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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Everyone else is doing it! Composite image by Jack Brame.

Can a professional athlete come up with a worse excuse for getting caught using performance-enhancing drugs than blaming it on a doctor?

Fans would have more respect for a player if he said the dog ate his urine test results.

Texans wide receiver Will Fuller V (as in I'm taking the Fifth) and cornerback Bradley Roby have been suspended after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Both will sit out for the remaining five games of the 2020 season, plus the first game of the 2021 season.

There were many questions about Fuller heading into Year 5 of his NFL career. Up until 2020, his tenure in the NFL has been plagued with injuries, and some Texans fans clamored for him to be swapped before the 2020 trade deadline. Fuller was having his best season, and the Texans decided to keep him. In fact, Deshaun Watson said the team would've revolted if Fuller had been moved. In 11 games, Fuller has 53 receptions for 879 yards and eight touchdowns.

I'm going to cut Bradley Roby some slack because he took ownership for using a banned substance. He made it clear that it was his responsibility to know what is on the NFL's list of banned PEDs. He will probably have that list taped on his fridge the rest of his NFL career.

Fuller took a different approach, one that unfortunately resembles many other famous athletes' excuses for getting caught with PEDs; Blame a medical professional. Or somebody, anybody else.

Whether Fuller and Roby were receiving treatment from the same medical professional is unknown. More important, it's irrelevant. In 2020, how could athletes possibly blame a medical professional when a list of banned substances is hanging on the wall in every team's training room?

The answer is they shouldn't. Let's take a look at athletes with the worst excuses for juicing. Specifically for getting caught juicing.

Rafael Palmeiro (MLB) - Other than a physician or trainer, the only person more improbable to blame for a positive steroid test is your own teammate. When Palmeiro tested positive in 2005, he blamed a supposed B-12 shot (it wasn't B-12) administered by Baltimore Orioles Miguel Tejada.

Brian Cushing (NFL) - Cushing played his entire NFL career with the Houston Texans. Cushing's first positive test came in 2009. He had abnormally high levels of human chorionic gonadotropin, a human growth hormone that typically shows up in pregnant women. He later changed his excuse to "overtraining." He has since claimed the positive test was a result of a cancerous tumor. He tested positive for PEDs again in 2017.

Maria Sharapova (Tennis) - Sharapova claimed she never read an email which listed the banned substance, meldonium, she was caught taking.

Barry Bonds (MLB) - When Bonds tested positive for PEDs in 2000 and 2001, he put all of the blame on San Francisco Giants trainer Greg Anderson. Bonds said Anderson told him that he was using flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil is not typically injected, and certainly doesn't lead to your hat size growing.

Lance Armstrong (Cycling) - Armstrong, after years of denial, admitted he used performance-enhancing drugs on an Opera Winfrey prime time special. His excuse? Every other cyclist was doing it. Oprah did not ask him if he would jump off the Brooklyn Bridge if the others did. How could anybody win seven Tour de France titles after surviving testicular cancer? They might as well have renamed the race Tour De Lance. His sad saga ended with him being stripped of his seven titles and banned for life.

Melky Cabrera (MLB) - Cabrera tested positive while playing for the San Francisco Giants in 2012. After his positive test, he paid a patsy $10,000 to create a fake website that sold fake products to try and fake his innocence. The FBI busted him and he served a real suspension.

LaShawn Merritt (Track & Field) - The famed American sprinter blamed his third positive steroid test on a testicular enlargement supplement called Extenze.

Petr Korda (Tennis) - Korda stated that his love for veal was the reason he tested positive for the steroid nandrolone. He went further saying he liked veal even more when the calf was injected with steroids. A scientist testified Korda would have to eat 40 calves every day for 20 years to equal the amount of nandrolone discovered in his system. Sounds like the Ivan Drago diet (from the first fight, when he killed Apollo Creed).

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