Tom Savage Is Easily Houston's Best Option at Quarterback
Osweiler’s play has been a concern in Houston almost from his first snap of the season, but the Texans had stood behind their big free agent signing.
Against the Jaguars, though, Osweiler gave the Texans no choice but to make a change.
By our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Osweiler had the worst start for any quarterback this season on a per-drop back basis. On just 11 attempts through a quarter and a half, Osweiler was worth -0.80 Passing NEP per drop back. That was worse than Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Week 3 outing when he threw six interceptions. In that game, Fitzpatrick was worth -0.64 Passing NEP per drop back, which had been the low mark for a starter this season.
Even Blake Bortles in this same game, who only threw for 3.3 yards per attempt was almost twice as good as Osweiler at -0.46 Passing NEP per drop back.
When Osweiler was taken out of the game, the ovation from the home crowd was so loud that running back Lamar Miller tried to quiet them down in the first huddle with Savage.
Once Savage took over, the offense immediately performed better.
The Rutgers product was worth 0.21 Passing NEP per drop back in his relief appearance, which equalled a swing of more than a full expected point per drop back from Osweiler.
All 21 of Houston’s points came after Savage was put in the game -- though they were scored by a safety, four field goals, and a rushing touchdown -- and the Texans came back from a 13-0 deficit with a 32.37 percent win probability when the quarterback change was made.
The instant upgrade raised questions about the future at quarterback for the Texans. On Monday morning NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted it would be a “major surprise” if Savage was not the starter going forward.
For the Texans, that looks to be the right choice.
What Went Wrong
There’s a lot to dissect about what really went wrong with Osweiler as the starter. The first was looking at the small sample from Osweiler’s 2015 season with the Denver Broncos as a reliable indicator of his ability to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. More specifically, not understanding the context of that sample on a larger scale.
Statistically, Osweiler was the better of the two options in Denver last season, which included Peyton Manning. But Manning was so poor -- -0.02 Passing NEP per drop back -- almost anything would have been an upgrade.
But while Osweiler was better than Manning, his overall play wasn’t all that impressive. Osweiler’s 0.07 Passing NEP per drop back last season was just 26th among 46 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs on the season, placed between Sam Bradford and Blake Bortles.
As we know now, that led to Houston giving Osweiler $37 million guaranteed before head coach Bill O'Brien even met the quarterback. And while his play in Denver wasn’t all that impressive, he hasn’t come close to that level in Houston.
Coming into the week, Osweiler was 33rd among 38 qualified quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back. Of the quarterbacks worse than Osweiler on the season, all five were either benched or replacements for benched quarterbacks who haven’t been good either.
Osweiler’s had accuracy issues all season on all types of passes, and of 31 qualified quarterbacks, he’s 31st in yards per attempt.
Making the Change
Savage probably isn’t some diamond in the rough prospect who is suddenly going to make the Texans a Super Bowl contender, but he does have one thing going for him: he’s not Brock Osweiler. Like in Denver last season, that starter has played so poorly, just about anything else will be an improvement.
It helps that Savage’s first official pass attempt -- his real first was negated due to defensive holding -- was a 32-yard strike to Wendall Williams while getting hit.
There were still some misses from Savage on deep passes to both DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, but Savage did quickly learn his fastest way to success was throwing the ball to Hopkins. On the day, Hopkins had 17 targets, 8 receptions, and 87 yards. Of the 17 targets, 15 came from Savage, as did all 8 catches.
One of the biggest letdowns on this Texans' offense is the lack of production from Hopkins. Even last season when Houston was rotating mediocre to bad quarterbacks under center all year, they were still able to take advantage of Hopkins’s skillset.
Among 32 wide receivers with 100 or more targets, Hopkins was 12th in Reception NEP per target last season at 0.76. This year, 21 receivers had hit that target number going into Week 15, and Hopkins ranked 17th at 0.58.
Due to the high rate of targets, Hopkins’ efficiency wasn’t much better for this game -- 0.48 Reception NEP per target overall and 0.55 with just Savage’s throws -- but he was again a central piece of the offense and was thrown to in some big spots.
It wouldn’t be crazy to suggest efficiency and timing would be better with more practice reps between the quarterback and receiver -- Savage hadn't even been the backup the past few weeks due to an elbow injury.
Still, there were some promising plays between the two on Sunday.
After the game, Texans owner said it was a “gutsy call” to make the switch to Savage.
In reality, it was a call O’Brien had to make.
At this point, the $37 million guaranteed to Osweiler is a sunk cost -- it’s getting paid no matter what. There’s little reason to keep sending him out in hopes to get back value on that deal.
For the Texans, it should now be about putting the best product on the field, especially since they’re still favored to win the AFC South.
Savage might not be the long-term answer the Texans are looking for, but it’s hard to argue he’s not their best option right now.