It's time to give Bill O'Brien some credit
The Texans are now 6-3 after beating the Jags 26-3 in one of the London games this past Sunday morning. They're also in first place in the AFC South since the Colts laid an egg against the Broncos. Despite injuries on both sides of the ball, this team appears to be hitting their stride, and it's coming at the most critical juncture of the season. They're off this coming week, but get the Ravens in Baltimore, then the Colts come to town for a Thursday Night Football showdown, followed by the Patriots coming to NRG for a Sunday Night Football game. This is like facing the heart of a baseball lineup with the bases loaded and nobody out.
Some may feel that this team is in real trouble, and they wouldn't be wrong to feel that way given this team's history and penchant for folding in crunch time. There are also many, including myself, that feel as if this team has a shot to win two of these three games or bare minimum perform well enough to be considered a tough out in the AFC playoff picture. As strange as it may sound coming from someone who's bashed Bill O'Brien in the past, I believe he's a big reason why I feel they have a shot and here's why:
Over the last five games, the Texans are averaging 32 points per game. They are 4-1 in that stretch with the lone loss coming to the Colts in Indy by a touchdown. The offensive line and wide receiving corps have both had injuries derail the depth. Next man up mentality has seemed to work since other guys have stepped up and played well enough. I'm assuming O'Brien is still calling all or most of the plays because he's too much of a control freak to allow anyone else to do so. The plays being called are accentuating the players talents. Most notably...
Deshaun Watson has benefitted from the play calling
Watson is an amazing talent. He does something every game it seems that makes you wonder "how the hell did he do that?!?" Since O'Brien has opened things up, Watson has looked more and more like an MVP candidate. The guys calling the London game for NFL Network pointed out that all the plays were looking the same. Not that they were running the same plays, but if the defense sees the same type of play but get a different one, how can they possibly defend it? Watson runs the RPO (run pass option) stuff masterfully. He's also a wizard when it comes to escaping pressure and making something out of nothing. Things look promising if this keeps up.
GM O'Brien may have found some diamonds in the rough
I know this is a sore subject for some, but hear me out. Carlos Hyde, Kenny Stills, Duke Johnson, and Garreon Conley have all played well. Granted, sometimes some of these guys have made fans want to pull their hair out. Good thing I don't have on my head because I would've done so a few times. Losing Lamar Miller was thought to be a death warrant for the run game considering he didn't have a backup. Hyde and Johnson have filled in admirably. Stills was thought of as a throw in on the Laremy Tunsil trade. One could argue he's been the better player given Tunsil's affinity for penalties. Conley has had his ups and downs in his short time here, but should look a lot better once Bradley Roby and Tashuan Gipson are expected back soon. The jury is still out on GM O'Brien and is still leaning towards a guilty verdict. If these guys can continue to perform at a high level, GM O'Brien would be able to breathe a bit easier.
I'm not the kind of person to refuse admitting I'm wrong. In the sporting world, I actually don't mind and welcome being wrong. Especially when it comes to a local team I write about like the Texans. O'Brien has, and most likely will continue to, get heat from me. Right now, he's earned the right to be given credit for the streak of offensive ouput the team is on. Sure, he's got one of the best receivers and best young quarterbacks in the game, but the offensive line and the running backs were both thrown together last minute. The defense traded away one of the more dynamic players before the season started, lost JJ Watt last week for the season, and have continued to march out randoms in the defensive backfield. All that being said, they still have managed to stay more than competitive. I will hold off on crowning O'Brien until he wins more than a first round playoff game against a hapless Bengals team. Try beating the Patriots in the playoffs and/or making an AFC Championship game. If he brings a Super Bowl to Houston, he's going to have carte blanche forever. Let's not get ahead of ourselves though. He's got more work to do. But for now, let's give him credit where it's due.