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This Week in BRB Group Think (Part 1 of 2): All About Bill O’Brien

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This week’s BRB Group Think topic is Bill O’Brien. The staff goes long-form to explain its stance on O’Brien’s tenure thus far.

NFL: Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars
That face, that face, that covergirl face...
Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of words for you this week, so let’s skip the intro and get straight to the question of the week. Look for Part II of the responses later on today...

With so many factors playing in to what a head coach does, (game plan, scheme, in-game play-calling, in-game management, in and out-of-season talent evaluation, etc.) you really have to take a "complete" look at a coach’s body of work and can't necessarily focus on one area. With that said, where do you stand on Bill O'Brien nearly three complete seasons into his tenure with the Texans?

Tim:

Where do I stand on Bill O'Brien? I think he's a good coach. The guy has won two division titles in his three years as a head coach in the NFL. The one year he didn't win the AFC South, his team still posted a winning record. I don't care how bad your division is; that's an accomplishment. Bill O'Brien has done it with a series of journeyman quarterbacks, many of whom played the best football of their respective careers under his watch. Now, it is entirely fair to criticize O'Brien's selection and handling of said quarterbacks. You also have to give O'Brien credit for the positive things that have occurred on his watch, including but not limited to:

1. Transitioning a running game that relied almost entirely on Arian Foster to Alfred Blue and eventually Lamar Miller.

2. Developing C.J. Fiedorowicz and, to a lesser degree, Ryan Griffin into effective offensive pieces.

3. Not allowing what could have been a very messy situation--the departure of Andre Johnson--to divide the locker room.

4. Making a concerted effort to improve team speed over one offseason.

5. Fostering a culture that embraces a next man up philosophy and doesn't crater in the wake of season-ending injuries to various starters and contributors.

6. Hiring Romeo Crennel, a guy who, despite shared roots in New England, O'Brien had never actually worked with prior to bringing him to Houston. In that same vein, I don’t know if you credit O’Brien, Crennel, Mike Vrabel, or John Butler, but A.J. Bouye, Whitney Mercilus, Benardrick McKinney, Jadeveon Clowney, and a host of other defensive players (especially in the secondary) have gotten markedly better under this regime.

Of course O'Brien has made mistakes. Every coach does. The refreshing thing is that O'Brien admits that he makes mistakes. Perhaps not as quickly as some fans might hope, but O'Brien tries. I fully expect the team to make a change at offensive coordinator during the offseason. Houston's offense hasn't worked as well as it should, and that fact hasn't eluded OB. O’Brien will bring someone new in and try to fix the problem.

It's easy to crap on O'Brien and demand more. That's the luxury we have as fans of a playoff team right now. But to legitimately think the team should part ways with a guy who has posted a winning record for all three years he's been in charge? That's lunacy.

I believe most of the angst over O'Brien is simply a result of Brock Osweiler's struggles. The Texans took a calculated risk on Osweiler. Up to this point, it has failed. I'm just glad the team took the shot instead of running back what they did in 2015. Sometimes you roll snake eyes. At least they rolled the dice and stayed at the table.

I like Bill O'Brien, and I'm glad he's the Texans' head coach.

Chris:

Bill O’Brien has certainly fluctuated for me over these last three seasons. He was my top choice of the available options when hired, but I wasn’t overly thrilled with said options. When he started, I was skeptical, but by the end of last year I had myself convinced he was an average-to-good QB away from taking this team to places it hadn’t gone before.

I had more issues with personnel than I did coaching. Then, this year happened (coupled with the horrible blowout losses from last year). The Osweiler fiasco, more blowouts, just incredibly WTF out-of-nowhere play-calls, refusal to put some key players in the best positions for them to excel, etc. Now, I’m in some kind of Bill O’Brien purgatory where I don’t have any clue what we have in him. He’s a guy who can, in a sense, make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t, but he’s also had a hand in sh*tting in the chicken.

I think you can do a lot worse than Bill O’Brien, but I feel like he’s more of an average to “top of the middle” head coach. But hey, a quarterback could change everything (says 90% of the rest of the league as well).

BFmf’nD:

With a hat tip to former Texans blogger MDC, Bill O'Brien is the Vince Young of head coaches. Sure, he just winz gamezzz, but the strategy is not sustainable.

Bill O'Brien, as I've teased early and often this year, was supposed to be an offensive genius. Instead, what we've seen is the second worst offense by DVOA in the league, ahead of only the Rams. Think about that. The offensive scheme is absolute kitten, bereft of execution or chunk play ability. Worst of all, the scheme, is trash. You don't sign Lamar Miller and ask him to play the role of Earl Campbell. This IS Bill O'Brien's offense, and you aren't going to bring in a new OC and think anything is going to change.

Worst of all, the Texans have been absolutely blown out in several games over the past two seasons: Chiefs, Falcons, Dolphins, Chiefs, Patriots, and Vikings are six games that come to mind over the past 32 contests. That's entirely unacceptable.

Count me among those who thinks the blame for the loss to the Raiders lies at the hand of Bill O'Brien and not the referees. BOB is terrible at clock management, challenges, and half-time adjustments. He came to the Texans as an alleged QB whisperer, and we've instead trotted out some of the worst QB play in the league over the past three seasons, due to either arrogance, hubris, or both.

The special teams units as a group are also second worst in the league. This speaks to both poor depth and poor scheme.

This team is successful for two reasons: Romeo Crennel and luck. One of those things isn't sustainable.

So what does BOB bring as a head coach that couldn't be instantly replaced by Vince Young? That the team plays for him is not a thing. These are paid athletes who want to look good, so the Albert Haynesworths and Brooks Reeds are outliers, not examples.

To me, personally, saying O'Brien is an adequate, or even a good, head coach is akin to the blind optimism Brock Osweiler was still getting in Week 13. He just winz gamezzz isn't a sustainable, long-term strategy for success. Keeping O'Brien for 2017, which is inevitable, is simply striving for mediocrity. Making the playoffs, with all the physical talent on this team, should no longer be the goal. I want a Super Bowl, and O'Brien, to me, is clearly not the guy to get this done.

Rivers McCown:

There is a middle ground between BFD’s post and Tim's, and that is where I stand.

O'Brien has clear flaws to me. As BFD mentions, he gets blown out often, and often doesn't appear to have a backup plan ready when his initial read is proven off. He's also spent the entire season running Lamar Miller right up the middle despite the fact that Miller has been much more effective outside of the box. I'm not sure if O'Brien deliberately tried to make the offense terrible to prove that Osweiler wasn't a worthy quarterback or not, but the fact that I can suggest it based on the output tells you all you need to know. While I admit he's had a bad season by his standards, I can't understand how this offense manages to completely phase out DeAndre Hopkins in every game it plays. Game theory and challenge theory has tended to be bad this year, though O’Brien is at least more aggressive than most coaches.

At the same time, I'm a believer that most of coaching is about stuff we don't see. About keeping the locker room intact and keeping guys playing hard. About making correct decisions about who should or should not get playing time at positions we don't focus much on. About teaching and motivating players to get better. I don't know that O'Brien is hands down excellent at that stuff, but I think we've seen a lot of development under his watch. Whitney Mercilus. A.J. Bouye. Jadeveon Clowney.

I get why some of us don't care for BO'B. We are passionate fans who desperately want to see real, actual, success for a team that feels like it's always going nowhere. But I think of him as more of a league-average coach. It's only because we're so exposed to these warts and so sick of the generic boring quotes in response to the actual questions that get the blood boiling.

Titan Matt Weston, Slanderer of Blade Runner and a Texas Rangers Fan:

I can't really point to anything Bill O'Brien has been good at. He took over a talented team that was going to improve after a disastrous and hellacious 2013 season. That, plus the number one overall pick, and an expected improvement was the reason why the Texans won nine games in 2014.

Since then, the team has been stagnant because of quarterback play, all of which is due to guys O’Brien wanted or more than likely wanted. This was supposed to be the season we saw a leap. This was the season we waited two years for. Instead, O’Brien turned Osweiler from a bit below average to the worst quarterback in the NFL. None of the skill players brought in this offseason have been great, and most have been underwhelming. As a result, this team has wasted another year of great defensive play. Bill O’Brien is a supposed offensive mastermind that has created a slog of an offense. For three years, he's gotten the bare minimum out of a talented roster. The best thing he's done is win in Indy twice and sweep the Colts this year.

Additionally, O’Brien makes silly challenges, is risk averse, doesn't go for it when he should, does incoherent things like hand the ball to Lamar Miller instead of kneeling out to end the game, and overall is bad at making in-game decisions.

Yet throughout it all, O’Brien has won games. And that means something. He's ridden out blowouts and losing streaks and has kept the team together. But he's far and away from being the great coach that some make him out to be or the coach he was expected to be.

SCT:

If Tom Savage works out, that would be the ultimate irony. He's the one guy that Bill O'Brien has actually drafted at the position during his time here. He's been on the roster longer than any of the other quarterbacks currently on the team, and yet he's just now getting his shot after all this time. Between retreads like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Hoyer, the failed experiments like Ryan Mallett, and the utter disappointments like Brock Osweiler, here Savage has been all along, just waiting for his turn. To be honest, he's acquitted himself well so far.

I still have no idea what actually happened with Brock. He was a good quarterback in Denver and arguably the main reason they were even remotely in a position to win the Super Bowl last year, but the moment he set foot in Houston all of that potential just eroded away. It's truly baffling, and I may never have an actual answer to all of my questions. For my sake, I hope that Savage ends up being "the guy" in Houston just so that I never have to think about Brock's inexplicable regression ever again. It's just...I don't know, man. I really don't know.

As for O'Brien, he does deserve a good portion of the blame for all of these terrible personnel decisions that put us in this position in the first place. He has signed off on every quarterback acquisition thus far, and after cycling through eight starters, he still has not definitively found a signal caller that we can depend on. Were it not for Lamar Miller and O’Brien’s incredible defensive coaching staff, this team would be very, very below average. That being said, however, I cannot blame the horrible situation at quarterback on O'Brien without giving him equal credit for bringing in Miller last spring. That was a hell of a pickup, and he deserves kudos for recognizing Miller's talent when Miller ran all over this Texans defense back in 2015. O'Brien also deserves some credit for sticking with C.J. Fiedorowicz and developing him over the last three seasons from "just a blocking tight end" into a truly multi-dimensional weapon. C.J. is on pace for around 60 receptions and over 600 yards this season, which is way, way above my expectations for him coming into the season. That's all coaching, folks.

Game plan wise, I feel like there isn't much different O'Brien could really have done this season with an offensive line that can't pass protect and a quarterback that can't throw accurately. It didn't matter if Osweiler was rolling out on a bootleg or trying to get the ball out in two seconds from a shotgun formation. He rarely had time to ever make a clean read. Hell, even in the few times when the protection did manage to hold up and Osweiler had time to survey the defense, he was still so terrible that the line's efforts were nullified by bad interceptions anyway. This whole situation was just a cycle of misery that no game plan could realistically rescue. At least Savage has displayed enough accuracy thus far to make his few opportunities count for something.

Bottom line: O'Brien is a good coach that also happens to be a very inconsistent talent evaluator. When he hits, he hits big. When he misses, OH BOY does he miss with style. Despite all of the awful offensive performances, O’Brien still has this locker room believing in each other and playing with incredible intensity each and every week. Did I expect more going into 2016? Sure. Am I disappointed in the results? A little. Am I still thankful that we made the playoffs despite terrible QB play and not having J.J. Watt, Kevin Johnson, and 60% of the starting offensive line for big chunks of the season? Absolutely. This team keeps winning games. As long as they do that, O'Brien will continue to buy himself time to find a quarterback. He's got to stumble into one eventually, right?

Oh, one last thing - when he DOES find that quarterback, this could be a very special football team.

We had so many thoughtful responses on this one from the staff that we broke it into two parts. Check BRB later on today for Part II. In the meantime, use the comments to postulate on Bill O’Brien, and thanks for reading.