By Brien O’Donal
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 9 losses have been a competitive game 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 with 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 added 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. Bill O’Brien has coached the Texans into position to win almost every week, but most of the 9 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 Tom 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.