Houston. On top of having the extra money in their pocket, the Broncos may be better without him. They’re certainly not worse.

Unless Osweiler can tip the scales dramatically in Houston’s favor at the quarterback position in the coming weeks and years, the QB drama of this past off-season will be scored a win for the Broncos. Or, at least, a loss they were fortunate to avoid.