FRED FAOUR

Once again, O'Brien turtles up in the biggest moments

Hey Bill, call a timeout perhaps? Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

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.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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