TEXANS BY THE NUMBERS

A shocking look at Bill O'Brien's coaching record against top-level quarterbacks

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

When I think of Bill O'Brien I often think back to a movie we've all seen but may not admit to - the 1996 film Matilda. Matilda's dad (played by Danny DeVito) must have had a profound impact on O'Brien as a young man. I imagine a then-27-year-old Bill sitting down and hearing the line that seemingly guides him to this day, which is when Matilda's dad looks down on her and tells her: "I'm smart, you're dumb; I'm big, you're little; I'm right, you're wrong, and there's nothing you can do about it."

It's all about perspective. As we all know, DeVito is a micro man and he seized his one opportunity to accurately use the "big-little" line on his young, tiny co-star. I get the sense Bill's perspective is that he thinks he's the dad in this scenario and the rest of the league is sweet little Matilda, but a detailed look into the list of quarterbacks he's beaten as a head coach loudly suggests that he's more likely to be the one with the little blue dress and red ribbon in his hair.

I recently argued that Bill O'Brien has only beaten two quarterbacks that (in most people's minds) would be considered "elite." That would be Drew Brees and Andrew Luck. However, since the term "elite" is so subjective, I instead decided to state my case using Total QBR (Quarterback Rating), a widely accepted measuring stick for individual quarterback performance.

I took a look at every QB Bill O'Brien has beaten since the start of his head coaching career in 2014 and their corresponding QBR. Since his career spans five seasons and each quarterback's performance varies year to year, I used the QBR for the corresponding season in which that QB lost to the Texans. Per ESPN.com (the creators of Total QBR), a rating of 50 is considered "Average" while a rating of 75 and above is considered "Pro Bowl Level" (Keep that in mind). I've divided the results into four tiers to give a better idea of the 'quality' of quarterback play O'Brien has had most of his success against. For added perspective, I've also included what BOB's win-loss record is against each tier. This will give the complete picture of how much success he's had against every QB he's faced, based on which tier they fell into at the time.

Not counting the first two games of the 2019 season, his career win-loss record (including postseason) is 43-41. Does that not perfectly sum up what the Texans have seemingly always been, the Kings of Average? Well what's NOT average is his record against high quality quarterbacks. Take a look.

Note*: Each QBR is season-based, so some quarterbacks (i.e. divisional foes) will be listed numerous times since they've been beaten across multiple seasons.

TIER 4 (<50 Total QBR - The "Below Average" Class): Record vs. Tier 4 level QBs: 20-10

Connor Cook - 14.7

EJ Manuel - 26.0

Jay Cutler - 28.1

Robert Griffin III - 28.7

Blaine Gabbert - 34.0

Brock Osweiler - 34.5

Brian Hoyer - 38.7

Kevin Hogan - 39.4

Derek Carr - 42.1

Case Keenum - 44.5

Andy Dalton - 44.8 in 2017

Matt Hasselbeck - 45.1

Sam Darnold - 45.9

Alex Smith - 46.9 in 2018

Josh Allen - 49.8

Zach Mettenberger - 33.7 in 2014, 20.3 in 2015

Blake Bortles - 28.0 in 2014, 43.0 in 2016, 43.4 in 2018 (Really Jags, you extended this guy?!)

Summary: Bill O'Brien makes sweet, soft love to rookies, broken things, and happy-just-to-hold-a-clipboard guys. Oh, and Andy Dalton.

‚ÄčTIER 3 (50.0 - 59.9 Total QBR - The "Just Good Enough to Keep a Starting Job" Class): Record vs. Tier 3 level QBs: 8-8

Baker Mayfield - 51.2

Blake Bortles - 51.4 in 2015

Andy Dalton - 52.3 in 2016

Dak Prescott - 55.2

Jameis Winston - 57.2

Marcus Mariota - 59.1 in 2016, 58.6 in 2017, 53.2 in 2018

Summary: O'Brien can generally handle the over-hyped but still-developing young QBs. And of course, Andy Dalton.

TIER 2 (60.0 - 69.9 Total QBR - The "Flashes of Greatness" Class): Record vs. Tier 2 QBs: 7-18

Alex Smith - 60.8 in 2016

Ryan Fitzpatrick - 62.0

Matt Stafford - 65.2

Andrew Luck - 65.9 in 2016, 69.6 in 2018

Drew Brees - 66.8 (*Sustained* Greatness)

Joe Flacco - 68.6

Summary: So Bill CAN beat some guys that aren't total trashcans, but ratings under 70 suggest they weren't at their best in those seasons, or that even their best is still not "Pro Bowl Level".

Hmm, no Andy Dalton?

TIER 1 (>70.0 Total QBR - The "Cream of the Crop, Best of the-What?!" Class): Record vs. Tier 1 level QBs: 1-5

Andy Dalton - 72.5 in 2015

END. BLEEPING. LIST.

Summary: The Red Rifle?! Put some respect on that man's name! Making Katy proud!

Conclusion: Andy Dalton is the only quarterback Bill O'Brien has EVER beaten with a QBR over 70 for that particular season in which he won. Andy. Freakin'. Dalton.

Not so good

Interestingly enough you may notice that not one single quarterback on the list was considered a "Pro Bowl Level" quarterback when O'Brien faced him. No, your mighty leader of the Texans has never beaten the likes of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, or Matt Ryan, just to name a few.

Other things of note.. let's take a look at how my original argument for Brees and Luck fared. The 66.8 QBR for Brees is tied for his second lowest rating since 2009, so the Texans did beat him but clearly in a year where he wasn't at his best (but let's be fair, 66.8 is still very respectable). As for the late, great Andrew Luck, his 69.6 QBR from last season is his best, but the win O'Brien got to claim? Hardly a win at all. You may recall a first time head coach (looking at you, Frank Reich) gift-wrapping that game in OT for the Texans. If not for that, last season's version of Luck would be removed from this list, further strengthening the point.

That being said, his 65.9 rating in 2016 is his second best career rating, so that win over him is legit.

Here's where it gets ugly. Of all the QBs O'Brien has beaten, only three of those teams went on to win their division in that respective season. That is to say, three out of his 42 regular season wins (a whopping 7.14%) were against eventual playoff-bound teams in his five seasons as head coach. And only four other teams beyond that were able to snag a wildcard (that's still only 16.7%). As for the postseason, you may remember his only win being against rookie Connor Cook who, if you refer back to Tier 4, is your winner for worst QBR of any quarterback O'Brien has ever faced, with a dismal 14.7.

The bottom line

For a look at how the above mentioned quarterbacks fared against their peers for each of the past five seasons, here's a quick glance at who all cracked the top 10 in Total QBR in their respective season that they were beaten by BOB.

2014- Joe Flacco - 8th in Total QBR

2015- Andy Dalton - 3rd, Ryan Fitzpatrick - 7th, Drew Brees - 10th

2016- Andrew Luck - 7th, Matt Stafford - 8th, Alex Smith - 10th

2018- Andrew Luck - 5th

That's a grand total of eight. And only ONE of them cracked the top 3 in a season (we see you, Andy). So if last year's 11-win season felt phony, it turns out that only 1 of their 11 wins was against a top 10 QB that season, and that was the (not) win over Andrew Luck in OT.

As a Texans fan, this is a hard pill to swallow. To see so glaringly, that the leader of your team, your organization really, is the little girl with a red ribbon and psychokinetic abilities. The silver lining? If he's willing to accept who he is, then maybe he can tap into those superpowers and magically navigate the Texans to their first AFC Championship game this season. Either that, or hope he faces Andy Dalton 18 times.

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NAVIGATING THE OFFSEASON

2020 Houston Rockets offseason preview

ThIs offseason has a unique set of challenges. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

At no point in James Harden's tenure in Houston have the Rockets had more questions heading into an offseason than this year. Coming off a short second-round series elimination against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Rockets already had deep issues they needed to resolve. The problems then got compounded when head coach Mike D'Antoni parted ways with the team at the beginning of the offseason and general manager Daryl Morey followed suit not long after. This is a dark time for the franchise and there's really no sugarcoating it.

To make matters worse, the rest of the NBA isn't going to sit around and wait for the Rockets to catch up. All the usual suspects will contend for the title again next year along with some new ones. Brooklyn and Dallas are two obvious teams that are ripe to step into the conversation in their respective conferences. Philadelphia will be looking to bounce back from their chaotic season. The Clippers are also looking to re-tool after their second-round elimination.

If Houston wants to maximize the final years of James Harden's prime, they have to absolutely nail an offseason like this. It's going to take a series of difficult steps though and that's what we're going to talk about today.

Assessing where you're at

Before the Rockets do anything, they have to accept where they are as a franchise, decide where they want to be, and find a way to get there. Wallowing in self-pity isn't productive, so if there's even a hint of regret about any of the moves Houston's made to get them to this point, that has to go out the window. Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Mike D'Antoni, and Daryl Morey aren't returning to the organization. Eric Gordon's extension isn't going to magically come off the books.

You can't go into a time machine and reverse any of these decisions. The Rockets made some of them and they have to own them. New Rockets GM Rafael Stone has some pretty big questions to answer. The first one is whether Houston still wants to contend for a title next season.

Only the Rockets can decide whether they want to go nuclear, trade James Harden, and rebuild. However, as a word of caution, consider how difficult it is to rebuild in the NBA. The whole point of "blowing it up" is to put yourself in a position where you could draft or trade for a player of Harden's caliber and usually, that player isn't as talented. Houston already has that player in-hand in the middle of his prime.

The prospect of rebuilding and getting out of this cycle of disappointing playoff exits may seem appealing on its face, but it's painful and often unfruitful. This is Houston's decision, but considering how rare these contention windows are, let's assume they ride it out with this core. Also, owner Tilman Fertitta has already indicated that the Rockets do not intend to blow it up.

The Rockets have no cap space, few draft capital to trade, and their roster is aging. How does a team like that improve?

Hiring the right coach

When your last head coach was Mike D'Antoni, it's really hard to upgrade. It's not impossible and the Rockets can try, but the best case scenario likely involves hiring someone in D'Antoni's tier. If you can manage to not get worse at head coach, you're in a good spot.

It appears the finalists for Houston's vacancy are former Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy, current Rockets assistant coach John Lucas, and Dallas assistant coach Stephen Silas. All three have their own unique cases for the job, but at the end of the day, the Rockets have to decide which coach can best position them to contend with the best teams in the Western Conference.

There also has to be a continuity of thinking from D'Antoni, meaning a buy-in to Houston's micro-ball approach. People may not like micro-ball, but it's clearly the best way for Houston to play on both sides of the floor. On offense it gives them floor spacing around James Harden and Russell Westbrook. And on defense, it allows them to switch everything. The next coach may make some tweaks to the offense or defense, but he has to be comfortable with the fundamentals of the roster.

It will also be interesting to see how the staff shakes out, but coaches like Brett Gunnings and Matt Brase will probably be back in some form.

Who do you want to keep?

Before we get into who Houston should target, let's be clear about something: They're not trading Russell Westbrook. It's going to be a popular parlor game for Rockets fans, but the reality is his contract combined with Houston's lack of assets makes this a non-starter. Even if the Rockets had assets to package with Westbrook, the likelihood that they'd get a package that makes it worth it is small

From there, the best value contracts on the roster are probably P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington. Tucker and Covington aren't as "untouchable" as James Harden by any means, but their defensive versatility and floor spacing make them awesome fits into micro-ball. It'll be very difficult for Houston to stomach their losses, so it's probably safe to lock them into next year's team as well.

(Of note: Tucker has been very open about wanting an extension this offseason and he may get his wish. However, it may not be prudent of Houston to add several years on Tucker's deal considering he's already 35 years old.)

So Houston's probably starting with a core of James Harden, Russell Westbrook, P.J. Tucker, and Robert Covington going into next season. For all the doom and gloom surrounding this team, that's a pretty strong starting point. Regardless of what they do at head coach or what happens in free agency, Houston should be a very good team next season.

However, the Rockets know better than anyone that there's a difference between being a very good team and a team good enough to win a championship. With James Harden going into his age 31 season, the bar will be elevating into that Lakers tier of teams. Improving around the edges is difficult, but it can be done.

Eric Gordon is probably the biggest wild card on Houston's roster right now. Gordon dealt with significant knee injuries that kept him in and out of the lineup, so it's possible he just wasn't given the runway to catch rhythm. However, his market value has tanked from where it was a year prior. Gordon was the perfect contract Houston would like to have to explore the trade market with this offseason, but now the extension he signed has negative value. Houston may still shop him around because their other high-priced players are too valuable to move, but the cons probably outweigh the pros considering what they have to attach to any deal.

It's also hard to see Ben McLemore going anywhere considering his contract is dirt cheap. He may not be anything to write home about defensively, but he's a strong enough shooter that it doesn't matter. McLemore perfectly fits that Gerald Green plug-and-play role Houston's had coming off the bench for the past few years. I wouldn't count on Houston waiving him.

Danuel House is tricky, because if you asked anyone before the bubble whether Houston would want to move on from him, they would think you're crazy. However, the actions that got him suspended from Orlando are the kind of things that get you cut or traded. An optimized House provides value for Houston on both ends of the floor, but it'll really depend on if he has any relationships to smooth over on the team. For what it's worth, House has decent value on the trade market so Houston shouldn't have any trouble dealing him if it comes to that.

Because of how he looked as a small-ball five for Houston, Jeff Green may out-price the Rockets and that may not necessarily be the worst thing. Green can provide value at the four and five position offensively, but the Rockets are missing so much there defensively. Green simply can't provide that for them, even when he's playing at his best. If Houston can get him back for cheap, of course it's worth doing. However, Green isn't the kind of player worth digging too deep into your exceptions for when there may be better options out there.

David Nwaba may prove to be the shrewdest signing the Rockets made last season. Nwaba is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury for Brooklyn, but the Rockets were able to sign him to a bargain two-year deal in the period without basketball before the bubble. The 27-year-old is 6'5" with an impressive seven-foot wingspan and can defend multiple positions, a valuable trait for Houston considering they like to switch everything. Although it was only 20 games, Nwaba was shooting a career-high 42.9% from three-point range prior to the Achilles injury. For his career, he's about a 34.4% shooter from deep and the Rockets will give him a green light to launch them next season.

Like McLemore, Nwaba's deal is so cheap, it's a no-brainer to keep him. He was also signed with the knowledge that he was not going to be available for the 2019-20 season. Nwaba could soak up the minutes Austin Rivers was getting if Rivers ultimately chooses to walk in free agency.

Rivers has been a nice luxury for Houston off the bench these past couple of years, but his utility is best shown when there's an injury in the guard rotation. As an off-ball player, he leaves room to be desired compared to better fitting options. Rivers has expressed confidence that he could be more than his current role on another team publicly before, so it makes sense if he wants to opt out and explore his options. He'd also probably earn more than Houston can give.

As far as rotation players go, we've covered the key names in contention for playing time next year.

What are the Rockets missing?

It was mentioned above, but those Jeff Green minutes you could be losing off the bench need to be given to stronger defenders. Even though the Rockets are intentionally giving up rebounds for forced turnovers by playing micro-ball, 29th in rebounding percentage isn't going to cut it. The Rockets need to climb from 15th to 10th in defensive rating to really elevate them up a tier and size is the easiest way to do it.

It will be interesting to see if Houston targets at least one rim-running big man off the bench to play in the non-Westbrook minutes (when James Harden is on the floor), but a versatile forward who can also shoot threes and play center off the bench would shore up their roster defensively a good bit.

What tools do the Rockets have?

So, the quality of players the Rockets add to their roster in free agency will depend on the kind of financial commitment they're getting from ownership. If there's ever going to be a "put up or shut up" moment for owner Tilman Fertitta, it's this offseason. Fertitta has publicly said for years that he is willing to spend into the luxury tax to build a contender, but the Rockets have yet to do that in his three years of ownership. This offseason, there's really no way around it: If the Rockets want to compete with the best teams, they have to spend into the luxury tax.

The excuse given for not paying the luxury tax before was fear of the repeater tax, but the Rockets have a very clear window now to compete and spend hard for two more years before ducking the tax repeater tax if they choose to. As of this moment, Houston will fall under the tax line in 2022-23 even if Harden and Westbrook opt into the last years of their contract. The Rockets will also own their own draft picks in 2022 and 2023, so they also maintain the flexibility to rebuild in two years if they choose to do so.

For the purposes of this offseason, $9.2 million and $3.6 million are the numbers to keep in mind. That's the value of Houston's non-taxpayer mid-level exception and bi-annual exception respectively. If the Rockets want to show how committed they are to winning, they spend every cent of those exceptions. Teams are always anxious about hard-capping themselves to spend the full mid-level, but there are a couple of players in this free agent class good enough to make it worth it for Houston.

If they don't have luck with any of those players, they should be spending every penny of their taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.7 million) on a solid veteran instead of going bargain shopping with just minimum contracts to fill up the roster.

It's important to keep in mind that this will be an unusually competitive marketplace. Unlike years past, there are more than a few teams that view themselves as title contenders and will be vying for the same free agents. This is compounded by the fact that there aren't star players available to suck up a large percentage of the money available. Every good team wants strong role players and will be using their mid-level exception to acquire them.

How the Rockets operate as a team this summer will tell us a lot about owner Tilman Fertitta, GM Rafael Stone, and how attractive of a destination Houston still is. It's going to be fascinating.

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