The right man?

Fred Faour: Texans have a lot of questions, but no one is talking about the biggest one

It's time for Bill O'Brien to prove himself. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

As the Texans navigate their way through the early stages of camp, the big stories and question marks are obvious.

Can the revamped offensive line perform at an even mediocre level?

Do they have enough a running back if D’Onta Foreman is not ready to start the season?

Can J.J. Watt return to any semblance of his former self?

Will the rebuilt secondary help the Texans improve on last season’s defensive disaster?

And, most importantly, can Deshaun Watson stay healthy and perform at a level close to what we saw in his brief but magical run last season?

Fair questions all, and each has been and will continue to be debated until the season begins and likely beyond.

But perhaps the biggest question -- and one that seems to be flying under the radar -- involves the head coach, Bill O’Brien. Actually, it’s more than one question. Is he even the right man for the job? Can he improve some obvious holes in his game? And perhaps most critical -- is he even a good coach?

O’Brien’s record in four years is 31-33. Last year’s 4-12 disaster skewered the results somewhat after three straight 9-7 marks, but a four-year sample size is fair enough. O’Brien defenders will point to the revolving door at quarterback, which is fair, but he hand picked all of those players.

He came to town with a reputation as an offensive guru, yet his offenses have ranked 17th, 19th, 29th and 20th in yards, respectively. While not an all-inclusive stat, it still matches up with the other relevant offensive stats. Essentially, under O’Brien, the Texans have not even had an average NFL season offensively, ranging from slightly below league average to downright awful.

In addition, his game management has often left a lot to be desired. Conservative playcalling late cost the Texans potential wins against New England and Seattle last season, and that has been a common theme throughout his career.

His hires -- a major part of being a head coach -- have been dicey as well. Romeo Crennel was a terrific pickup at defensive coordinator, but “promoting” him last season so that Mike Vrabel could become DC was an unmitigated disaster. The Texans were lucky the Titans hired Vrabel to be head coach, because they could erase their mistake by bringing back Crennel.

Special teams have been awful every year. And George Godsey had to be jettisoned as a sacrificial lamb as offensive coordinator since O’Brien could not fire himself.

And yes, injuries certainly have played a part, but his reputation as a guy who could develop quarterbacks has been pure fiction.

In public he comes off as an arrogant, stand-offish bully, and he hardly paints a picture of stability. Those close to O’Brien say he is not like that, but his public displays scream otherwise.

Throw in all the leaked stories from his camp about other teams being interested in him to instigate a power struggle with former GM Rick Smith, and there really isn’t much positive to say about the man in charge.

Yet his offense under Watson was amazing, and gave the impression of what could be this season, hence a contract extension. He also has a new general manager in place that he is presumably on the same page with. He won his power struggle, and now is out of excuses.

Coaches, like players, can grow and develop. So far, O’Brien has shown little of that. Giving the defense back to Crennel should help on that side of the ball. Hiring yet another special teams coach may or may not help. Improved playcalling and game management in critical situations by O'Brien himself is a must for the Texans to be successful. This season will be critical for O'Brien to prove he is more than just talk and fake reputation and can be the coach Texans fans hope he can become.

Having said all that, coaches and quarterbacks get too much blame for poor performances and too much credit for wins. If Watson is what he showed us, he can cover up a lot of O’Brien’s failings.

If not, can O’Brien cover up Watson’s?

That might be the biggest question facing these Texans in 2018, and one no one is talking about. 

 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF O'BRIEN'S COACHING

Not my job: Texans no match for the Ravens

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Texans fell to the Ravens 33-16 in a game they had a shot at winning. Most of you reading this will probably think I'm crazy for saying that. I assure you, I meant what I said. One of the reasons they didn't was because Bill O'Brien made a few questionable decisions that cost this team.

The first was the 4th & 1 decision. Deciding to go for it was bad enough. They were down 3-0 near the end of the first quarter with the ball on their own 34-yard line. This is not a situation that calls for a gamble or statement play. The play call itself was okay I guess: a play action bootleg with two short options. It was read and played perfectly by the Ravens defense. Deshaun Watson had nowhere to go with the ball and had to throw it at Darren Fells' back before getting sacked. That led to a quick Ravens touchdown and an early 10-0 deficit. I seriously think he has PTSD after that playoff loss to the Chiefs when it comes to fourth down calls. Bumbling Bill strikes again!

When they got the ball back, they scored a touchdown thanks to more play action passes and pre-snap motion. It was as if Bumbling Bill realized his offensive line was outmatched by the front seven they're opposing. Sure Watson is mobile and looks like a magician escaping sacks, but misdirection helps throw the defense off and keeps Watson from breaking into 177,000,000 pieces. Oh, and the quick reads were a good idea as well. Too bad Bumbling Bill went away from that and opted for longer developing routes. Or will he blame it on Timid Tim Kelly? Or was Waiting Watson holding onto the ball too long? I blame all three.

Also, can we stop starting drives with the predictable run, run, pass combo please? First down should be play action rollout with Watson having the ability to choose to run if it's there. More run/pass/option plays need to be called as well. Incorporate more things that we saw when Watson was on his way to winning rookie of the year before his knee was sacrificed for the Astros.

Credit where it's due: the end of the first half to get a field goal with a minute and change left was good to see. Typically, these situations tend to make Bumbling Bill come out. I liked the quick slant to Cobb with no timeouts. They were able to spike the ball and get the field goal up.

The game was still within reach at 23-13 in the beginning of the fourth quarter. On a 4th & 1, they gave up a 30 yard touchdown run on a direct snap to Mark Ingram. I saw gaps on both sides of the defensive line pre-snap. Sure enough, Ingram got a lead block from the Ravens human plough of a fullback and that effectively put the nail in the coffin at 30-13. I know the tendency is to quarterback sneak or run up the middle, but don't leave gaps along the defensive line trying to stack the middle. First time defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver will take the L on this one.

Overall, I'll give O'Brien and his coaching staff a C- this game. Mistakes were made that could've cost them a legit shot at winning, but the Keke Coutee fumble return for a touchdown wasn't their fault. The play calling menu was brought to us this week by Craft Pita via the "What's Eric Eating" podcast. Tune in next week for another "Not my job!"

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