Houston, you have a problem. And it starts at quarterback.
This was supposed to be the year that Bill O'Brien's offense made serious gains. The Texans gave Brock Osweiler $37 million guaranteed and added a top-tier free-agent running back and another speedy receiver in the draft. The expectations were set at finally making a serious run in the postseason and defending the AFC South title.
Well, lucky for the Texans, the AFC South is as brutal as ever, and they remain the only .500-or-above team in the division. Even without J.J. Watt, they'll hang around and compete for a home playoff game.
But if this team is going to fulfill its hopes of January success, and if this quarterback is going to fulfill his big-money contract, he's going to have to elevate his play. Significantly. And quickly.
Yes, the Texans faced a truly elite defense on Sunday in Minnesota, which certainly had something to do with the outcome of a 31-13 Vikings win that really wasn't even that close. But Osweiler has been shaky at best all season and the Texans offense has been among the worst units in the NFL. With the defense naturally going to spiral sans Watt, this team had better get some stuff figured out ASAP.
Making the commitment that Houston made to get pedestrian-at-best play from the quarterback position is the kind of decision that can lead to big problems down the road. The Texans best make the most of the subsidy they get by playing six games within the AFC South because I suspect they'll struggle mightily against teams outside the division.
Let's be real: this division is as bad as it has ever been, and the three teams that fail to win this division race will likely fire the coach -- and in some cases maybe the GM, too. It could be sad how few games these teams win outside of the division, collectively. Do any of them manage 8-8?
Osweiler isn't getting the ball down field at all -- the offensive line surely has something to do with that -- and hasn't been particularly accurate and continues to turn the ball over too much. On Sunday, he couldn't hit wide open receivers and backs in the flat on easy third-down conversions and he couldn't complete a pass to Will Fuller or DeAndre Hopkins in the entire first half. The Texans went three-and-out nearly every possession of the first half and at one point in the game Osweiler was 8-for-23 for 60 yards and an interception. The Texans' only touchdown came deep in garbage time.
It actually could've been much worse than the stats show. The Texans finally got a first down on a penalty, Osweiler was lucky he didn't throw a pick-six that was dropped, and he got bailed out of a fourth-down sack with another penalty call. When the Texans finally got some field position from a big punt return, the offense couldn't pick up a first down. They were being out-gained in yards 129-8 at one point.
When the Texans have faced better competition -- the Pats and Vikings -- they have lost, collectively, 60-13 (kinda like the playoffs). On the season, Osweiler is completing a mundane 58 percent of his passes for just six yards an attempt with six touchdowns and seven picks. His quarterback rating is a woeful 70.6. The past four weeks -- since facing a toothless Chicago offense in Week 1 -- it's been especially bleak, with a rating of just 66. Most importantly for Houston, the Texans rank 30th in the NFL in offensive points scored with just 75 points. With the defense losing its dominant force, Houston won't be able to depend on the same quantity of sacks and turnovers as it would with the Defensive MVP on the field.
Osweiler needs to step up and start playing big boy quarterback. There are no excuses and you can't blame any collective failings on Brian Hoyer, anymore. It's time to make quality throws and start culling something from this array of skill players. Or this team isn't going anywhere that it hasn't already been before.