Part II of the BRB staff’s thoughts on Bill O’Brien (you can find Part I here if you missed it) in this week’s edition of BRB Group Think...
With so many factors playing in to what a head coach does, (gameplan scheme, in-game playcalling, 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?
Yeah, this is a ''Alice in Wonderland'' style rabbit hole.
If you believe Brock Osweiler was good or had the potential to be good, BOB's to blame for that. If you believe Os was bad from the inception, do you blame BOB or do you blame Rick Smith or Mr. McNair for pushing the issue and forcing Os on BOB?
Like, kitten, do you want to talk about the context upon which Bill O’Brien has maintained a winning record? Do you say he's only a good coach because he's leading a team in the AFC South, which in recent history has been one of the worst divisions in football?
Do you say that this season has highlighted a inflexible attitude towards offensive scheming (Lamar Miller has essentially been used like Alfred Blue was last year) and say BOB struggles to scheme ways in which the offense can get easy yardage or even use different looks from week to week (we've had worse QBss than last year and not run the wildcat ONCE! That's not a complaint, by the way.)?
Do you ignore all of that because O’Brien is a coach with a winning record and two playoff appearances in three years, with a who's who's of Patriots castoff's/Ryan Fitzpatrick's beard?
I'm kind of biased in how I view this because I remember the offense from last season as being horrific to the point that I would stop watching until the defense came back onto the field. To me, nothing can be worse than that, and the fact that the offense has been worse has only made my reaction to this season more horrid.
SCT is kind of right about how the team keeps winning and that's the bottom line (which annoys the kitten out of me because it ignores everything else). That's going to get O’Brien time to find the mythical creature known as ''The Bill O'Brien Quarterback.”
How much time do you give him to find said QB? Do you keep O’Brien around as long as the team keeps winning? How many bites at finding ''The Bill O'Brien Quarterback'' do you give him before you boot him?
You may noticed I've asked nothing but questions. That’s because I honestly don't have any answers. I really don't want to watch any iteration of this BOB-led offense next season. At the same time, firing him could make the team objectively worse in many other ways.
I'm fine keeping him as head coach for the next season, just so long as someone else is running the offense.
I think O'Brien is a good leader and an above average football coach at the NFL level. I like his no-nonsense approach and his ability to balance a$$ chewings with fun motivational elements. He has never lost the locker room and the players fight to the bitter end for him in most games. He seems like an awesome family guy and incredible human being by all measure.
What I hate is his offensive system. I hate the play designs and the orchestration decisions. I'd love to think this could be solved by bringing in another coordinator to replace George Godsey, but O'Brien would have to agree to let that OC install his own system and run it, and I don't see that happening. The current system simply doesn't create the mismatches needed to beat the opponent. It doesn't develop a rhythm and sequence to catch any defense off guard. It is far too predictable. It also doesn't take advantage of any strengths of the current talent, and it often seems to put said talent in poorly-fitted roles. QB play has been bad, but it isn't the only problem. Eight starting QBs over three seasons have yielded similar sub-par results.
I don't know what to say about a system that fails to create mismatches, exploit weaknesses, or leverage strengths. Execution across the whole unit is also a problem, so that begs the question of whether the system is too complicated for the players to grasp, or if they haven't had enough reps to perform the plays being called. Something just isn't working. O'Brien has let Crennel, Vrabel and Butler run the defense, and it has been spectacular even through massive attrition due to injury. If O’Brien would hire and trust a top OC on the other side of the ball, this team might reach its true potential.
Bill O'Brien is a likable guy. In some instances that doesn't mean squat. In others, it means everything.
We root for guys we like. Players give their all for guys they like. Referees are more apt to listen to guys they like. Whether it's right or not, it happens. It's just human nature.
That quality, charisma, allure, whatever you want to call it, has served O’Brien well. He's a good guy who gets other guys to put it on the line for him every week.
There are so many instances this season where players and the other coaches could have given up and checked out, just like so much of the fan base has done. Instead, the team has doubled down and tried harder, resulting in another AFC South crown and playoff berth. That says a lot.
O'Brien's system is an emulation of what Bill Belichick is running in New England, but Houston's Bill doesn't have 51% or more of the decision-making power over the roster. He can argue his desires and passionately convey his point of view on players, free agents and rookies, but in the end he's saddled with Rick Smith's decision - which in some cases are home runs and in others are colossal strikeouts.
The O'Brien system doesn't function with a patchwork, thrown-together offensive line. Imagine what Tom Brady's career would look like if he had played behind a line like Houston has this year.
On the flip side, taking a guy like Lamar Miller and using him like he's Earl Campbell is a head-scratcher. Keeping George Godsey around and leaving him in charge of the offense, which is historically bad, reeks of short-sighted nepotism. The play-calling on game day, whether it's O'Brien, Godsey, or the water boy, is predictable, ineffective and horribly unimaginative.
But O'Brien was smart enough to go get Romeo Crennel to run the defense. If O’Brien could get say, Charlie Weis, to run the offense, allowing him more time to oversee the entire team instead of doing his buddy Godsey's job for him, things might improve dramatically.
There are just so many variables. It's hard to say how much is O'Brien's fault and how much is to his credit.
Let's look at the other choices from the 2014 head coaching carousel: Lovie Smith (8-24, then fired), Jim Caldwell (inherited a much better offense, but at 27-20 is doing about the same as BOB), Mike Pettine (10-22, then fired), Jay Gruden (21-23) and Mike Zimmer (25-22 Vikings are out of the playoffs again...).
In the context of those guys, O'Brien's 27-20 and two AFC South championships look pretty good.
Fire Godsey, and maybe Rick Smith, and see what O'Brien can really do. Or, as is quite possible, watch him leave and go somewhere else and win a championship...
Battle Red Coat:
Forget the fact we could have drafted Derek Carr. You know and I know he wouldn't have gotten a fair chance in Houston; the tolerance for his mistakes would have been infinitely small. Aside from that, if you can find a way O'Brien could have fixed the quarterback position without selling his soul to the devil, I'd like to know it. Quarterback has been what has held O'Brien's offense back all three years. This year, we went for the only legitimate opportunity we've had at a franchise quarterback since BOB's arrival. We took the gamble, and unfortunately for one reason or another, it didn't work. Brock looked good in Denver, and I'm not sure what went wrong in Houston. I have no issue with getting Brock. The only issue is the insistence on forcing him to continue playing in the system that clearly wasn't working.
This is Osweiler’s first year in said system. In previous years, O'Brien changed things week to week to fit the myriad of wannabe starting quarterbacks we forced under center. In fact, those adjustments are what made O'Brien so good. Not many others could win many games with QBs like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer, much less if they were injured and changing nearly every week. To think we haven't had a losing season yet is a testament to how good O'Brien has been.
In terms of the system, people may complain about how we went run-run-pass to open nearly every drive last week, but it wasn't a bad idea. Protect your inexperienced quarterback, rely on your strong(ish) running game, and give the passing game easy situations. We had six drives in the first half, two of which were killed by sacks. On three of the others, we had third downs of less than five yards to go; those should be easily converted by a pass. One was a drop by C.J. Fiedorowicz, one was a bad throw by Tom Savage, and the other was a bad route by Will Fuller. The issue wasn't the play-calling. A short third down is not a bad situation to be in. The problem was the inability to convert those third downs.
Aside from quarterback, Bill O'Brien has led a turnaround in personnel on offense that has looked promising. The only disappointing personnel decision on offense has been letting Brandon Brooks walk in favour of Jeff Allen. If you look at Allen's tape from his years in Kansas City, you can see why the Texans did it; Allen looked every bit as good at RG as Brandon Brooks did for $2M less a year. What has happened to Allen this year, I don't know.
O’Brien has also made C.J. Fiedorowicz into a very solid TE, and his partnership with Ryan Griffin has exceeded expectations this year. O’Brien has committed to making the team faster on offense and has done so with Fuller and the two Millers. On paper, this offense looks ready to explode. We just need a quarterback that won't hold it back. The talent is there at every position, save maybe RG and potentially now RT. I don't think you can fault O’Brien much for the offense he built to support Brock.
In terms of other personnel decisions, I think O’Brien has been good. The play from the safeties we have had over his three seasons has been good despite the lack of obvious talent. Kendrick Lewis and Danieal Manning were solid, and the decision to bring back Quintin Demps looks to be a brilliant piece of business. We've been very active on the waiver wire, and with great success: Brian Peters, Oday Aboushi, John Simon, Charles James, and Darryl Morris, to name a few.
The drafting has also been fairly decent in O’Brien’s time too. The only glaring misses are Louis Nix, Reshard Cliett and Kenny Hilliard. Tyler Ervin gets left off the list because one year is too quick to judge, although he could soon join that list. In terms of successes, Jadeveon Clowney tops the list as you would expect. Fiedorowicz, Savage, Jay Prosch and Andre Hal was a good haul in 2014. So were Kevin Johnson, Benardrick McKinney and Christian Covington in 2015.
Coaching-wise, we've turned some players around in the past three years. I've already mentioned John Simon, and he is one of big examples of this. We took him from the Baltimore practice squad and turned him into a very solid OLB this season. A.J. Bouye has been performing way above what we've previously seen. We have been developing players well over the past three years, and that's how you win.
I really don't know where the fault with our special teams lies. We had talent in Jon Weeks and Shane Lechler prior to O'Brien's arrival. He went out and tried to fix things by getting special team players like Brian Peters, Charles James, and more recently Don Jones. He's prioritised special teams play in personnel decisions for those backup spots. O'Brien was a man of his word and fired underperforming Bob Ligahesky. Larry Izzo seemed like a good hire, as he had a good track record both as a player and as coordinator with the Giants. O’Brien drafted Tyler Ervin, who was a great returner in college and had all the attributes to continue that in the NFL; unfortunately he hasn't. Outside of a curse, I'm really not sure why special teams continues to be an issue. We've tried to fix it in every way possible. It just doesn't work.
Bill O'Brien has built a team that looks great on paper, built a team ethic I like, and has been a good man. The team hasn't performed as it should have, but we've still managed nine wins every season. Sure, he's made mistakes, but so has every other head coach. Well, aside from Belichick, but I'm not certain he's human. He's not the best game manager or with time management, but he's better overall than anyone else hired at the same time as him.
Imagine if we hopped aboard the Gus Bus. In fact, let's not.
So there you have it. Many thousands of words on Bill O’Brien, in two parts. There are a WIDE variety of opinions on the head coach. Please continue to use the comments section to tell us how you feel about Obie three years in.