Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien stepped to the podium this afternoon with a spark in his tone and a smile on his face.
The difference in his demeanor from wins to losses is striking, even though he joked about it and declared otherwise today. O’Brien is the sort of guy you just want to root for, the kind of coach players want to win for, and seeing him shoot zingers and pop off at the overly serious John McClain makes a normally dry event into something of sports entertainment. He’s no Bill Parcels, mind you, but his sense of humor and candor come from the same well.
In the wake of today’s news that Andre Johnson is retiring, O’Brien spent a few minutes talking about what it was like to come face the Texans and their All-World wideout when he was still on the New England Patriots’ staff in ‘09. For anyone interested in the history of football, that was pretty neat to hear.
As usual, O’Brien was quick to pass the praise onto his assistant coaches and players for yesterday’s win over the Detroit Lions. He also spent some time defending embattled quarterback Brock Osweiler and shedding some light on the aspects of Brock’s job most fans and media never consider.
Overall, it was one of the best pressers the Texans’ head coach has had all year.
Here’s the full transcript for your viewing pleasure:
With the team being 5-3 heading into the bye week, do you believe there is some momentum that will carry over to the next game?
“I think that anytime you go into a bye week on a winning note, that can’t be anything but good for your team. It gives us time to do a lot of self-scout to figure out all the things we need to do to improve. But it also gives us time to reflect on some of the things that have been positive, being undefeated at home, playing the way we played against the run yesterday on defense was very good. I think offensively at times this year we’ve shown glimpses of what we can be. Special teams, same thing. Now there has to be more consistency in all three phases but there certainly is a lot to reflect on that’s good. When you go into the bye week on a winning note, I think everybody feels better about where they are at. With that being said, you’ve got a tough schedule ahead of you so we’re going to give our guys a nice break here. We’ll get back to work. After today, we’ll get back to work next Monday and we’ll go to work on Monday for Jacksonville.”
What have you seen from ILB Benardrick McKinney this season?
“Benardrick McKinney got a game ball yesterday for the way he played. I think he’s really improved a lot. I think he’s playing at a pretty high level. He tackles well. He understands our defense. He’s really good at understanding how our defensive call plays against the personnel and the formation that they come out in. I think that has come with experience but he’s a big guy. He can run. He loves football. Loves playing defense. He’s become a good blitzer. He’s having a good year for us.”
What do you think about the way the defense has played despite multiple injuries?
“We talked about that today. As a team, one of the things that has stood out to me is that we’ve been able to overcome – in some regard – a lot of different things. Number one is we’ve been able to overcome injuries. Injuries do happen but, look, we have lost the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Those are hard injuries to overcome for some teams but not for this team so far because we have a resilient locker room. We have a bunch of guys in there that play hard. They play well together. They love football and there’s a lot of other really good players. There’s a lot of number one draft picks on that defense and they play well together. Then you have a guy like A.J. Bouye, who wasn’t even drafted and he’s playing as one of the better corners right now in this league. I think there’s a lot to be said about that. The key is it’s the first half of the season. Things were decent, especially as far as the last game goes. But now we have to build on it and be more consistent.”
What did you think when you heard former Texans WR Andre Johnson retired?
“I just texted him. I just heard that about a half an hour ago. Just shot him a note. Look, he’ll go down as one of the best receivers to ever play the game. He had great size, great hands, very instinctive player, could run all the routes. Throughout his career, he did a lot of different things. When we had him for the year that we had him, he played at the No. 3 spot, the No. 2 spot, the No. 1 spot – I’m talking about formationally – we were able to do many different things with him. I’ve had the fortune of coaching some potential Hall of Fame receivers in him and Randy Moss. Been up close and personal with those guys coaching them and Andre will go down as one of the best to ever play.”
Obviously you weren’t here during the organization’s start, but as you learn more about the Texans and this city, what has former WR Andre Johnson meant to this city, this fan base and the Texans?
“Well, I think, obviously he’s meant a lot, obviously on the field. The numbers speak for themselves. I remember when I was in New England and we were getting ready to play Houston – this might be a little bit of a long answer, but I was thinking about it. We were getting ready to play Houston in 2009. We actually came here and lost the game – that was the game where (Wes) Welker hurt his knee and it was a tight game and it was just a tough game, and Houston beat us. I remember getting ready for that game when Bill (Belichick) stood up in front of the team and talked about Andre Johnson and just started reading off his numbers at that point in his career, which was 2009, and what we were going to have to do to try to stop this guy, or at least contain him. I was sitting there going, ‘Wow.’ You talk about the numbers that he had at that point, let alone the numbers that he has now. So, on the field it’s obvious what he did for the Houston Texans, but I think what I got to know here was – I knew about on the field and I watched it and obviously I had him later in his career, but what I saw off the field was all the things he did for the children of this city, the kids that maybe didn’t come from much and he was able to provide them with Christmas presents or things during Thanksgiving or clothes or things like that. I think people are really important to the guy. He’s a very quiet guy. When he spoke, everybody listened, kind of like E.F. Hutton. I think he meant a lot to this city and all the things that he did off the field.”
You mentioned that you guys have had a lot of injuries but have been able to overcome them. What does that say about your coaching staff?
“Look, I try to - and I probably need to do this more - I think these assistant coaches that we have here, from the coordinators all the way through, I think we have a strong staff. I think they overcome me a lot. They really do. They do a great job. As witnessed by yesterday. I did see that video afterward. I just couldn’t believe what I saw. I mean, that had to be an imposter, right? It’s Halloween. I’m sure there are going to be plenty of people in Houston dressed up as me tonight with a ‘Kick me’ sign on the back of it.
No, but I think we have a strong staff. We’ve got a smart staff, we’ve got an experienced coordinator in Romeo Crennel. I think George Godsey did a great job yesterday. When we had the injuries, we had to kind of piece together how we were going to try to move the ball there at the end personnel-wise. Then, we’ve got some top assistant coaches. The key for us is to coach well week in and week out. I think that we work very hard but I think as a coaching staff we all have to be – just like our players – we just all have to be striving for more consistency and come up with good, solid game plans every week.”
What did happen in that video?
“Things happen on the sideline. We have an intense staff. We had a basketball court outside of the bubble (Houston Methodist Training Center) back there and we were playing for a while and things got intense out there. The next time we showed up out there, the basketball hoop was gone. So, we have an intense staff. I don’t know where they get it from. I mean, I’m not that intense. Things happen. Things happen, and look, I can tell you that it’s just the nature of the game. It’s a competitive game and we all want to win. We’re all pulling the same rope, just trying to win. We’ve moved on from that and it won’t happen again.”
It seems like ILB Brian Cushing is getting healthier. He never talks about injuries, he has those leadership qualities and now he’s coming along.
“He’s a very tough, tough guy. He played the game yesterday – I mean, you should see it – he’s got a thumb deal right now. Just a tough guy. I’ve said it all along, he’s the heart and soul of the defense, one of the top leaders of our team. I just really enjoy the way he plays football. He tackles well, he’s tough, competes, and loves gameday, practices every day. He’s a tough, tough, guy.”
What are your thoughts on NT D.J. Reader and how he’s stepping in?
“I thought D.J. – I just saw him out in the hallway earlier – I thought that he played a solid football game. I think he gives us a solid guy inside in the run, he’s hard to move, and I think that he adds some inside pass rush that really helped us yesterday. One of the keys yesterday was – that’s a very good offense with a great quarterback, and the pass rush was able to contain him. Maybe there weren’t a lot of sacks but they were very disciplined in their rush lanes. Give a lot of credit to Anthony Weaver and Mike Vrabel on that. Those guys do a great job of coaching that. And then obviously the guys up front, led by (Jadeveon) Clowney and (Whitney) Mercilus, and then those guys inside, they did a nice job of keeping their rush lanes.”
How would you evaluate how QB Brock Osweiler has played through eight games and what are you looking for from him going forward?
“I think he’s getting better and better. He and I talked for a while this morning. I have great respect for the guy. I think when you come into a new system that puts a lot on your plate at that position, I don’t think it’s easy. You’ve got a lot of guys playing out there that have not played together, so the only way you get better is with game experience, and that’s hard because a lot of these defenses are very multiple, excellent defenses. So, it’s hard. I think he’s improved every game and I thought yesterday, I thought he really made some big throws, took some hits – he’s a tough guy – and he did a nice job of controlling the game. Did a nice job. See, that’s one thing that people don’t always see. Not that they don’t understand. If you’re not a coach, I understand that you may not see everything. At the end of the game, he’s getting us into those plays, he’s directing that blocking scheme. Even though that’s a run, he’s the one who’s setting up those plays. Those are little things that he did in that game to help us control the game, especially at the end. So, I think he’s getting better and better.”
Can you talk about the developments of TE C.J. Fiedorowicz and how the tight ends have been used?
“Yeah. I think that C.J. is one of the most improved players on our team in the passing game. He’s always been a good blocker. When he came out of Iowa, we thought he was one of the best blocking tight ends in that draft, and he’s come in here and blocked well. What’s happened with him is he’s worked very hard, he’s taken a lot of pride in the passing game. John Perry’s done a nice job with him, Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson. All three of those guys contributed yesterday in the passing game. C.J. has come a long way. Brock (Osweiler) has a lot of trust in him and it’s been good to see.”
Do you have any update on WR Jaelen Strong or WR Will Fuller V? Do you expect Will back after the bye and is Jaelen more of a long-term thing?
“I don’t know yet. Those things – I know we’re in a bye so the ‘day-to-day’ is probably not appropriate. Bye-to-bye? How would you say that? I think that you’re right, Jaelen might be a little bit longer. Hopefully not. Hopefully the bye helps him. I think Will may not be as long, if that answers your question.”
What about NT Vince Wilfork’s injury?
“I think Wilfork - I just saw him in there and I think he’ll be okay.”
How can you improve running the ball on offense earlier in games?
“It’s hard. Earlier in the game is hard because, if you look at the stats of most teams in the league, let’s just look at the running yards for even the best running teams – might be an interesting thing to look at – how they’re running the ball in the first quarter. I think it’s more about, as long as you’re not getting a bunch of TFLs, it’s more about sticking with it. When I see a three-yard gain in the first quarter, that may look boring to the fans and to the media, but to me that’s pretty good because I know that if that’s getting three in the first quarter consistently, three and maybe four here and there, I know that in the fourth quarter that might be five, six, seven, eight, nine. So, that’s what I look at. Now, in the first quarter if it’s a bunch of TFLs and we’re not blocking things right, now we have a problem. But if we’re moving the line of scrimmage, they’re revved up, we’re revved up, it’s force on force and we’re gaining yards, that’s kind of what I look at and that’s a little bit the way it was yesterday. Now, there were a couple TFLs where we missed a couple blocks but I thought, overall – and one thing I want to tell you about that, too, I give a lot of credit to Lamar (Miller) and Alfred (Blue). Those guys were banged up and they ran hard in the game. I just, I would tell you that those are two tough guys that ran hard in the game.”
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