Last week was the Super Bowl. The articles scribbled and words spat during this event are always about the two teams in the BIG GAME. They usually go about it the same way, covering the same course of topics. If Player X wins, how does this affect his legacy? How did these teams get here? Why is this team special? What does this team do that no one else does?
I consumed all of it. Just as I always do, to get the blood boiling and get this big body feeling feelings. In this iteration for the Falcons-Patriots Super Bowl, there was one theme that rang throughout it all: That each organization has one singular focus and vision for what they want their team to be like.
On Peter King’s MMQB podcast, he talked to Chris Simms. Simms, as everyone knows, is a former player, but he also was an assistant coach on the Patriots’ staff. He yammered away about how every single person in that building, from the guy in his past lowly position, to the scouts, to the players, to that cutoff hoodied cretin himself, all know the central goal and vision for the organization.
On that same podcast, King had Thomas Dimitroff, the general manager of the Atlanta Falcons and former Patriots employee. Dimitroff was asked what made New England and Bill Belichick successful. He said their success was the result of every person and player knowing exactly what they need to do for the team to win. Again, pulling together on that same path towards that same central goal.
Dimitrioff talked about the Falcons, too. After Arthur Blank decided to fire Mike Smith, they went hunting for head coaches. When he interviewed Dan Quinn, his stomach was a butterfly garden. In his interview, Quinn talked about how important athleticism is. The entire time Dimitrioff, a general manager whose specialty is evaluating athletic ability, nodded his head in agreement. Through that love of athleticism, the Falcons put together the NFC Champions. They constructed a team that had the best offense in the league, a versatile one that’s filled with speed, and combined it with a young, very fast, and hard hitting defense that Quinn molded, taught, and developed.
As I listened to these podcasts and read articles about similar things, I was struck by how perfect it was and how you hear this about every championship team. Knowing roles. How each player fits. What to look for in every position. A cohesive plan to build a roster that matches the scheme and what the decision-makers, the coach and general manager, value in a team.
As I listened and read, I thought about how the Houston Texans were the opposite of this in 2016. They spent the offseason adding speed and elusiveness, only to run a grind-it-out, power run offense. They paid big for Lamar Miller and turned him into Alfred Blue, a plodding between the tackles runner, instead of allowing him to be masterful in space. They drafted Will Fuller, who became a ghost after the first month of the season, The Texans turned DeAndre Hopkins into a shell of himself. The passing game drizzled down its leg in the form of passing attempts in the flat to tight ends. Brock Osweiler was terrible. Awful. Despicable. You name it. But when Osweiler had success, it was from throwing the ball down field. Yet again, they ran a short passing offense that required accuracy, quick decisions, and a quick release, none of which Osweiler has. None of it made sense based on the decisions made last spring.
Whatever vision the Texans had didn’t match the product. Some of it, I get. Not everything is going to be perfect. You have to make changes and adjust when things don’t work out. The real worry is that the Texans don’t have a central vision of what they want this team to look like.
Heading into the playoffs, it was rumored the Texans could possibly fire Bill O’Brien or O’Brien could leave to coach somewhere else. The reasoning was that O’Brien wanted more control. He wanted more power to decide who to cut, who to draft, and what free agents to pursue. In other words, O’Brien wanted the job of the general manager. It was rumored that Brock Osweiler was a Rick Smith signing, not a Bill O’Brien signing. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know, but the number of reports and the drama heading into the playoffs made it seem certain there is some level of disconnect and animosity between the two.
This is the exact opposite of how successful franchises are run. Both the general manager and coach are supposed to work together to construct a roster that fits what they think is the best way to win football games. That’s it. That’s what the Falcons and Patriots just did and continue to do. The Texans didn’t do that this year. They operated under a shroud of power struggles and backroom bickering.
As the Texans enter the offseason, the spotlight for the Texans will be on specific questions. Which veterans are cut to create cap space? Will Kareem Jackson move to safety? Is Derek Newton going to be able to play again; if not, who will they bring in to replace him? How much will it cost to resign A.J. Bouye? Will the Texans finagle cap space to sign a veteran quarterback like Tony Romo? Will they take a quarterback early in the 2017 NFL Draft, or will they kick the can down the road again and start Tom Savage? Will DeAndre Hopkins be re-signed to a long-term deal? This is what’s facing this team entering this offseason.
If you care about the Texans winning a championship and this team being better than 9-7, the most important thing may not be the answers to any of the questions listed above. The most important aspect of this offseason is whether Smith and O’Brien can pull their expertise together to make the Texans better. If so, the talent is there for this team to make the jump to being an actual contender, assuming they can find a quarterback and improve the offense to at least league average. If not, thie 2017 Houston Texans will continue to be stretched apart in different directions without meshing. In a tougher AFC South and against a tough schedule that includes New England, Kansas City, the AFC North, and the NFC West, this could be the season where all the snips in the seams up top split open.