On Jan. 14, quarterback Brock Osweiler and the Houston Texans walk into Foxborough, Massachusetts to face the New England Patriots as 15 point underdogs, the largest spread in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs in 18 years. The last time a team was this severe of a playoff underdog was in 1999. The Minnesota Vikings covered 16.5 point spread, beating the Arizona Cardinals 41-21. A similar outcome is certainly in play this weekend.
Understanding the Houston Texans Historically Bad Offense
Texans Putrid Offense
How bad has Houston’s offense really been? Well a short answer to that question would be really bad. Historically bad. Unlike the Vikings blowout in 1999, a scenario in which the Texans get to 21 points is hard to draw up. Houston averaged 17.4 points per game in the 2016 regular season, accumulating a measly 279 points over 16 games. They finished 28th in the league in scoring, tied with the 3-13 Chicago Bears. To put this in perspective, they scored only 15 more points during the regular season (0.9 more points per game) than the 1-15 Cleveland Browns (264 points) and 30 points less than the 1-15 San Francisco 49ers.
The Historic Scope
The 2016 Houston Texans finished with a -49 scoring differential. As bad as that sounds, it is not completely innocuous as it seems. Five teams since 2000 have made the playoffs with a scoring differential of -30 or below. However, these teams had these sort of +/- numbers due to a defense that failed to stop anyone. Those five teams averaged to score 326.8 points during their seasons, nearly three points per game better than the 2015 Texans.
The lowest scoring team of the five was the 2011 Denver Broncos, quarterbacked by Tim Tebow. They scored 309 points. Only one playoff team this century has scored less than Houston in a season. The 2005 Chicago Bears scored only 260 points. The Bears were quarterbacked by 23-year-old Kyle Orton in 2005 – they lost their first playoff game. Who was the last team to win a playoff game while scoring less than the 2016 Texans? The 1999 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who scored 270 points in the regular season, beat the Washington Redskins 14-13.
Osweiler’s poor play this season has been well documented. The signal-caller completed under 60 percent of his passes this year, throwing 15 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. By DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), he ranked 33 of 34 qualified quarterbacks, throwing 569 yards LESS than would be expected by a replacement level player. Many laughed at Tebow’s ability to lead the 2011 Broncos to a playoff victory, however, Tebow performed 5 percent better as a passer in 2011 than Osweiler in 2016 compared to league average quarterback play.
Osweiler seems to be allergic to throwing the ball to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, likely a top seven talent at his position in the NFL. He is too often content to dump the ball off to tight ends for short gains, making the offense incredibly predictable. There’s no easy solution for the Houston Texans at the quarterback position. They can’t realistically cut Osweiler due to his large cap hit, but they will have to be better on this side of the ball moving forward if they expect to win NFL games.