What’s Next With Osweiler?
A playoff win is special, a great resume piece and badge of honor that lasts a while, but the Texans' win over the Raiders Saturday really didn’t show us much at all about Houston or the Raiders.
We knew Oakland was in trouble with Matt McGloin at quarterback and pretty close to hopeless with Connor Cook, and that is exactly how the game turned out, but a closer look revealed a few more warts than we might have expected.
After a breakout rookie campaign and excellent first half of 2016, Amari Cooper appeared to hit the wall. While he totaled 83-1,153-5 this year, he was just 31-346-3 over the second half of the season, and when his team needed him most in Houston Saturday, Cooper came up with only two of 10 targets for 10 yards, including a bad drop on a deep sideline route when the game was still within reach.
Exacerbating the problem, Michael Crabtree, who played like a two most of the year but is really just a three, also had just two catches for 33 yards on seven targets, dooming the Raiders to just 202 yards of total offense behind their rookie quarterback in what should have been a winnable game had they given the kid any help at all.
Khalil Mack was of course a force, but other than Mack and Malcolm Smith, the Raiders defense wasn’t really ready for prime time, either, suggesting Oakland is still a year away even with Derek Carr under center.
Oakland wasn’t bad on defense, they just weren’t all that good, and they are at least one more playmaker on either side of the ball, plus upgrades at tight end and linebacker away from being a legitimate contender.
Carr is the real deal and will be a consistent threat to get them to the playoffs, but he is going to need some more help to win once they get there.
The Texans have a bit of a dilemma with Brock Osweiler. It’s not what to do next week now that Tom Savage has been cleared from the concussion protocol, Osweiler did a nice job managing the Raiders game and has to be the choice now for the Patriots Saturday.
But he didn’t do anything at all to suggest he can lead Houston to a win in Foxborough or to create any comfort he’s ready to be the answer at quarterback.
The Texans have a lot to look forward to, particularly if J.J. Watt is between 90 and 100 percent next year. If he is, he will again be the odds-on favorite to be Defensive Player of the Year, but for the first time his closest competitor will be Jadeveon Clowney, and their teammate Whitney Mercilus will probably lead the team in sacks.
The Texans’ “D” should be a juggernaut next year but they will still have to score points to win.
That Lamar Miller was able to take the ball 31 times against Oakland was a difference maker, but that he averaged just 2.4 a pop is disappointing.
This Saturday’s trip to New England could very well be career defining for Osweiler. He certainly won’t be expected to pull off any miracles, or win, but to make more plays than he did vs. Oakland to convince the Texans to stick with him this offseason and into next year.
How Do The Seahawks Get As Many Calls As They Do?
It is hard to overstate the recent accomplishments of the Seattle Seahawks. They're 11-5, 13-3, 12-4, 10-6 and 10-5-1 from 2012 through this season, participants in two of the past three Super Bowls and the winner in XLVIII, but do these guys get more breaks from the officials than any three or four other teams put together?
Listen, the Seahawks were clearly the better team than Detroit, and the defense in particular was very impressive holding the high-flying Lions offense to just 231 yards, but how do you talk about this game without focusing on either the missed facemask or offensive pass interference on Paul Richardson in the endzone and/or the blatant block in the back from Russell Wilson on Thomas Rawls’ 32-yard run to set up Seattle’s final score?
We strongly suspected the Lions were the one of the 12 playoff clubs that didn’t belong and they confirmed that for us in Seattle, and there was absolutely no indication that the damaged bird finger on Matt Stafford’s throwing hand made a difference in the Lions' four game skid to end the season at 9-8 after a 9-4 start.
The Lions were in large part a product of their schedule, none of their nine wins came over a playoff club and Washington was their only victim with a winning record at 8-7-1.
Short of some significant upgrades, the Lions, we doubt, will be a strong preseason playoff favorite next year either.
As for the ‘Hawks, can they win in Atlanta without an assist from the stripes?
Remember, it was a horrible non-call on Richard Sherman's pass interference on Julio Jones that saved their Week Six win over the Falcons in Seattle.
This Saturday there will be no 12th man, and the rock-hard indoor surface in the Georgia Dome will probably give Atlanta a slight advantage in team speed.
The one great sign we saw Saturday that Seattle is rounding into playoff form again was the 177 yards Thomas Rawls and Co. rolled up on the ground behind what has been an extremely shaky offensive line, but the three sacks and multiple pressures they allowed on Russell Wilson are still a big problem.
But the Seahawks are now 8-4 under Carroll since 2010 in the playoffs, and the Lions essentially were a nice tune-up for the Falcons.
Do The Killer “B’s Have A Steel Curtain To Boot?
Big Ben, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell showed once again Sunday in their 30-12 win over the Dolphins why some believe they are the best club to run with the Patriots in Foxborough should the AFC trip to the Super Bowl come to that, however, that may not have been the most impressive thing about their Wild Card win.
Sure, Brown was so explosive early and Bell so steady all day that Ben never really got warmed up throwing just 18 passes, but the one area where Roethlisberger does not always excel is his career 2.7 interception percentage, and with two more picks Sunday, he has now thrown four in his past two games and eight in his past five games against just eight TDs.
That is actually not a good sign at all as the Steelers now get ready to head to Kansas City, where the Chiefs wait after finishing the season tied with Baltimore and San Diego for the league lead in picks with 18 and tied with Oakland for the best TO/TA ratio in the NFL at plus-16.
Roethlisberger is believable when he says not to worry about the walking boot he left Heinz Field in, and on Monday it was reported tests showed no serious damage and the boot was discarded.
What was most impressive about the Steelers against Miami was the Pittsburgh defense limiting the club that ran for 222 yards on them in a 30-15 Week Six rout to just 52 yards on 21 carries.
It is also worth noting that over the course of their seven-game win streak to end the season, the Steelers' 25 quarterback sacks were the most in the NFL, and Sunday they added five more sacks of Matt Moore.
During their 4-5 start, the Steelers allowed 206 points on defense but gave up just 121 over their past 7, 17.4 a game.
In holding the Dolphins to just 12 Sunday after the Fish hung 30 on them Week Six, the Steelers signaled it may be ready for the challenges ahead in Kansas City and, they hope, New England, and their defense may be ready to bail Ben out should he continue to give the ball away.
A-Rod Sure Can Dance
There was a lot to be impressed by in the Packers' 38-13 win over the Giants Sunday, but let’s start with this little tidbit:
New York and Green Bay have now met eight times in the playoffs, and in the first seven meetings, the winner has gone on to win either the NFL Championship (5) in the pre Super Bowl era or the Super Bowl (2).
The Packers did not look like a Super Bowl team in the first half, leading by just a point before Aaron Rodgers unleashed another “Hail Mary,” this time to Randall Cobb with just two seconds on the clock.
But any momentum Green Bay took to the locker room at half time may have been stunted by the sobering reality of what looked to be a serious rib injury to Jordy Nelson.
And when Mike McCarthy inexplicably elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 42 with 6:08 to play in the third quarter, was stuffed and Eli Manning hit Tavarres King with a 41-yard bomb two plays later to make it a 14-13 ballgame, while the Packers still led, they appeared to be on the ropes.
That’s when Rodgers and Cobb really took the game over. On the ensuing drive, after Christine Michael was stopped for no gain on first down, Rodgers hit Jared Cook for 13, Davante Adams for 20 and then Cobb for 30 and six to make it a 21-13 game, and in just 2:23 the game was over.
They added another 17 points, including a third TD toss to Cobb, tying the NFL record for three TDs by a receiver in a playoff game while never looking back.
From the Giants' perspective, while Odell Beckham, Jr. had one of his worst games of the year, with just four catches, 28 yards and multiple drops on 11 targets, the Miami trip was still really a non-story.
The Giants' inability to run the football allowed the Packers to shadow OBJ to both sides of the field with LaDarius Gunter and bracket him with a single-high safety at all times, and Manning just didn’t have enough weapons to swap paint with Rodgers.
But the Giants weren’t as far away as the score indicates either. The defense held Green Bay to just 75 yards rushing on 25 carries and sacked Rodgers five times for 31 yards in losses.
The difference was Rodgers channeling his inner Baryshnikov and on multiple occasions moving just enough in the pocket to avoid a Giant rusher, extend the play for six, seven or even eight seconds and eventually find a receiver.
For three quarters, this one was lot tighter than the final score suggests, but perhaps the most impressive piece for the Pack is how they pulled away after Nelson was hurt — something that never happened last year without him, and in large part due to the presence of Cook and significant improvement of Adams.
It is also worth noting that Julius Peppers, who will turn 37 on Jan. 18th, was the most active player on either side of the ball for either team all afternoon and evening.
Peppers has taken the fewest snaps of his career this season, being used as a situational difference maker, and the difference was explosive Sunday as he finished with a sack, two more QB hits, multiple pressures, another tackle for loss and two passes batted down.
Looking toward Dallas and Ezekiel Elliott next Sunday, Packers inside linebacker Jake Ryan also may have had his best game of the year, with 12 tackles and three passes defensed as he refused to allow anything over the middle.
It is hard to envision the Packers shutting down Elliott next week, but after Sunday it’s easy to see them putting up a bunch of points on the Cowboys and turning that one into a shootout.