Patriots Defense Must Take The Easy Way Out For Texans’ Brock Osweiler

FOXBORO — Brock Osweiler is such a tease.

The Texans quarterback makes a few throws every game that give him the look of a $72 million passer. Many of the rest, though, might not be worth $72.

That’s what the Patriots’ top-ranked scoring defense will face Saturday night in a divisional playoff matchup at Gillette Stadium. Osweiler is wildly inconsistent, struggles to construct long scoring drives and has a penchant for beating himself.

The Pats are cognizant of Osweiler’s miscues, but they weren’t going to acknowledge that they’ll prepare for anything short of his best.

“We just think about all the stuff that he can do,” defensive tackle Alan Branch said. “He beat us when he was with Denver. He’s a good quarterback. Everybody has their ups and downs. You never know what day someone will be up or down, so we’re expecting his best.”

Osweiler lofted a beautiful 38-yarder down the right sideline to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the Texans’ wild card victory against the Raiders, which was again proof that he is always a throw away from a brilliant moment. There’s no doubt Osweiler has the physical ability to accurately push the team down the field with his intermediate and deep balls.

But for whatever reason, the 6-foot-8 right-hander is hesitant to make those throws with any regularity. Rather, he’d prefer to make the easier throws over the middle, to the point where he often forces the ball into tight spaces or just erratically tosses an incompletion off his back foot.

The Patriots have noticed Osweiler’s tendencies, particularly with the way offensive coordinator George Godsey draws up a majority of primary routes that break toward the right sideline. If either tight end, C.J. Fiedorowicz or Ryan Griffin, line up to the right, the Patriots might make sure they use outside leverage because those are Osweiler’s preferred throws, particularly out routes.

So the Pats have to take away the easy stuff that is designed to keep Osweiler comfortable. This is an important game for safety Patrick Chung, who routinely draws tight ends in coverage and has only allowed 12 catches on 24 targets for 129 yards and one touchdown against them all season.

Safety Devin McCourty and linebackers Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy will also land some of those responsibilities, especially because the Texans have some two-tight end sets. The smart play will be to clog the middle of the field with tight zones to force Osweiler to think too much. And frankly, the more he forces the ball the better the chance for the Pats to get their hands on some passes.

The Patriots also have to keep running back Lamar Miller in check, but the league’s third-ranked run defense is up to the challenge. Miller is quick, slippery, has an effective one-cut style and can also reverse field, so gap discipline is important.

“He is a premier back and a good reason why they’re in the position they’re in,” Branch said. “Gap discipline is important every week. We’ve got to make sure we’re on our P’s and Q’s and stay where we’re supposed to be.”

It’s crucial to take Osweiler out of his comfort zone because the Texans struggle on third-and-long. Houston faced third-and-7 or longer on 48.8 percent of its tries this season, and converted just 25.2 percent of the time. Osweiler had 21 conversions on 72 throws (29.2 percent).

Just how easy do the Texans like to make it for Osweiler? They scored 27 points against the Raiders, and he only completed two passes in the second half. He needs training wheels to be successful.

Despite big-play threats in Hopkins and wide receiver Will Fuller, the Texans aren’t equipped to handle long scoring drives. Their 23 TDs were tied with the four-win Rams for the fewest in the league, and they had a dozen fewer end zone trips than anyone in the AFC playoff field.

Their first two scoring drives against the Raiders netted 10 points while amassing 12 yards from scrimmage, and they had six scoring jaunts (one touchdown, five field goals) in the regular season that gained less than 20 yards. They had 13 touchdown drives this season that gained at least 70 yards, so field position will be key.

But again, it comes down to harassing Osweiler, whether it’s with a quick pass rush or by forcing him to look outside the numbers. By doing that, the Pats would almost guarantee he won’t sustain enough long drives to keep pace with Tom Brady.

“Getting pressure on any quarterback helps us,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “If we’re able to do that in the front without blitzing the house or doing anything crazy, that really helps us. Putting pressure on him helps out those guys on the back end with their hands full with Fuller and Hopkins and all those speed guys back there. Obviously if we can get pressure, especially in the middle, that will really help make him feel uncomfortable.”

Source : http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/patriots/2017/01/patriots_defense_must_take_the_easy_way_out_for_texans_brock_osweiler

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