With interest from the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions for their respective head coach openings, Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel is a man in some level of demand. If you follow the Houston Texans closely, however, you may not be quite as infatuated.
I grabbed a handful of the BRB staff to declare their preference for a somewhat specific hypothetical:
If your choices for defensive coordinator for the Texans in 2018 are Mike Vrabel or Romeo Crennel - who ya got? Sounds simple - maybe it IS simple... but the spirit of the question is really - would you prefer Crennel (who is in the twilight of his career, but doesn’t seem like he’s ready to be done with football) OR would you prefer Vrabel, who had a rough first year as defensive coordinator but, based on his undeniable success as a position coach, could still round into something special given more experience and a healthier roster in 2018?
(Perhaps, regardless of the framing - it still is a simple question.)
Here are the reactions I received:
Titan Matt Weston, Slanderer of Blade Runner and a Huge Fan of the Texas Rangers:
Texans fans shouldn’t be enamored with Mike Vrabel because he was bad at his job. He may have been a leader and have the Patriots connection, but that hasn’t meant much for previous coaches.
What is it? It’s it. Injuries were the biggest reason for the Texans having an awful defense for the first time since 2010, and the 2017 roster wasn’t constructed to be able to make up for injuries to the front seven like it was in 2016. Regardless, the defense underperformed when the gang was healthy, and you can’t cry injuries when you are playing man coverage with slow corners against Jacksonville’s spread horizontal offense and continuing to run Cover 4 in crunch time and losing games because of it. I mean, yeah, Vrabel can get better, maybe, but that’s the murky unknown. All we know is he was bad this year.
Aside from J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus getting 100% healthy and the new unknown mystery man general manager fixing the secondary in one offseason, the next best thing that could happen to this defense would be some silly team naming Vrabel to be their head coach and for Crennel to climb down the ivy and coach Houston’s defense again. He was great in this role the previous three years, and he coached a defense in 2016 that would have knocked out the Patriots in the NFL Playoffs if it wasn’t for [NAME REDACTED].
Good luck, Mike. We wish you all the best. Remember to have an answer ready for whenever the interviewers ask you about a time you overcame diversity.
I think both sides of this argument are true. Side A - Crennel would be a better choice than Vrabel in 2018. Side B - Vrabel could get better with fewer injuries and another year of experience. Also, even if you keep Vrabel because “you don’t want to lose him” - if he’s not gone this offseason, then next off-season he will most assuredly be gone due either to a hiring or firing. There’d be no reason to hang on to Vrabel again if the 2018 defense wasn’t vastly improved.
Plus - right or wrong - the book has already been written on BOTH Crennel as a head coach and Vrabel as a potential head coach. Crennel hasn’t been a good head coach and is extremely unlikely to ever get interest as one again; Vrabel - right or wrong - seems a virtually LOCK to be a head coach unless he just completely falls off a cliff.
So, in this silly hypothetical (which I am 100% at-fault for creating), the answer, undoubtedly - is Romeo Crennel.
I mean... I guess I kind of have to go with RAC, right? We saw what he did with a beat-up defense in 2016 (which was elite), whereas in 2017 Vrabel piloted a similarly beat-up defense and it turned into a disaster.
Yes, you could say that the presence of Whitney Mercilus and A.J. Bouye helped a whole lot in 2016, but were their absences enough to turn this unit from one of the league’s best into one of the league’s worst in just one year? I don’t necessarily buy that narrative.
Mike Vrabel is a great guy and a fantastic position coach at a micro level (we owe Jadeveon Clowney’s development in large part to him, I think), but I’m not convinced he knows how to handle coordinating at a macro level just yet. RAC can still do that, so I would go with him.
Just looking at the results alone, you have to choose RAC here. It’s an odd thing, because Bill Belichick gave quite a bit of rare praise for Vrabel back when he joined the Texans’ staff, even going as far as to say Vrabel was the smartest defensive player he ever coached and that Vrabel was essentially a player/coach when on the field back in the day. Maybe it takes more time to rise from a position coach to a coordinator and excel at the “macro” view of the game, or perhaps this Houston roster is just THAT screwed after losing two of the best players (Watt and Mercilus).
Let’s consider this when you look at these two images as Exhibits A and B. They occurred during the very winnable tilt against the Patriots earlier this season but are representative of many games during 2017. Is the issue a problem with schematic design (play-calling) or player execution?
Chris Hogan* > Mike Vrabel + John Butler + Rick Smith’s defensive secondary roster.
*May also be substituted by T.Y. Hilton in any given season.
At this point it’s not believed Vrabel is the favorite for either the Colts or Lions openings, so it looks like he will remain as Houston’s defensive coordinator moving forward.
It’s a mystery as to exactly what role Romeo Crennel plays with the defense - but Vrabel sure could use to learn a thing or two from him. Regardless of injuries, the Texans’ defense made a lot more mental errors, had more inexplicable lapses in coverage, and as a practical matter - simply gave up a mega [kitten] ton more points in 2017.
Go ahead and hit the comments section to give your thoughts on Vrabel, Crennel, and the hierarchy/structure of this once-feared Texans defense moving forward.