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Red Zone Play: Field General Success

Is staying the course with Brock Osweiler Houston’s best chance of improving in 2017?

Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Even though the NFL season isn’t officially over till Sunday night, the offseason is well under way for 30 of the NFL’s teams, including the Houston Texans. With that comes assessments of players and coaches, the overall team, and then moving to lay the foundation for the 2017 campaign.

While the team has worked on the coaching aspects, promoting Romeo Crennel to Assistant Head Coach, promoting Mike Vrabel to Defensive Coordinator, and bringing in Wes Welker as the Offensive/Special Teams Assistant, the number one thing on most people’s minds is the quarterback situation.

Many a dead horse has taken a serious beating over this topic, but that’s illustrative of how important it is. You simply can’t overstate the importance of bringing in a franchise QB.

This is a particularly important subject in the context of this column, which is focused on the Texans making it to their franchise Red Zone…and staying there.

Let’s take a look at what other factors are necessary for FGS: Field General Success.

Scheme/Play Calling: Even Tom Brady couldn’t succeed in a bad scheme with bad play-calling. While the Texans’ scheme has been a proven winner, it hasn’t been proven just yet here in Houston. The play-calling is somewhat suspect, but many factors affect the scheme and calls (coaches’ ability to teach the system, players’ ability to execute what they’ve been taught, play-callers’ ability to remain unpredictable while taking advantage of the opposing defense, having the right players with talents/skill-sets that suit the scheme, etc.). For instance, if Houston had a young Earl Campbell type back, the continual A-Gap runs would be far more effective at both gaining yards and wearing down the defense.

Offensive Line: The overall play of Houston’s offensive line in 2016 was average at best, mediocre more often than not, and downright abysmal at times. Having Nick Martin return, bringing in a few quality new players, and having a healthy Duane Brown for 16+ games will go a long way to fixing this. Thankfully, there are a few quality tackles and guards hitting the free agent market and several rookies that should be available at the 25th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Supporting Cast: On paper, the supporting cast in 2016 was stellar. On the field, it takes time to gel, time to get in a groove, and time to learn the offensive scheme to best take advantage of what each player brings to the table. DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller, Braxton Miller, Jaelen Strong, Will Fuller and Jonathan Grimes are all high-quality players that for one reason or another didn’t have the type of success on the field their “on paper” indicators show they should have (for those who were injured, this covers their pre-injury on field time). However, with all but Grimes locked up for 2017, Year Two of this supporting cast should be vastly improved.

The scheme/play calling is what it is – okay with the potential to be great.

The offensive line needs work, but isn’t far removed from greatness.

The supporting cast just needs more time.

So that bring us to the man under center himself.

Let’s look at the options. Houston can stand pat with men already under contract for the 2017 season. They can cast a net and see about drawing in a solid free agent. Or they can roll the dice on an unproven rookie.

The major pressure applied to this scenario comes in the form of a ticking clock. Houston is not in rebuilding mode. This team needs to take advantage of what it has on the defensive side of the ball now while the window is open. J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and the rest are fractions of an inch from historic greatness. Wasting that momentum while the team flounders developing a quarterback is madness.

Let’s explore the options a little deeper:

Brock Osweiler / Tom Savage: While neither has shown the sort of flash you’ll recognize in an elite quarterback, an argument can be made that neither has really been given the opportunity to flourish in Houston either. If Gary Kubiak, John Elway, Peyton Manning and others believed Brock had what it takes to be great in this league, he just might despite what happened in 2016. Terry Bradshaw had a total quarterback rating of 30.4 in his first 13 starts in Pittsburgh. Steelers fans were ready to run him out of town with the same sort of hatred that’s been aimed at Brock recently. Now, Bradshaw is arguably the most successful quarterback in NFL history, having commanded an offense that won four Super Bowls in six years – in front of the same fan base that was burning him in effigy earlier in his career.

Free Agency/Trade: Many folks are beating the free agent or trade drum, as if that is the only way to fix what ails the Houston offense. Tony Romo is a popular choice, but based on the injury-prone nature and the inability to win in December and January when it matters most, paying Romo has the potential on the stupidity scale of one to ten to score Ed Reed. Jay Cutler is also a name floated around a lot. In some ways Cutler is the anti-2016 Osweiler; he completes passes and controls the offense, but doesn’t convey the winning attitude and good teammate vibe that Houston craves and Bill O’Brien has ingrained in the culture. Cutler is far from the missing piece any team needs to get over the hump. Jimmy Garoppolo might be the best of these names, but the Texans have gone to Tom Brady’s shadow well twice with Brian Hoyer and Captain Alarm Clock, and the results were far from championship level. Tyrod Taylor is another name rising to the surface; Bills’ OC Rick Dennison might not want him, and Dennison does have history with Brock Osweiler. A trade for Tyrod could solve several problems, while also creating a new set since Taylor doesn’t seem to be a solid scheme fit for Bill O’Brien’s style of offense.

NFL Draft: A draft analyst recently called this the worst crop of NFL caliber quarterbacks to come out in a long time. DeShone Kizer will likely be long gone by the time Houston sends in their first pick. Mitch Trubisky is also likely to be gone. While many teams have him rated as a second rounder, there are far too many teams picking ahead of Houston that are starving for talent under center to let him, or the presumed next guy in line, Deshaun Watson, fall to the 25th pick. Pat Mahomes will require development time that Houston simply doesn’t have.

Looking through those options, Houston’s best bet is to either stand pat and ride out Osweiler’s second year in the hopes an improved offensive line and better coaching/play-calling can turn him into the kind of quarterback who doesn’t lose games or to hedge their bets via free agency and the draft.

Bringing in a guy like Garoppolo to compete, while also drafting a rookie, might just put enough pressure in the quarterback room to make a diamond – or an explosion.

A wild card is also an option – pulling off some crazy trade for a playoff caliber quarterback. But that sort of speculation would require an entire column all to itself.

What do you think? Who gets your vote for head signal-caller for the Houston Texans in 2017? Let us know in the comments below.