As head coach of the Houston Texans, Bill O'Brien has certainly rolled up his sleeves and muscled both hands firmly around the wheel of transformation in an effort to reshape the organization. With two NFL Drafts and one completed season in the books, we can clearly see the elements of the formula being applied.
It is often stated that the NFL is a "copycat league," where many teams attempt to replicate and adapt the systems and schemes of other teams who have shown consistent recent success. The strongest example of this is the famed "West Coast offense" from the Bill Walsh era. Over the course of time, 38 different NFL teams (some franchises did this more than once during different coaching eras) applied that playing style and philosophy to their offensive schemes, including your Houston Texans under the direction of head coach Gary Kubiak.
When looking back at the 2011 season, many of us often reminisce of what could have been a championship run for Houston under that popular offensive system before a certain someone destroyed Matt Schaub's foot in Tampa. That was likely the strongest roster the Texans had during the Kubiak era, but personnel changes, age and injury took their toll in the seasons that followed. Now Houston is rebuilding to become a completely different team. With what template and philosophy are they being modeled after?
When you consider that Bill O'Brien, Romeo Crennel, George Godsey and Mike Vrabel all experienced tremendous success during their time with the New England Patriots, there's good reason for them to apply similar philosophies in developing and managing this team. Over the last year, we have seen changes to how practice is conducted, how players are managed, new offensive and defensive systems installed, and the type of personnel they desire on the roster to achieve success.
While the offensive scheme is similar to the one used in New England, O'Brien has modified it and made it his own over time. It is also glaringly lacking something that the Patriots have...Tom Brady. Since one can't just run out to the elite quarterback store and obtain a guaranteed NFL Hall of Fame signal-caller, what is one to do?
Focus on the defense, that's what.
The term "West Coast offense", as it is now commonly used, derives from a remark made by then-New York Giants coach Bill Parcells after the Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers 17-3 in the 1985 playoffs. Parcells, a believer in tough defense over finesse-oriented offense, scornfully derided the 49ers' offense with the statement, "What do you think of that West Coast Offense now?"
Thank you for coining that phrase, Coach Parcells. The preference of a tough defense over a finesse-oriented offense seems to very accurately describe our "new" Houston Texans as they leave the Kubiak era in the rearview mirror. It also appears to be following a parallel formula to what the Seattle Seahawks did over the last few years.
Again, we consider how the NFL is a copycat league; if it wasn't for a questionable end-of-game goal-line play-call by Pete Carroll, the Seahawks would very likely have been back-to-back Super Bowl champions the last two seasons. It is a rare feat to even reach the Super Bowl, much less to do it in two consecutive seasons. Clearly their formula is one worthy of examination.
Defense Wins Championships
Defense Wins Championships
Seattle built their team around a strong running game and a stifling defense. They went for the old-school "smash-mouth" football model, and built a team that had all the right pieces in place while they searched for a quarterback. They signed Matt Flynn from the Packers and then lucked into Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Wilson beat out Flynn his rookie year and was exactly what the team needed to win games in a run-first offense. Think about the fact that in two consecutive Super Bowls, the Seahawks defeated a Broncos team led by Peyton Manning, and they were likely one play away from defeating the Tom Brady-led Patriots; two future Hall of Fame "elite" quarterbacks. Our good friend Brett Kollmann emphasized this winning formula in his article that underscored the phrase "defense wins championships."
Since O'Brien arrived, the Houston Texans have greatly increased the size of their offensive and defensive lines. They are going for big, mauling linemen, as O'Brien recently described his philosophy in building the team. On paper, the Texans have one of the best defenses in the NFL, especially after re-signing Kareem Jackson and extending Johnathan Joseph. The secondary was also greatly bolstered with the signing of Rahim Moore and Stevie Brown. If Brian Cushing and Jadeveon Clowney are at full health this season, the defense could be one for the history books with J.J. Watt and Vince Wilfork leading the way up front.
Houston obviously still lacks a proven quarterback, as Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer and Tom Savage continue to battle on, but all the other pieces are in place, just like it was in Seattle in 2011/2012. Houston went 9-7 last season with subpar performance at quarterback, so if one of these fine gentlemen can provide enough to compliment the running game, the Texans should improve further this year. If by some stroke of luck one of them can perform near to the level of Russell Wilson, we could have a team competing for championships for several years.
Yes, the Houston Texans seem to have found a way to combine philosophies of the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. That's a pretty strong template to develop a winning formula.