I re-watched the Texans game and there's no way to justify Tom Savage's benching
Thirteen pass attempts. He got 13 friggin' pass attempts behind THAT o-line
Head coach Bill O'Brien, for running a scheme that got picked apart and failed to protect the quarterback. General manager Rick Smith, for failing to put together a competent offensive line and losing Round 1 of his holdout battle with left tackle Duane Brown. The offensive line, for getting shredded repeatedly. The receivers, superstar DeAndre Hopkins chief among them, for repeatedly dropping balls that hit them right in the hands. The defense, for getting the ball crammed down their throat for about 150 yards.
But one guy who didn't deserve the ignominy was starting quarterback (for a hot minute) Tom Savage. Yet, then again, as has been a staple under O'Brien, that's precisely who took the blame.
No coach has a quicker hook. No coach has been more prone to bench his starter mere quarters into the season. And no coach has been as predisposed to knee-jerk reactions that call into question why he gave invaluable starting reps leading into a season to one man, only to quickly reverse course without even three full quarters of regular-season game play than O'Brien.
Two years ago it was Brian Hoyer; now it's Savage.
It's an old and tired script, one that doesn't exactly unite a locker room, and the decision to move forward with rookie Deshaun Watson -- make no mistake, regardless of how long O'Brien waits to announce it -- is perilous at best given this team's limitations in pass protection as currently constructed. After reviewing the film of Savage's performance in Sunday's loss to the Jags -- and that of his teammates and coaches -- I'm more convinced than ever that Savage deserved so much better than to be stripped of his job at halftime.
Rarely, if ever, will I opine on the same topic twice in a week -- the bizarre Week 1 quarterback controversy was featured prominently in-- but then again, rarely if ever does a coach and franchise resort to this kind of victim blaming two out of three years in Week 1. I wanted to review every snap again to see if I was missing something, and, if anything, I was more stunned than ever that somehow the Texans were trying to put this on a novice quarterback who never had a chance to succeed on Sunday and who actually was undermined by consistent drops and no protection.
Let's be clear, Savage lost his job off a mere 31 total offensive plays, and that includes runs, but it was really only 29, as the Texans were down 19-0 in the final seconds of the half when O'Brien called a draw and a short pass to bleed the clock. Savage was given just 13 attempts to keep his job, against a defense foaming at the mouth, and completed seven ... but there were also at least five passes that legitimately hit his intended target in both hands. Four were obvious drops, and one should be considered a nice pass break-up by the defensive back.
Yes, there were six sacks in the half, but of them, only twice did Savage have more than two seconds to deliver the ball. On most his line was swarmed and overwhelmed; generally, only five men protected and even when a back was kept in the backfield in shotgun he was running a quick wheel route and not chipping a defender at all. One sack was legitimately on Savage, a third-and-12, and one was a coverage sack. The rest were on the offensive line and the flawed protections.
The opening drive was killed on the second play when O'Brien went shotgun with no help for the offensive line, with five players running routes, and you couldn't count two-Mississippi before Savage was swallowed up. Savage led the Texans on a promising drive on their second possession, including a nice third-down play. Then on third-and-11 he hit Hopkins, perfectly in stride, right in his hands, with a ball that must be caught but was somehow dropped.
On the next possession, there were drops on the first two passes before the third-down sack you could put on Savage if you wanted (though the coverage was very tight). On the fourth drive, tight end Ryan Griffin managed not to haul in a pass right at the numbers. Savage started the fifth drive with a perfect throw for a 15-yard gain, and then was sacked in under two seconds when his left tackle got eviscerated and the QB barely got the ball cocked back before he was crushed.
Savage bounced back on the next drive -- his last full shot as the Texans starter -- and came out dropping dimes for gains, before getting nailed again while cocking back to throw (it was the only incomplete pass in the half that didn't hit the intended receiver in the hands). And the drive ended when Calais Campbell -- who played every position across the defensive line and owned his opponent at each move along the way -- blew him up from the inside in about two seconds for a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
And with that yet another Texans quarterback change was made. No pick-sixes. No wildly errant passes. Yet he's the guy who bears the brunt. Ridiculous.
Since O'Brien, billed as a quarterback guru, arrived in 2014 the Texans have churned through Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Hoyer, Brock Osweiler, and now Savage. And if history holds, Savage will have to try to save this season again, as Hoyer did in 2015. Watson did dabble with some potential pick-sixes, and while he is certainly more mobile than Savage he isn't more accurate, and he was sacked four times himself. I suspect the Bengals give him a plenty to think about Thursday night.
And while the AFC South is regularly the most forgiving division in football, it may be tougher this season. The Texans, for their wild spending splurge right before the season when they gave away new contracts like Oprah giving away cars at a pre-Christmas taping, didn't give a dime to their holdout left tackle, and they badly need to fortify that offensive line.
(It's convenient to try to discredit Brown's stance, claiming not to re-do contacts with two years remaining, but what about all those players routinely asked to take pay cuts with multiple years left on their deals? Is that not a renegotiation of sorts itself?)
And does the act of naming a starter mean nothing? Does the message that sends -- or re-sends, or misconstrues -- to a locker room not matter? Shouldn't an organization, in a sport with a six-month offseason, be able to figure out the passer who gives them the best chance of winning over such a long spell and have the fortitude to stick with it for more than half a game?
It doesn't bode well to me. If Watson isn't a magic elixir -- and I suspect he's not at this brief stage of his career, moreso with him not getting starting reps recently until Tuesday -- then O'Brien and Smith have more explaining to do. I can't help but wonder if even another (hallow) division title would be enough to placate owner Bob McNair after all of the quarterback misadventures there since Matt Schaub's decline.
With the Browns getting the Texans' first-round pick in the draft-day trade for Watson. and with that second-round pick the Browns bought from Houston to take Osweiler off their hands, Houston is certainly all-in for right now and compromised for the future. (Never have the Browns been bigger Bengals fans than Thursday night.) You can only pretend that the quarterback – 30 or 35 minutes into the season – is what's holding a franchise back so many times.
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