Once again, O'Brien turtles up in the biggest moments
Let's start with the obvious: Deshaun Watson did not play well in the Texans 27-20 loss to the Patriots. His accuracy was off, his timing was off, and he completed just half of his passes in 34 attempts for only 176 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a bad fumble on the first play of the game. He stayed in the pocket too long, and rarely used his legs to make plays. Perhaps it was just rust, perhaps the knee injury is still impacting him, but he did not look good.
He also got no help from his coach. Stop us if you have heard this before:
Bill O'Brien once again showed questionable decision making in terms of clock management, play calling and scheme. His game management skills have been below average since Day 1. The season opener showed nothing different.
Most fans were focused on O'Brien failing to call timeout on what may or may not have been a Gronk catch before the half. O'Brien trotted out one of his "It's not my job" quotes. In this case it was “It’s not my job to call a timeout there to make (the officials’) job easier.”
Um, OK Bill. If you say so. But it IS your job to call plays. And you did a bang-up job of that. Commentator Tony Romo did everything but eviscerate O'Brien's playcalling through the game. There were too many instances to list them all. But a series in the third quarter was a microcosm of O'Brien's tenure and showed his lack of playcalling ability and game management skills on two key plays.
With just over nine minutes left in the game, the Texans had a third and five at the New England 17, trailing 24-6. They took a shot at the end zone. Incomplete. They decided to go for it on fourth and five. Questionable, but defendable with the right play call. Instead, another shot at the end zone. Incomplete. In fairness, Ryan Griffin was open, and Watson missed him, as he did receivers throughout the game. Knowing that, however, why call that play? Run a high percentage play designed to get the first down. If you really know what you are doing, run a play on third down that could either convert or make the fourth-down play easier; don't go for the end zone.
It felt like O'Brien just decided in the moment to go for it on fourth, however, and did not think ahead on third down. No surprise there. This has been a staple of the O'Brien era. As has giving up points at the end of the half with questionable -- you guessed it -- play calling and game management.
Hey, sometimes you can be wrong and it works. He also decided to punt down two TDs with just over four minutes left. He got bailed out when the Patriots muffed the punt, leading to the Texans final TD. But it was still a bad decision.
And of course, as is often the case, the Texans' nonchalant approach to the clock late in the game wasted over a minute and gave them no shot at the end. They have no concept of a hurry up offense.
To be fair, they really should not have been in the game at that point, but you have to do everything you can to give yourself a shot once you are in that position. When the margin of error is at its smallest, so is O'Brien.
The reality is the Patriots were the better team throughout. And they will always have a better coach. But O'Brien's approach hurt his team's chances. You would hope in Year 5 we would have seen a change. But how many times have we seen him do these exact same things?
The Texans have enough talent to be competitive in 2018. Watson needs to be better and less stiff. They need to generate more pass rush. Kevin Johnson needs to be left in the locker room for the rest of his life. But the bright side is they were competitive on the road against the best team in the AFC despite not playing very well.
Or, as usual, coaching very well.