TIME FOR A CHANGE?

Should it be the end for Bill O’Brien and Rick Smith?

RIck Smith and Bill O'Brien's jobs should be in jeopardy. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Originally appeard on Houstonsportsandstuff.com

A lot of assertions have been made about why the Texans are in such a state of disarray this year but I believe the biggest is the leadership at the top. That’s right, I believe Bill O’Brien and Rick Smith are to blame. I know that gets said every year the Texans fail to live up to their potential but this year has to be the one that forces a shake up. And I believe this time it has less to do with the play on the field and more to do with the players on the field doing it.

The Texans have a roster full of superstar talent at nearly every impact position and have had injuries to the majority of them. But in spite of those injuries, several of their nine losses have been competitive games at a point that the Texans could have turned it to their favor. They didn’t and not always for the same reason. Some of those loses were the result of bad play calling and game management by the head coach, and some were the result of having players on the field that shouldn’t have been there.

This will be the first losing season for O’Brien in his four years as head coach. Competitive games in the absence of key players is a big argument for keeping him around, but it’s the only reason. The talent drop off from the injured starters is a reflection of his eye for talent and his play calling was only really good when Deshaun Watson was the quarterback.

But not all of this is Bill O’Brien’s fault. Rick Smith has done extremely well drafting talent in the first round of the draft. Stars like DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, and Deshaun Watson make a healthy Texans team a serious threat. He also addded other talented players like Benardrick McKinney, Nick Martin, Lamar Miller, and Zach Cunningham. But identifying areas of need and hashing out a plan to fill them has been his biggest weakness every offseason and this should be the year that owner Bob McNair says it’s over.

The result of this season should be the reason to say enough is enough. Yes, Bill O’Brien has coached the Texans into position to win almost every week, but most of the nine losses can be placed on his shoulders. When he put Deshaun Watson in as the starter in Week 2 it was to correct his mistake in the Week 1 loss. Against the Patriots in Week 3 he failed to call a timeout in the final seconds that might have given them a chance to tie the game. After Watson’s injury before Week 9 and the subsequent loss to the Colts; his continued reliance on Tom Savage to play quarterback has been the biggest coaching error. Game management is a big part of his job and he failed to do it. Talent evaluation is another and Savage should have been replaced as soon as possible.

In the 2017 offseason the Texans had obvious need on the offensive line but didn’t sign any legitimate free agents or use high draft picks to bolster the roster. In addition; an aging secondary wasn’t given any help. Instead, A.J. Bouye was allowed to walk after his breakout 2016 campaign and the Texans were left with only unproven and injury prone players to replace him. Special teams has always been a weakness but in the middle of the draft where those contributors are found, the Texans have more misses than hits.

It’s hard to say if any team could win a lot of games with this many injuries, but if they were non-competitive it would make more sense. You can watch just about every loss and find at least one specific play that cost the Texans a chance to win. I know some of this may reinforce your belief that the current regime should keep their jobs, but I think it’s the reason they should go.

If the offensive line were better, maybe some of those strip sacks don’t happen and the running game is better when they need it to be. If they had addressed the need in the secondary maybe they wouldn’t be 26th in passing yards allowed. If Tom Savage hadn’t been on the field for the six games since Watson’s injury he wouldn’t have had the chance to turn the ball over 14 times.

But this isn’t just a one season assessment. Do you remember the big contracts given to Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, and Brock Osweiler? Remember when they could have drafted Derek Carr but chose Xavier Su’a-Filo? Remember when the Patriots beat the Texans 27-0 with a third string quarterback? Or maybe that 30-0 home playoff loss to Kansas City? There has been a long list of moments throughout the tenures of Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien that have left the team at a disadvantage.

While I don’t think they are the worst at their jobs, I wonder how much longer should they be rewarded for mediocrity. Every year the roster has big holes and every year they lose at least a couple of games they could have won with better decisions from the sideline. This year’s losing record brought about by poor talent acquisition and poor roster management could give way to a new GM and head coach without too many questions asked.

And I don’t really buy the “Who is available that is better?” or “You could hire someone worse” arguments. The superstars on this roster have a lot of potential and there shouldn’t be a problem attracting talented people to be the new GM and head coach. But this is just one man’s opinion.

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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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