Brock Osweiler

Texans turn back to Osweiler vs rookie-led Raiders

osweiler.jpg
USATSI

Texans turn back to Osweiler vs rookie-led Raiders

HOUSTON -- There was something noble in how Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien and his Oakland Raiders counterpart, Jack Del Rio, masked their disappointment while naming respective starting quarterbacks for their Saturday AFC Wild Card postseason game at NRG Stadium.

Although hardly planned, the game will feature a duel between quarterbacks who represent the most expensive free-agent disappointment of this last offseason against the first rookie in the Super Bowl era to debut as a starter in a playoff game.

To sum up: Oakland rookie Connor Cook debuts on the road in a playoff game against Houston's expensive, free-agent disappointment, Brock Osweiler.

For the Texans (9-7), champions of the AFC South, Osweiler reclaimed his post because Tom Savage was lost to a concussion in the season finale against the Tennessee Titans. Savage supplanted the ineffective Osweiler against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 18.

The Raiders (12-4) roared to their first playoff appearance since 2002 behind MVP candidate and third-year quarterback Derek Carr. He passed his way onto some MVP ballots by passing for 3,937 yards and 28 touchdowns before breaking his right fibula in Week 17. In week Carr's journeyman backup, Matt McGloin, injured his shoulder. Now Cook will get his first NFL start.

On Wednesday, O'Brien ruled Savage out against Oakland and elevated Brandon Weeden to backup status. That leaves the responsibility of beating the Raiders solely on Osweiler, whose poor statistical production this season was at the crux of the Texans' woeful offense and minus-49 point-differential.

"As a head coach, every decision you make is all about the best interest of the team and what's the best way that we can help the team win," O'Brien said. "As it relates to players maybe being moved from starter to backup role, I think every coach and every player learns from those situations."

Following his decent midseason run as the starter with the Denver Broncos last season, Osweiler was deemed the solution to the Texans' longstanding issues at quarterback. Houston signal caller Brian Hoyer committed five turnovers in last year's embarrassing 30-0 postseason setback to the Kansas City Chiefs, prompting the Texans front office to bestow a four-year, $72 million contract upon Osweiler.

What they received in return was a quarterback who posted the lowest yards per attempt (5.8) of any starter in the league and one who stewarded an offense that ranked 28th in scoring (279 points), 29th in yards (5,035), and 30th in passing touchdowns (15). Houston produced a paltry 23 offensive touchdowns.

"I've had great success in this league playing football so I'm very confident," Osweiler said. "I'm very confident in my teammates and I know we'll be ready to go."

When Carr was lost, the Raiders were at least able to bring in McGloin, who had starts for the Raiders in 2013, including a 28-23 road win over the Texans. In that game, he passed for three touchdowns and 197 yards with a 105.9 rating.

But when McGloin injured his non-throwing shoulder last week, Del Rio turned to Cook, a fourth-round pick out of Michigan State.

"I'm just embracing the opportunity," Cook said. "Going to go out there and have fun, let it all hang out and obviously prepare my butt off, do what I've been doing all season long and just go out there and have fun with my teammates."

The challenge ahead for both teams is to make the best of the given roster components. Osweiler delivered a decent performance in a 27-20 loss to the Raiders in Week 11, passing for 243 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The Texans settled for two red-zone field goals, par for the course for an offense than finished 31st in red-zone touchdown percentage at 40.9 percent. No matter the quarterback, the Texans will need greater red-zone proficiency to produce positive results.

Oakland still employs two 1,000-yard receivers in Amari Cooper (83 receptions for 1,153 yards and five touchdowns) and Michael Crabtree (89-1,003-8) plus a stout offensive line. And, for what it is worth, Cook may actually have a stronger throwing arm than McGloin or even Carr. But that isn't necessarily the measure for success at quarterback.

Houston boasts the second-ranked passing defense in the NFL so the challenge was going to be a tough one for an experienced NFL quarterback.

For a team that features seven Pro Bowlers and that won 12 games for the first time since 2000, resilience is a necessary asset to keep what has been a magical season alive for one additional week.

"You do the best you can regardless of the circumstances," Del Rio said. "It's a great opportunity. You have these great opportunities in life to be at your best and you do get these great challenges. So, how do you respond?

"What we want to do is respond like men and go in there full of energy and belief and fight our butts off."

Osweiler's second chance comes in playoffs against Oakland

osweiler.jpg
USATSI

Osweiler's second chance comes in playoffs against Oakland

HOUSTON -- Brock Osweiler is getting a second chance to start for the Houston Texans.

With Tom Savage out with a concussion, the Texans will look to their $72 million man to lead them in their wild-card playoff game against Oakland on Saturday.

Osweiler joined the Texans in the offseason on that huge contract after spending his first four seasons in Denver. He started the first 14 games this season before being benched in the second quarter against Jacksonville on Dec. 18 after throwing interceptions on consecutive drives to give him 16 for the season. Savage took over and rallied the Texans to the victory and started Houston's last two games.

But Savage suffered a concussion early in the second quarter Sunday in a loss to the Titans , and Osweiler took over and threw for 253 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score.

It will be Osweiler's first career playoff start after he was benched for Peyton Manning before the start of the postseason in Denver last season.

"It's a dream come true ... I couldn't be more excited," Osweiler said. "I can't wait for Saturday to be here. I wish it was here today. But I'll definitely be ready to go."

With Savage out Saturday, Brandon Weeden , who hasn't played since last season, will back up Osweiler.

Osweiler's coaches and receivers all thought he played more freely on Sunday than he had in the past and the quarterback explained what he thinks brought about the change.

"I told myself: `If you get an opportunity to go back in, just go have fun. Get back to the joy of football,'" he said.

Osweiler set that tone the second he took the field on Sunday, gathering the offensive lineman telling a quick joke before getting down to business.

"Everyone had a good little laugh," Osweiler said.

But details of that joke will be left in the category of what happens on the field stays on the field.

"I'm going to keep that one between me and the linemen," Osweiler said with a sly smile.

Osweiler and star receiver DeAndre Hopkins had some trouble connecting this season with the quarterback often trying to force balls to Hopkins that were intercepted. Things were different on Sunday when Osweiler and Hopkins linked up repeatedly, and he ended with a season-high 123 yards receiving. It was the most yards he'd had since finishing with 113 in a win over Kansas City on Sept. 18.

"He did a great job coming in, being a leader and stepping in, forgetting about everything's that's happened," Hopkins said. "He's been doing a great job at practice on leading everybody, being the same guy that he was when he was first in there. Nobody's seen a change in the way he's been acting ... so I expect him to continue his play from last week."

Oakland coach Jack Del Rio, who will start rookie Connor Cook at quarterback Saturday, worked with the Broncos when Osweiler was there. He was asked if he expects to see a different player than he did when Oakland beat the Texans in Mexico City on Nov. 21.

"That's up to Brock," Del Rio said. "I was with him in Denver. I understand the arm strength and size and his mobility and decision-making and all those type of things, and we'll get ourselves prepared and do the best we can."

Osweiler believes being relegated to backup last season in Denver helped him deal with this year's setback.

"Obviously nobody wants to be benched, but I have experienced that before," he said. "I think I handled it much better this time than previously."

The 26-year-old Osweiler used this time on the bench to observe the game from a different perspective, and it helped him learn and see some things that he didn't see before. After figuring out a way to have fun on the field again last week, Osweiler plans to take that same mindset into Saturday's game even though the stage will be much bigger.

"Just take what the defense gives you and just go play football ... just go have fun and go play some backyard football with your buddies," he said. "And that's really the mentality I took into Sunday's game and I'm going to continue to carry that with me."

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."