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.

J.J. Watt is headed for illustrious but strange company

Maximize opportunity before Watt gets wasted

Houstontexans.com

Thursday the reality of what J.J. Watt is facing really hit me. The Houston Chronicle reported Watt had a minor offseason knee surgery. The last three years prove he's far from immortal, though the once incredible career is back on track. For how long, no one knows. Then I finally realized it.

J.J. Watt is on pace to be the greatest defensive player to never play for a conference championship or a Super Bowl.

I started digging into the lists of the all-time great defenders and the best pass rushers in the game's history. Most of the players who would easily be considered a great on defense have at the very least won a Lombardi. If they haven't won the big trophy they've either played or been one game away.

Two names stick out on the all-time greats list. Deacon Jones played three postseason games all in the divisional round. Dick Butkus never played in the postseason. You have to go to 24th all-time in sacks, Pat Swilling with 107.5, to find a sack leader who hasn't at least played in a conference championship or better.

It's a line on almost every great's resume and Watt's missing it.

Watt's only 30 sacks away from the top 20 in career sacks. His three defensive player of the year awards in four years cemented an era of dominance rarely matched in NFL history. He will put on the gold jacket one day. It would be bittersweet to find himself among those greats having never played in a game with that level of importance.

Unless he plays in one.

Brian Gaine and Bill O'Brien can't mess this up or they will be accessories to a sports crime: cementing Watt's place as the all-time great without a huge game to his name. The Texans enter one of the most important offseasons in franchise history. They have to find a way to protect Deshaun Watson as he's the key to making sure Watt's schedule pushes beyond 16 games each year. It's no easy task, but go do it. Make the defense's job just a little easier with some powerful offense.

Give Watt and company just a second more too with better secondary play. Help him out with a better pass rush next to him and not just opposite him. There's so many things the Texans have to get right with their massive cap space and three picks in the top two rounds.

It won't all be Gaine and O'Brien's fault if they don't do it, however they have a chance, with Watson and the rest of this team, to make sure a truly significant game appears on the schedule for Watt. Just one conference championship appearance, then, who knows. Maybe the big one and the Lombardi trophy.

Now here's a thought that will shake all Texans fans.

If the Texans don't nail it this offseason and show the next few seasons they're not legit threats, maybe Watt fills the hole in his distinguished career elsewhere. Reggie White left in his 30's. DeMarcus Ware found glory with the Broncos after a long Cowboys career. It isn't unheard of to see one franchise's legend don another team's colors.

I'm not sure what would hurt Texans fans more. Knowing Watt never played in the biggest games with the Texans or seeing him get to one of those games with another team. It's the hope neither of those things happen. There are almost never happy endings in football, but Watt's story deserves one or more of those chapters.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome