JOEL BLANK

Is it time to start changing your opinion of Bill O'Brien?

Bill O'Brien deserves some credit for the win streak. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Look, I have been as critical as just about anyone in this market about the short comings of Bill O' Brien and let's face it, he has been an easy target. From clock management, to timeout usage, play calling and challenge flag issues, he has offered up more than enough ammunition for media types and fans to tee off on.

Then there was the contract extension that no one felt was timely or necessary, as well as the highly publicized internal strife between Rick Smith and his head coach for all those mediocre seasons, bad drafts and disappointing playoff defeats. All of that and more led to fans outraged and calling for O'Brien's ouster at the end of this season and the fire was fueled to towering inferno levels when the team started 0-3 and were written off for dead by everyone in the football world.

Lo and behold, after nine straight wins that absolutely no one saw coming and a firm grasp on the AFC South that comes with a guaranteed spot in the playoffs, I ask you,  is it time to start to reconsider our evaluation and opinion of B.O.B.?

I realize that as this streak started and as it progressed on a game by game basis, there were plenty of flaws, calls and mishaps that led to people questioning how good this team really was and if luck was the biggest factor in the team racking up some consecutive wins.

But with each win and every passing week, there was no denying that this team was improving and making progress as they learned from their mistakes and close calls and didn't get too drunk on their own Kool Aid to let over confidence outduel the momentum that success creates.

Everyone knows and understands that it is the players who deserve a majority of the credit, but the coaches' scheme and game plan and in some cases motivate less than exceptional position groups to overachieve and reach new levels of success.

The Texans' offensive line comes to mind in that regard. The man that oversees all of those groups while calling the plays and making crucial in-game decisions is Billy O. As quick as we all were to point fingers and place the blame on the guy in charge of football operations when it looked like they had hit rock bottom, we all need to start to reconsider our critiques and give credit where credit is due for the incredible, season saving turnaround and nine straight wins.

After all, this is the NFL and wins don't come easy. In the case of the Cleveland Browns, some seasons they may not come at all. A team can only control what they have in front of them; they play the games on the schedule and take care of everything on their sidelines, locker room and front office. Everything else is out of their control and can't be included in the grading game. Coaches decisions on fourth down, missed field goals and less than stellar performances by backup quarterbacks are not your problem or concern; wins and losses are.

The reality of it all is Bill O'Brien is a leading candidate for NFL Coach of the Year and we all need to take a step back and recognize, he may be growing up and maturing as a head coach in this league right before our eyes and right after snatching a division title right out of the jaws of an absolute disaster of a start. Never has being wrong felt so right for Texan fans everywhere. 


 

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Keep an eye on Alex Bowman this weekend. Image via: Wiki Commons.

For the first time since July 1984, NASCAR returns to one of its most popular cities in Nashville, Tennessee for the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Super Speedway. This track is a 1 1/3rd mile concrete oval that was dormant for nearly ten years and was only used as a testing facility. So it came as a bit of a surprise last season when it was announced that this track would be getting a date. For a lot of drivers, this will be a brand new racetrack, but we will see practice and qualifying, so that will be a huge help for the newcomers that haven't raced here before. Back when the Xfinity and Trucks ran here, this track featured a lot of first time winners. Back in 2008, future NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski shocked the world by jumping in Dale Jr's car and capturing his first win here. There will be a lot of veterans like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick who have plenty of experience at this track, but it will be tough to compare. It should be fun with everyone coming into this race with minimal knowledge.

Last week, Kyle Larson continued his hot streak by winning the All-Star Race. Overall, while Larson and his Hendrick teammates probably enjoyed the race, the feedback from crews and fans was less than positive. As I was walking through the garage area and talking to a few crew members, a lot of them were very critical of the 450 horsepower motor and the tall spoiler to try and keep the cars bunched up. When I asked one of the crew-members what he thought about the package he told me, "Oh it's awful. The track is terrible, the package makes it impossible to pass and it's super hot out here." On green flag runs, it was the same as it ever was as the lead car would pretty much take off and the only time there was really any "pack racing" it came after there were restarts. The whole race was well-intentioned and the fans showed up as it was nearly a capacity crowd, but the whole thing just didn't make any sense. From the start time being in the nearly 100 degree heat to the wacky full-field invert at the end of each stage. Let's hope that next season's All-Star Race is a lot more concise.

In Silly Season news this week, Truck Series regulars GMS racing announced that they would be fielding a full-time cup series team. The team is currently owned by Allegiant Airlines CEO Maurice Gallagher and his son, Spencer, who used to drive for them in the Xfinity Series. This move seemed to come from out of nowhere as there was never any indication that this was a move they were exploring anytime soon after they turned down the opportunity to purchase Furniture Row Racing in 2019. This is certainly a great sight for the sport as there will be more new teams on the track and with their close relationship with Chevy, it wouldn't be a surprise if they step in and help this team become competitive. The favorite to drive their car has to be 2020 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed. He has easily been their best driver in trucks, and it would make the most sense for him to get the promotion.

This week at Nashville, the driver that I have winning is Alex Bowman. Now while this is a brand new racetrack and he has a grand total of zero starts here, this track suits his driving style perfectly. With the inclusion of this track, there are now four tracks with a concrete surface. Nashville, Bristol, Dover and Martinsville. At the three of the tracks they have run at, he has shown a lot of speed, including a victory at Dover this season and a top ten finish at Bristol. This is also a track where crew-chief Greg Ives said Bowman has gravitated towards during testing. In an interview with Sirius XM Ives was quoted as saying "we used to have a lot of fun testing there," so this is clearly a track that they both enjoy going to. Another big factor going into Sunday will be just how fast these Hendrick Motorsports cars are, they have finished 1-2 over the last four points races. He has watched his teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have immense success, and now this week I think he is due for a third win of the season. Look for the bright purple #48 Chevy to go to victory lane this week at Nashville.

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