TEXANS BY THE NUMBERS
A shocking look at Bill O'Brien's coaching record against top-level quarterbacks
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.
TIER 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.