Tom Savage, a fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft, will earn about $630K on average per year over the life of his rookie contract. Brock Osweiler, who signed a four-year deal worth $72 million this past off-season, makes close to that for every half of Texans football.
Yet, for weeks now, there has been a sense that Houston’s season may come down to what occurred Sunday: Savage replacing an ineffective Osweiler in a critical spot, with the playoffs on the line.
Texans coach Bill O’Brien denied for as long as he could that a QB change was in the works—Osweiler is paid to be a No. 1 QB, after all, and Savage had all of 19 career passes before Week 15. But with Houston’s offense utterly lifeless early on against Jacksonville, O’Brien finally pulled the trigger on a QB change.
The Texans rallied for the win, 21–20, and now almost certainly will ride Savage as far as he can carry them for the remainder of this season.
• Houston Texans 21, Jacksonville Jaguars 20: Complete box score
After Houston’s Week 12 loss to San Diego, O’Brien firmly declared, via the Houston Chronicle: “Brock is our starting quarterback. ... There are 11 guys on the field. Could Brock have done some things better? Absolutely. Could I have coached better? Absolutely. It’s a team sport.
“The defense has played well. The offense needs to play better.”
The issues that plagued the Texans during Weeks 1–12, though, have not gone away. Even a critical win over Indianapolis last Sunday came courtesy of the defense and run game; Osweiler finished 14 of 24 for 147 yards and an interception. Sunday, he completed 6-of-11 with two picks before a boisterous chorus of boos by the home crowd preceded O’Brien’s move.
The Texans paid for Osweiler because they believed he could quickly develop into a legitimate No. 1 quarterback. At the very least, they had to assume they were upgrading from the Brian Hoyers and Ryan Malletts of recent rosters.
Instead, what they have received thus far is the same player Denver pulled for Peyton Manning in the playoffs—a hesitant, inaccurate quarterback. Osweiler certainly has shown no obvious signs of improvement since arriving in Houston, a development troubling for several reasons: his massive contract, O’Brien’s reputation as something of a quarterbacks guru and the drag that his struggles have created within the offense.
Look no further than Houston star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who often this season has been relegated to little more than a decoy. With Osweiler running the offense Sunday, Hopkins was targeted twice for an incompletion and an interception. He and Savage connected for eight completions and a game-high 87 yards.
Yes, it’s just part of one game, and yes, absolutely, that game was against the Jaguars, so any grand conclusions should be held until a stronger opponent comes calling. Heck, the Texans didn’t even score a touchdown until the closing moments, with the help of a handful of Jacksonville penalties—instead relegated instead to four Nick Novak field goals and a safety.
Still, there is little question that Savage elevated Houston’s attack on Sunday, just when such a lift was most needed.
When asked after the game, O’Brien would not commit to sticking with Savage under center when the Bengals visit next Saturday night. However, he almost has no choice here. The Houston offense has done little with Osweiler at the helm, so even if Savage regresses as the Week 16 starter, it’s not as if the entire team would be taking a step back.
O’Brien also deserves a little credit for making the switch when he did, even if some in Houston might argue he should have done so sooner. Sending a supposed franchise quarterback (at least by contract) to the pine is a difficult call, because it can touch off long-lasting shock waves. Such as, “What do the Texans do with Osweiler given that his contract is more or less locked in for 2017?”
That’s a problem for another day, which O’Brien finally acknowledged Sunday. The Texans, remarkably enough, still control their own destiny in the AFC South with two games to play. Beat the Bengals next week and the Titans in Week 17, and they take the division and host a playoff game.
While they still would have had a shot with a loss Sunday, Savage’s insertion into the lineup both upped the apparent energy throughout the roster and kept everything within Houston’s control.
Maybe Savage is not a savior, like he turned out to be vs. Jacksonville. Let’s not forget that the Texans had him on their roster for two seasons, yet handed out big money for Osweiler anyway.
Put the money aside, though, and there is no argument left for sticking with Osweiler right now.