Daily Focus: One big warning sign for new Texans QB Brock Osweiler

Why Houston's new QB needs to improve in one specific area. Plus, Kirk Cousins' contract, Danny Shelton's weight loss and the Cowboys' backfield.

| 3 months ago
(Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

(Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

Daily Focus: One big warning sign for new Texans QB Brock Osweiler


Each day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest news headlines and explain what they mean from a PFF perspective.

One big warning sign for new Texans QB Brock Osweiler: Last year the Texans made the playoffs despite some fairly spotty play from quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. While the defense was largely to thank for that, they also benefited from a very poor AFC South division. With Colts QB Andrew Luck coming back from injury, and the Jaguars making some big strides this offseason, that might not be the case again this year.

The Texans will almost certainly need strong play from the quarterback they effectively bet the house on this offseason, former Bronco Brock Osweiler. Being a game manager isn’t likely to be enough; he will need to win at least a couple of games on his own. Head coach Bill O’Brien painted a picture of optimism this weekend, saying that Osweiler has performed as expected so far and demonstrated a strong work ethic.

The question is, can he play well enough to lead Houston to the playoffs? There is one big warning sign as to why he could struggle in 2016.

OsweilerChart

In 521 snaps last season, Osweiler delivered for the Broncos an average performance. However, like most quarterbacks, Osweiler clearly fared better with a clean pocket than when he was pressured. The only difference is that Osweiler’s drop-off was far more significant than the NFL average, and now that the weight of the Houston franchise is on his shoulders, how he performs against pressure will take on added importance this year.

The Texans offensive line provided good pass protection last year, but two thirds of that unit has moved on since season’s end, and while left guard Jeff Allen is a good replacement coming from Kansas City, they will have to break in a new center after Ben Jones left for Tennessee in free agency.

While Osweiler did a good job when blitzed last season, he will need to improve his play when the defense gets to him with four pass-rushers. If he can do this, he may well end up as a success, but a similar performance when pressured could lead to disappointment for Texans fans expecting big things — including another division title — out of their big-money free-agent quarterback.

Why Washington is smart to wait on an extension for QB Kirk Cousins: If you thought the kept clean/under pressure comparison for Osweiler (see above) was stark check, out the disparity for Redskins QB Cousins.

CousinsChart

Of regular starting quarterbacks, only the Giants’ Eli Manning and Jaguars’ Blake Bortles experienced a drop-off on the level of Cousins last year. There is little question that Cousins is a smart quarterback, and he has improved each of his last two years in PFF grades, but this is a significant barrier to overcome. That’s why it is smart on Washington’s part to let Cousins play out the 2016 season as the team’s franchise player before committing a huge contract to him, as the team appears to be doing. (Cousins said this weekend that there was “no progress” on a long-term deal with the team.)

The Redskins’ pass protection ranked 15th in PFF grades last year, and with little turnover, that performance might improve slightly in 2016. But even so, Cousins has some significant work to do himself if he wants to take another step forward this season.

Can Danny Shelton rebound for Browns in 2016? The Danny Shelton who played his rookie season at nose tackle for the Browns in 2015 bore little resemblance to the one who dominated for the Washington Huskies the previous year. In college Shelton was notorious for his speed off the ball and his hustle in chasing plays down from behind. For a man his size (he weighed 339 pounds at the combine), he was a very good athlete.

The player who started the season in Cleveland appeared sluggish, and by seasons end (according to Cleveland.com), he weighed 365 pounds. It’s potentially good news, then, that he is reportedly in the process of dropping weight in order to get to around 335 pounds.

Although he was a excellent run-stuffer in college, the real upside in Shelton was his ability to get after the QB (48 QB disruptions in his senior season) — which enabled the Huskies to keep him on the field on third downs (he played 958 snaps in 2014, a huge number for an interior lineman).

Last year he was only on the field for a ridiculously low 13 snaps of 3rd-and-6 or longer. No team can take a pure nose tackle at No. 12 overall (where Shelton was drafted) and get value from it, no matter how well a guy plays, and Shelton was just an average player in 2015.

SheltonChart

As can be seen above, Shelton had 316 of his 514 snaps either directly over the center (NT) or shading one side or the other (NLT or NRT), and this may not even be his best position. It’s possible he may be better at 3-technique DT in a four-man line or 5-technique DE in a three-man line, as Vince Wilfork did for the Patriots towards the end of his career, using his speed and athleticism to get up the field rather than constantly reading and reacting.

Shelton is currently around the 335-pound mark, reportedly, and looking good. It’s vital he improve, as the only eight QB hurries (no sacks, no hits) he produced last year won’t give the Browns value for their pick.

What to expect from Darren McFadden, Cowboys RBs this season: I’m not sure it’s news when a player comes out and says he’s not ceding his position to a first-round draft pick (would anyone expect him to say, “Well, that’s it then, he’s clearly a better player than me and I’ll just wait for his cast-off reps”?), but that’s what Cowboys running back Darren McFadden is saying about Dallas’ No. 4 overall selection Ezekiel Elliott.

McFadden produced the fourth-most rushing yards in the NFL last season, at 1,089, but how much of that was due to the league’s best run-blocking offensive line?

McFadden has never lived up to his billing as the fourth overall selection in 2008, and it’s instructive that 2015 was one of his better seasons running the football. Despite this, he was still slightly below average both in terms of producing yards after contact and avoiding tackles — the other Dallas running backs with more than 30 carries (Joseph Randle and Robert Turbin) both did better.

CowboysRBsChart

Although it’s not a fair comparison, I’ve also included Elliott’s numbers at Ohio State in the above chart for a bit of fun. If he gets these type of numbers in Dallas, he may be Offensive Player of the Year, not just the rookie of the year.

| PFF Founder

Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

  • Andrew Haney

    Two players account for two thirds of the Texans offensive line unit? LOLZ

  • JDN

    Okay, this Elliot hype is getting a bit ridiculous. Let the guy play a snap before anointing him offensive player of the year.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Agree. If he gains 100 yards in his debut they will probably start drafting plans to build a statue too.

    • Super eight

      Elliot wouldn’ have gone in 1st round if stayed in college.

  • crosseyedlemon

    “Being a game manager isn’t likely to be enough; he will need to win at least a couple of games on his own.” – Not sure how you came to this conclusion. The Chiefs had strong defensive play that allowed Alex Smith to manage a low risk offense so why couldn’t the Texans, who also have a strong defense, follow that same model?

  • Bob

    This is a Dumb article. ALL QB’s are more successful when they are not being pressured/blitzed. This is not a new revelation…someone just being a Brock Hater

    • McGeorge

      In theory I agree with you, but Russel Wilson seems to make some bad plays when unpressured, but when he’s scrambling he converts 3rd and longs like clockwork.

    • Caleb Filiault

      he acknowledged that in the article, and brock’s drop off was among the worst in the league anyways.

  • DANIEL BARNES

    Another example of conclusions reached by pundits who never read the figures or check the math. Cousins QB rating under pressure is NOT negative 6.1 – it is POSITIVE 6.1 with a QB rating of 103.5 which is exceptional in anyone’s book. IF Neil is making his conclusions based solely on, the red / green highlights it i a regrettable oversight by an analyst I enjoy and respect.

    • Fred Kruse

      I think the analysis is correct (much worse grade when blitzed), but you are also correct that PFF reversed red and green in two cells.

  • Super eight

    U guys r bunch of guys throwing dart in the dark, aren’t u ? Why dont u guys consult among other experts from other agencies ? Just a week ago espn released a similar rating putting Osweiler among likes of Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton as QB who preformed good under blitz and now u post exactly opposite article.

    “The Texans offensive line provided good pass protection last year, but
    two thirds of that unit has moved on since season’s end, and while left
    guard Jeff Allen is a good replacement coming from Kansas City, they
    will have to break in a new center after Ben Jones left for Tennessee in
    free agency.”
    They still have better offensive line than Denver’s. They lost Ben JOnes and yeah 2015 was his best offseason but the guy still performed below-average when compared to top Centers in NFL. Do some research. Nick Martin probably is way better than Ben Jones. Only reason Tony Bergerstorm couldn’t start at Center in Raiders is because Raiders have Rodney Hudson.

    Bottomline, Osweiler can’t be worse than Brian Hoyer, Weeden etc.
    Texans now have all the peaces in place. Top defense( which if clowney succeeds will be better than last year’s denver defense.), good run-game, one of the top WRs corps and decent OL. This is enough for texans to perform better this year.

    • Thomas Bell

      Actually Hoyer/Mallet had a higher QBR than Manning Osweiler last season. This was on NFL live last week — and it wasn’t just Manning’s numbers that were lower.

  • Super eight

    I think Osweiler will be fine in Texans and will be enough for them to not repeat 2015. As far as SB is concerned, it depends on Clowney. If he could finally have a breakout season then Wilfrok, Watt, Clowney and Mercilus will destroy evey QB.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Some people just want to see the guys getting the big money fail. Osweiler should be fine as you say. He doesn’t need to be a world beater if the Texans defense continues to be a top unit. Let’s remember Houston had double digit wins back in 2011 and 2012 with a QB named Matt Schaub who is certainly no better than Osweiler.