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.
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.
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.
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.
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.