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What To Do About Bill O’Brien?

An opinion on how the Texans should move forward with head coach Bill O’Brien after this season.

Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

There’s just something about the 2017 season. It’s impossible to stay clean. Every week, there’s another batch of poison seeping in. We’ve seen Tom Savage’s agent moan about his client’s benching, Brian Cushing get busted for PED use, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus go down with season-ending injuries in within minutes of each other, Duane Brown hold out for six regular season games before returning for only one week and then getting shipped to Seattle, Deshaun Watson shred his knee, and so many others I’ve beaten out from by brain.

This week, there is another crisis. This week, the ongoing maelstrom of Rick Smith versus Bill O’Brien has hit warm waters again.

It’s been rumored that O’Brien could definitely, maybe, probably, possibly be fired after this season. O’Brien has one more year left on the contract he signed in 2014. Coaches rarely work out the final year of their deal, though. Usually they are either fired before then or have done such an incredible job their contracts are extended. Neither of these things have happened in Houston so far. Instead, O’Brien is currently bobbing around with a 4-9 team.

We’ve seen this story before, with different sources leaking and claiming that so and so wanted [Name Redacted] and so and so didn’t. That Person X wanted Player Y in the draft, but Person Z decided to draft Player U. That Tom Savage started over Deshaun Watson to begin the year because of the demands of one outriding the desires of the other. There’s no way to tell what’s true. It’s all a lot of shoving in an attempt to be sitting underneath some neon light rather than a dark, roach-infested alley. Or it’s local media outlets garnering clicks and attention from lousy sources.

Whatever the reason, the Texans are going to have to make a decision on Bill O’Brien. They can (1) fire him and get Deshaun Watson a new coach right away, (2) extend him, or (3) keep him for the final year of his original contract.

If the Texans fire O’Brien, it shouldn’t be because of this season. Houston is 4-9, but they are 4-9 largely because of factors outside of O’Brien’s control. The defense has been a disaster because of injuries to the front seven. It’s been dramatically worse since management banked on a front seven of Benardrick McKinney, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, D.J. Reader, Brian Cushing, Zach Cunningham, and Jadeveon Clowney to make up for a secondary that lost A.J. Bouye. On offense, O’Brien succeeded at doing the one thing he could control. He immediately molded an offense around an oustanding rookie quarterback that accentuated Watson’s strengths and turned him into the greatest quarterback of all-time.

The 2017 Houston Texans aren’t bad because of coaching. They’re bad because of injuries. Rick Smith deciding to let A.J. Bouye walk and the offensive line crumble while giving extensions to Jay Prosch, Andre Hal, Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiedorowicz instead of using the cap space created by the [Name Redacted] trade to actually improve the roster hasn’t helped either.

If the Texans fire Bill O’Brien, it should be because of the three seasons before 2017. The Texans had a loaded roster in all three of those seasons yet went 9-7 in each one. O’Brien managed to get the bare minimum out of his roster from 2014-2016. He wasn’t Dirk Koetter, John Fox, or Hue Jackson, coaches whose rosters severely underperformed their talent level. He was a coach in charge of talented rosters that scraped out the minimum of wins possible.

This failure was mainly because of the offense. From 2014 to 2016, Houston finished 21st, 24th, and 30th in offensive DVOA. These offensive abominations were largely because of the quarterback. The inept menagerie of Ryan Fitzpatrick, T.J. Yates, Case Keenum, Tom Savage, [Name Redacted], Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer, and Brandon Weeden was the simple reason why the offense struggled. But O’Brien himself helped select these men to play quarterback, and he didn’t even attempt to fix the position in 2014 or 2015. Additionally, O’Brien forced each one of these quarterbacks into the same genius scheme. Rather than put those quarterbacks in a position to succeed and accentuate their strengths, O’Brien forced them to throw from the shotgun and attempt difficult throws that usually led to incompletions, or to chuck up the ball to DeAndre Hopkins, or lazily dump the ball off into the flat to the tight ends.

The Texans’ running game finished 24th, 26th, 27th, and is now 21st in run offense DVOA. This too is on O’Brien. The run offense became a stagnant, inside zone, ‘A’ gap scheme. O’Brien turned Lamar Miller into Alfred Blue. He relied on Jeff Allen to pull on power, something he isn’t capable of. He went away from the outside zone once Arian Foster was injured even though this was what the offensive line was used to running.

All of this doesn’t even take in account the poor decisions to run bozo plays in a blowout that got players injured to try and make the final score look better than it actually was, the failed challenges, and the terrible end of half and end of game decisions. O’Brien got the minimum out of the Texans by going 9-7 and losing two playoff games when the team could have done so much more.

I don’t understand extending O’Brien. Aside from winning close games with a talented team in a bad division and that spat of Deshaun Watson glory, there isn’t anything O’Brien has done well. The offense has been bad. The quarterbacks he selected were bad. Offensive players haven’t developed as much as they should, and free agents who have come to Houston have been worse under his leadership. Giving him another four years right now doesn’t make sense.

O’Brien coaching the last year of his original contract and seeing how it goes is what makes the most sense. He has shown an ability to learn from his past mistakes, and he aactually put Watson in a position to succeed this season. He used a play fake heavy passing game and creative run scheme to open up downfield throws for Watson, which got the run game going in every direction. All of those points scored during the time Watson was under center is enough reason to keep him around one more season. With Watson and all those other great players healthy and potentially north of $50 million in cap space to immediately upgrade the roster this offseason, the Texans should be back to being a playoff team in 2018. They could maybe even contend for the Super Bowl.

I don’t know what is going to happen, but I know what should happen. O’Brien shouldn’t be fired. He shouldn’t get a contract extension. He should work out the final year of his current deal and be given one more season to attempt to recreate magic with Deshaun Watson.