Bill O’Brien has sent his message loud and clear. After two straight seasons of watching his quarterbacks wallow in mediocrity while DeAndre Hopkins’ supporting cast withered away due to age or injury, O'Brien finally had enough. This was the offseason when everything had to change. This was the offseason that would give O’Brien the ability to run his offense.
In a perfect world, there is no opposing defense that O’Brien would not have the weapons to solve. While the coordinator of the record-shattering New England Patriots offense in 2011, O'Brien had everything from physical monstrosities like Rob Gronkowski to ruthlessly quick slot weapons like Wes Welker in his toolbox. Fast defenses were beat up by his tight ends, slow defenses were gutted by his arsenal of receivers, and everything in between received never-ending doses of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley pounding the rock up the middle. O’Brien and his quarterback, Tom Brady, had a lot of mouths to feed from week to week, but as a duo they rarely ran out of answers for any defense that stood in their way. That Patriots attack was the very personification of brutal efficiency, and it is the exact same kind of "game plan offense" that O’Brien is currently attempting to recreate in Houston.
Will Fuller’s role as a rookie is rather simple. First and foremost, his objective is to scare the living sh!t out of safeties. With the 22nd overall pick in last week’s NFL Draft, the Texans' front office had plenty of receiving options staring them in the face when Washington went on the clock just one spot ahead of them. Josh Doctson, Laquon Treadwell, and Will Fuller were all fine prospects in their own right, but only one of them had the trait that O’Brien wanted most – speed. The Texans already had two big, strong, "go up and get it" types of receivers in DeAndre Hopkins and Jaelen Strong. What they did not have, however, was someone who was a threat to catch an 80-yard touchdown on the opening play of every single drive. This was a role that needed filling in O’Brien’s offense, and nothing was going to stop him from getting one of the few men in this draft class who could actually do it. In order to guarantee that their deep threat of the future could go nowhere else but Houston, the front office decision-makers traded up one spot and eliminated all risk of losing their number one target.
As O’Brien explained yesterday on SiriusXM NFL Radio, every single receiver in his offense will ideally have a different skill-set. The more variance of skill-sets in his arsenal, the more ways O'Brien can attack certain defensive weaknesses. If a team has a clear speed deficiency at their number two cornerback spot, like for instance the Jaguars do with Davon House across from Jalen Ramsey, Fuller is automatically the juiciest matchup on the field. As teams come to fear Fuller’s speed exploiting their lesser cornerbacks, safeties will inevitably float away from DeAndre Hopkins and towards Houston’s newest speed demon. The more one-on-one opportunities Nuk is given, the more he can feast on his own advantageous matchups.
Let's just pretend for one moment that defenses get sick and tired of choosing between bracketing either Fuller or Hopkins, and they start playing two-high safety looks. The deep ball gets harder to come by, of course, but now Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue have one less man in the box to stop them from pounding the rock inside. Miller will churn out his yardage, the safeties will creep down once again, and all of the sudden O’Brien’s outside receivers will get their winnable one-on-one matchups back. Wash, score, rinse, repeat.
O’Brien was not quite satisfied yet, though. When the 85th pick in the third round came around and Houston was once again on the clock, he saw a unique opportunity to acquire even more explosive talent for his passing game. Enter Braxton Miller, the most athletic wide receiver/running back/wildcat quarterback combo player to come out of the collegiate ranks in years. O’Brien had once scouted and drafted a similar prospect, Kent State’s Julian Edelman, years ago as a member of the Patriots, and in Miller he saw a chance to get someone who could eventually be even better. With the proper coaching, which I have no doubt that he will receive, Miller has perhaps the most game-wrecking potential of any offensive player in this entire draft class. It could be as a slot receiver, running back, or return man for all we know, but this kid will be given the ball when teams insist on zeroing in on everyone else. You can count on that.
By the third day of the draft, we had all assumed the O’Brien was done strengthening his now blazing fast attack; we were wrong. Sure, the Texans had already signed a talented young quarterback and running back in free agency, drafted the most vertically dangerous wide receiver in the class, and added perhaps the most exciting and versatile weapon in all of college football, but why not have one more race horse in their stable just in case? Here comes Tyler Ervin in the fourth round, the one man show that single-handedly carried the San Jose State offense in 2015. Ervin may not be big and strong as the other backs in this class, but I sure would like to see which poor middle linebacker is going to be asked to match up with his 4.3 speed in open space on third down. Hell, Ervin is so uniquely talented that O’Brien is toying with creating an entirely new position just for his skill-set called "Edge" that would be a hybrid between a slot receiver and traditional running back.
DeAndre Hopkins, Jaelen Strong, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, Lamar Miller, and Tyler Ervin. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what it looks like to have a stupid amount of speed on one roster. This is how you create no-win situations for the other team. Just like when Bill O’Brien was coordinating that legendary Patriots offense, his new and improved Texans attack has answers for every style of defense that he might face. Small, fast corners will get beat up by Hopkins and Strong. Physical, but slower, corners will be eaten alive by Fuller and Braxton Miller. Ervin will slice and dice his way through linebackers and safeties in space while Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue set the tone on the ground. This team has red zone weapons, deep threats, chain movers, gadget players, and everything in between. The offensive line has been strengthened by the additions of Nick Martin and Jeff Allen, while Brock Osweiler provides a clear upgrade over Houston's poor quarterback play from a season ago.
Unless there is a single defense in the NFL that somehow has three elite cornerbacks, three elite pass rushers, two rangy safeties, and multiple linebackers who can effectively cover lightning quick running backs in space, there will always be a matchup for Bill O’Brien’s game plan offense to exploit. Somehow, some way, he will find a way to expose his opponent’s weakness until it breaks the game. That is what he did as a Patriot, and it has always been what he wanted to do as a Texan. Now that this team has more speed than arguably anyone else in the league, that vision can finally come to fruition.
Bill O’Brien has sent his message loud and clear to the rest of the NFL – catch us if you can.