Texans to start Brock Osweiler in wild-card game vs Raiders

Texans to start Brock Osweiler in wild-card game vs Raiders

HOUSTON -- Brock Osweiler will start at quarterback for the Houston Texans on Saturday in their wild-card game against the Oakland Raiders.

Coach Bill O'Brien announced the decision on Tuesday with Tom Savage, who had started the past two games, still recovering from a concussion he suffered on Sunday.

Osweiler started the first 14 games this season before being benched on Dec. 18 against Jacksonville after throwing interceptions on consecutive drives in the second quarter.

But Osweiler got another chance after Savage got a concussion early in the second quarter of a loss to Tennessee on Sunday .

Osweiler had struggled with inconsistency and turnovers before being benched, but was better on Sunday when he threw for 253 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score.

"I thought Brock did some really good things on Sunday with his teammates and almost brought us all the way back," O'Brien said.

"Did a nice job and we have a lot of confidence in him that he's going to go out there and play well on Saturday."

Veteran left tackle Duane Brown was also impressed with Osweiler's work on Sunday.

"I thought he played loose," Brown said. "I thought he communicated well recognizing the front, getting us into the right plays, made some good throws. Had the touchdown run there, so I thought he played tough."

Savage remains in the concussion protocol and O'Brien said if he is cleared he will be the backup on Saturday. If not, Brandon Weeden, who hasn't played since last season, will back up Osweiler.

This game will be an opportunity for Osweiler to redeem himself after failing to live up to expectations in his first season in Houston after signing a $72 million contract in the offseason.

O'Brien thinks Osweiler benefited from taking a step back to observe things after he was benched and said he played more "freely" than he had in the past on Sunday.

"I'm sure that in some ways it's painful to go through that, but in some ways the backup position may have helped him," he said.

Osweiler has thrown for 2,957 yards with 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions this season. This will be his first postseason start after he was benched in favor of Peyton Manning before the playoffs last season with the Denver Broncos.

Savage played well when he took over for Osweiler against Jacksonville, throwing for 260 yards to help Houston rally for the win.

But he failed to move the offense consistently last week against Cincinnati and couldn't do much on Sunday before he was injured. He had just 25 yards passing.

While Houston has decided on its starter, the Raiders are still dealing with questions at quarterback after Matt McGloin left with a shoulder injury in his first start since Derek Carr broke his leg the previous week.

Rookie Connor Cook took over and could have to make his first NFL start on Saturday if McGloin can't go.

This will be the second time the Texans have played the Raiders this season after Oakland got a 27-20 win in Mexico City on Nov. 21.

The Texans will need Osweiler to improve this week if they hope to win a playoff game for the first time since the 2012 season.

Houston's offense has often been ineffective this season with him at the helm and the team's passing game ranks 29th in the NFL by averaging just 198.5 yards a game.

O'Brien likes what he's seen from Osweiler since his benching and is eager to see what he can do on Saturday.

"He's done a good job. He's been a pro," O'Brien said. "He really hasn't changed his routine at all. He's been in here studying like he's the starter. He's in here this morning getting ready ... he feels good and I think he's ready to go."

Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders


Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden had a hand in drafting Josh Johnson a decade ago. The agile quarterback and Oakland native was a Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick in 2008, Gruden’s last year as Buccaneers coach.

The pair will reunite in Johnson’s hometown. The well-traveled quarterback signed with the Raiders on Monday, the team announced.

Johnson will compete with Connor Cook to backup starter Derek Carr, and brings a veteran’s influence to the position group. It likely spells the end of EJ Manuel’s short tenure in silver and black. The strong-armed former first-round pick, who started one game last season, remains a free agent after a year with the Raiders.

This move should make Marshawn Lynch happy. He and Johnson are extremely close and together run the Family First Foundation, a charitable organization that does significant work for East Bay kids. Johnson and Lynch also played football together at Oakland Tech High.

Johnson has played 10 NFL teams prior to this Raiders stop, but hasn’t played in a regular-season game for some time.

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'


Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden needed specific tools to run his running game. He wanted blocking tight ends and a bruising fullback, relics of a bygone offensive era.

“If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback,” Gruden said at the combine. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”

Gruden said he wanted to import some old-school elements to help run with brute force.

Enter free-agent fullback Kyle Smith and tight end Derek Carrier. Welcome back, Lee Smith.

Then, on Sunday, Raiders made another vital move in this old school effort. They cut Marshawn Lynch a $1 million check.

The Oakland native’s roster bonus came due and the Raiders had no problem paying it, the clearest sign Lynch will be the Raiders feature back in 2018.

He’ll have a great chance to thrive in that role. The Raiders have a hulking, expensive offensive line (that still needs a right tackle). They have new ancillary blocking elements, and the centerpiece remains in place.

That last part was expected in recent weeks. The coaching staff, offensive line coach Tom Cable especially, wanted Lynch back. NFL Network confirmed those facts, stating Lynch will be around in 2018.

That was the case, even with Doug Martin’s addition. The former Tampa Bay back is expected to be a backup bruiser, someone who might put DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard’s job in jeopardy.

The Raiders can cut Lynch without a cap hit. Lynch is scheduled to make $6 million in salary and bonuses, with another $2 million available in incentives. The Raiders should hope to pay those; it would mean Lynch is running well.

The Raiders have given him a great opportunity to do so. They have solid blocking and a coach in Cable who helped him succeed during dominant days in Seattle.

Lynch proved he’s still got it in 2017’s second half, with 70 percent of his 891 rushing yards in the final eight games. He struggled early on, and upset some fans by helping the opposition during a scuffle with Kansas City. That mitigated a PR bump the Raiders looked for when signing a popular Oakland native just months after committing to Las Vegas long-term.

Jack Del Rio and staff grew tired of what they perceived as leeway given to Lynch unavailable to others, and probably wouldn’t have kept him on if still gainfully employed.

Gruden seems committed to Lynch this season, though nothing is ever 100 percent with an enigmatic rusher who doesn’t make private thoughts public.

His elusive, rough-and-tumble rushing style fits well with what Gruden wants, though he demands commitment to the team and sport. Sports Illustrated relayed a story of Gruden saying he needed a “full-time Lynch.”

If he gets that, the Raiders run game should thrive.