Where is the trust level in the Texans head coach and how can the team recovery from the KC collapse

O'Brien, Texans at franchise crossroads

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

3 Headlines, 2 Questions, 1 Bet as the Texans hit the offseason after an embarrasing loss to Kansas City.

No trust in Bill O'Brien after this

Deshaun Watson may trust him but I don't.

This loss to the Chiefs hit pretty much every spot on the Bill O'Brien bad bingo card. Timeout when they couldn't get a critical 3rd and 9 ready? Check. Timeout when he thought he might have had a first down but it was fourth down and the play wasn't in soon enough? Check. Lacked aggressiveness? Check. Overly aggressive at wrong time? Check. Offense falls apart? Check. Defense isn't instructed to try something new? Check. Weird trick play when you NEED a score? Check. Quarterback has to tell you to not punt and go for it in the fourth quarter? Check.

Bingo.

Unfortunately for Texans fans the prize is another season of Bill O'Brien in control. Every single team in the AFC South has played for an AFC Championship since Bill O'Brien took over as the head coach. His former defensive coordinator is coaching for a trip to the Super Bowl this week. One of his best friends went two years ago.

Each of the past two season the other AFC South team has gone deeper than O'Brien's Texans. And each of them had a tougher road to go further than the Texans did.

O'Brien said after the game yesterday he believed the team was headed in the right direction. Nobody agrees with that.

After talking about just Sunday, lets not forget O'Brien authored a less impressive offense this year despite having a far more talented group of players. They faced less stud quarterbacks than 2018 and somehow had less wins. Houston had a great opportunity to at least threaten for a bye, alas they weren't even playing meaningful football in Week 17.

There's no reason to believe in Bill O'Brien's future as the head coach of the Texans. We just saw the best it gets and it is ugly.

No general manager expected for Texans

Bill O'Brien said he doesn't expect to fire himself. Essentially. I have to imagine the ownership wouldn't make that discussion a lengthy one if they were planning on changing things. Perhaps in his upcoming meeting with ownership it isn't out of the question they suggest a general manager but don't hold your breath.

New direction on defense necessary 

I laid it out on SportsMap Sunday

The problem with moving on from Romeo Crennel is I'm not sure who Bill O'Brien would target. The one year Crennel wasn't the defensive coordinator O'Brien promoted Mike Vrabel to that position. John Pagano has been a two-time defensive coordinator in the NFL with stops coordinating the Chargers and Raiders previously. I believe he will be the new defensive coordinator next year.

Anthony Weaver will one day be a defensive coordinator but I don't expect he would earn the promotion. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to see him move to a more prominent position with another team.

John Butler was O'Brien's defensive coordinator at Penn State and coached defensive backs for him in Houston. He had a messy exit from the Texans though and I wouldn't anticipate he is a possible option.

The New England tree has been picked over quite a bit too. With multiple defensive signal callers from the Patriots now head coaches elsewhere the pool of former Patriots staffers that could be ready to call defense is low.

George Edwards is a free agent after Minnesota moved on from him. He coordinated a regularly impressive Vikings defense and his Vikings exit came as a bit of a surprise. This would include a big scheme change but after nearly a decade running the 3-4 defense something new wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

What would O'Brien give up?

"I think you have to look at everything," Bill O'Brien said about potentially relinquishing some of his duties.

He can't keep doing it the way he is doing it. There is too much on O'Brien's plate. Just can't stay at the same pace. He needs someone to call plays for him. If I could make one change for O'Brien it would be that. Have someone call the plays for the offense and improve at the small details of being a head coach.

If an offensive whiz coordinated for O'Brien he would be more in tune with the flow of the game and perhaps make less mistakes.

I'm not the owner but I would make O'Brien hire someone to take some things off his plate.

Will Watson and Tunsil get paid?

Both of the Texans stars can get new deals this offseason. Tunsil likely would eclipse Lane Johnson's number in Philadelphia or come damn close, and Deshaun Watson would reset the market.

I anticipate Watson trying to wait out fellow 2017 draft pick Patrick Mahomes. Watson hasn't had as good of a career and isn't as good as Mahomes but he is more necessary to the Texans.

I bet the Texans are thankful for this news

Stay tuned for SportMap's analysis.

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The numbers show a concerning trend. Composite image by Brandon Strange

Michael Brantley signed a two-year, $30M deal with the Houston Astros prior to 2019 to little fanfare. The then 32 year-old was coming off of yet another injury riddled season with the Cleveland Indians, and the signing was seen as a safe gamble (if there is such a thing). Brantley would produce if healthy, but would he ever be healthy?

Brantley went on to have two of the healthiest seasons of his career, putting up big numbers for the Astros. Across two seasons, Brantley slashed .309/.370/.497 with a 134 wRC+. The Astros got the best version of Brantley, who had slashed .295/.351/.430 with a 114 wRC+ during his tenure with the Indians.

Brantley is set to hit the market once again, and the Astros face a couple of questions. One, is Brantley worth bringing back? Two, is Brantley worth a qualifying offer?

Hard Hit % - 37.3%

Barrel % - 4.9%

K % - 15%

BB % - 9.1%

Chase % - 20.1%

(All numbers from 2020)

Brantley's greatest skill is controlling the strike zone. He forces pitchers to come to him, and he's only getting better at it. His chase % was the best of his career, and it was 6% better than his 26% mark in 2019. Brantley was t-19th in MLB in chase % with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Yasmani Grandal. Brantley combines this enviable level of plate discipline with another enviable trait: he doesn't swing and miss. His 16.4% whiff % was in the 93rd percentile of MLB. By comparison, Acuña and Grandal were in the 29th and 26th percentiles respectively. Those two don't chase often because they keyhole one spot that they know they can drive. Brantley forces pitchers to come in the zone similar to those two, but he usually doesn't swing and miss when the pitchers do come to him.

However, there are some alarming trends for a hitter now well onto the wrong side of 30.

His 15% K% was the highest it's been since 2011, when he was a 24-year-old in his first full big league season. It was a 4.6% increase in K% over last season. Brantley's 16% whiff % is far and away the worst it's been in his career, and it's 5.6% worse than it was in 2019. That 5.6% is the difference between swinging-and-missing the second least in MLB and swinging-and-missing the 11th least. That's a steep drop over one season. Remember, Brantley chased pitches outside the zone the least he ever had in his career. That increase in whiff % mostly came on strikes. His contact % on strikes dropped 4.8% from 2019.

A big indicator of age is the inability to catch up with the fastball. Brantley's 13.2% whiff rate against fastballs in 2020 was the worst it's been in his career. The second worst? 7.5% back in 2011. On the surface, Brantley performed fine on fastballs in 2020. He batted .295 with a .438 SLG against them. But it gets a little uglier just one level deeper. Brantley's xBA on fastballs was .242. His xSLG was .410.

Compared to his 2019 performance against fastballs, it was quite the downturn. Brantley batted .320 against fastballs in 2019 with a .311 xBA. He slugged .501 with a xSLG of .506. Lastly, Brantley had an 89.3 average exit velocity on fastballs in 2019 compared to 87.4 in 2020. The downturn in fastball productivity is alarming.

Brantley performed great against breaking balls and offspeed pitches in 2020, but once pitchers realize that he can't stay on the fastball like he used to, Brantley will be setup for failure, not success.

Brantley doesn't run well either. His average sprint speed of 26.2 ft/s was in the 34th percentile in MLB. Brantley did perform well defensively by nearly every metric, but he was in the 39th percentile in outfielder jump. He really can't afford a downturn defensively, and with Yordan Alvarez returning as the full time DH next season, they won't have the ability to give Brantley the occasional day off his legs at DH

The qualifying offer has been set at $18.9M for the 2020 offseason. Considering Houston's lack of draft picks due to their punishment for technological sign-stealing, recouping some of that draft capital would be helpful for the club. $18.9M would represent a $3.9M raise for Brantley, which is exactly the price of not being able to bring back Brad Peacock.

It's unlikely that Brantley will regress so quickly that he'll be unplayable in 2021. He will likely be a productive ballplayer. Considering that the Astros can afford to pay the raise in salary if he accepts the qualifying offer, it is worth giving it to him. If he declines the QO, however, it isn't worth giving him a multi-year deal. There are too many signs of regression, and anything more than one year is a risk. If Brantley demands a multi-year deal, the Astros should let him walk and take the draft pick compensation.

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