Why this key to the Texans' success deserves more attention
One of the underreported story lines of the 2020 Texans season is the team will be going with rookie co-ordinators on both sides of the ball. Play-calling is a specific skill; good coaches put their players in the best chance to succeed. If they execute, the play works. If not? That's not always on the coach.
But what do we really know about new OC Tim Kelly and DC Anthony Weaver?
Kelly was in on play calling last year, and theoretically will take it on full-time this season. But we should not expect a lot to be different. Kelly is a Bill O'Brien protege and the system should not change much on that side of the ball. The personnel should be there for the Texans to have a very good offense. The more interesting hire is on the other side of the ball.
The Texans did this two years ago, promoting Romeo Crennel to Assistant Head Coach and making Mike Vrabel DC. It was a mixed bag. The team was 28th in passing yards allowed, but third against the run and 12th overall, and Vrabel has since gone on to have success as head coach of the Titans. Crennel returned last year, and the defense was worse, finishing 19th in points allowed, 29th in passing yards allowed, 25th in rushing yards allowed and 28th overall in yards allowed. Instead of going with a proven name to replace Crennel, O'Brien chose Weaver.
Once again, Crennel is assistant head coach, with Weaver taking over the defense. Weaver is highly regarded, but until he actually starts calling plays, what do we really know?
Crennel, for one, thinks Weaver will do a good job.
"Anthony is a smart young man," Crennel said. "He really is. He's organized. He's thoughtful. That's the thing that I kind of look at. I know that he's a good football coach because I've seen him coach his position. They do very well. He relates to the players and they relate to him. So now, it's to the point about game planning, putting in a system and then getting the players to buy into that system so that it can be a productive group. I see that occurring and taking place and I feel good about what he brings to the table. So, so we'll find out. That's the thing about football, you get a chance to find out how things work. I think with what I've seen so far, I think that he'll do a very good job." (quote via Houston Texans PR transcript)
And maybe he will. Coaches have to get a start somewhere. But the personnel might not be good enough. Counting on J.J. Watt to stay healthy this late in his career is iffy, and without Watt, there is very little pass rush, which puts pressure on a secondary that is mediocre at best. Can Weaver get more pressure on the passer? Can his secondary hold up? Those are things that might not be in his control. But if you can't stop the pass in this league, there will be struggles. And if you can't stop the run or the pass, which was the issue last year? The 10-6 record was almost a miracle.
The offense should be what we are used to seeing; a top 15 or so unit that at times is explosive and at others impotent. But how far the Texans go this season will depend on improved play on the other side of the ball, and Weaver has been tasked with that job. If he can improve that group, then there is reason for optimism.
It certainly will be hard for them to be worse.