ANOTHER TOUGH ONE

After loss to Titans, what should the 4-8 Texans do about Bill O'Brien?

Bill O'Brien might be doing one of his best coaching jobs. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Bill O’Brien is likely headed for his first losing season as a head coach. The Houston Texans lost another one on Sunday, falling to Tennessee 24-13 to drop to 4-8 on the season. O’Brien has had 9-7 records with the Texans in his prior three seasons, and had winning records in two years at Penn State. This will be the worst result of his career no matter what.

There are a lot of reasons to dislike O’Brien.

He can be combative and stand-offish. He is not a pleasant person. He is a coachspeak machine. His offenses -- even in their playoff years -- have been well below average, even though it is his supposed forte. There appears to be a disconnect/potential power struggle going on with GM Rick Smith. His agents or representatives often leak stories favorable to O’Brien. His judgement of what makes a quality quarterback is highly questionable. He took way too long to pull the plug on a bad offensive coordinator. His clock management is laughable. He has one year left on his deal after this, and there are rumblings about a potential extension. But the big question is should he even be back next season, with all things above being the determining factors?

The answer is a resounding, no doubt yes.

Despite the record, O’Brien might be doing the best coaching job of his career. He took over offensive playcalling fulltime this year, and the offense exploded when Deshaun Watson took over. But even after Watson’s injury, the playcalling was better. Tom Savage -- although he played well on Sunday until he made one critical mistake-- is just unable to execute it consistently at a high level. Plus, considering all the injuries on both sides of the ball, that the Texans are even competitive is impressive.

Two of their three best defensive players have been gone since early in the year with J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. The WR/TE corps has been thin and beaten up all year, leaving very few viable weapons. Promising young RB D’Onta Foreman, too, is gone. And yet the Texans players have not quit on their coach. Even in the Monday night loss to Baltimore, they played hard. They just weren’t good enough to overcome Savage’s fatal mistakes that night.

On Sunday, they again played hard against Tennessee. They were down to two healthy receivers and one tight end. They could not run the football. They simply do not have enough talent on the field to overcome any mistakes at all -- like missed field goals or allowing untimely sacks. But the effort is there. So, too, is the playcalling. Those things are on O’Brien. It was on display in a 16-play drive that took over eight minutes in the third quarter. Shorthanded, with awkward personal packages, O’Brien’s team marched down the field... And missed another field goal. It’s hard to win football games when you do that. They dodged a bullet on the play before when Savage threw into heavy coverage. O’Brien can’t make that throw for him. Or make the kick. Of course, Tennessee marched down the field after the miss and took a 17-10 lead. The Texans needed to be perfect, and they had too many penalties -- including three straight false starts on fourth down on the final drive -- and missed field goals to beat a team like Tennessee. They were as good as they could be with what they had on the field, and they came up short. Even with Savage having the best game of his career -- 31 of 49 for 365 yards and a touchdown -- the Texans just weren't good enough. Savage only had one interception, and it came throwing into double coverage in the end zone on simply a bad decision. 

That’s not on O’Brien, no matter what crap he spews in the postgame presser. The Texans were in the game with less than two minutes to play. And then Savage made another mistake, and the Titans added a late touchdown run to ice the game.

O'Brien should return next season. And he should get a chance to coach Watson for a full year. Yes, he is the one who insisted Savage can play. That, and all the reasons above are why he should not be given an extension.  It is one of the worst arguments in the world that a coach in the last year of his contract can’t be effective because assistants are worried about their jobs and players won’t listen. It is a results-based business. Everyone should constantly be worried. Players have contract years; coaches should too. And if O’Brien can do a good job again next season when he has his team healthy, he will get paid somewhere.

And he should. That’s how things ought to work. But he deserves the opportunity to earn that contract. And that means coming back next season. That should be a no-brainer.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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