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BRB Group Think: What’s The Ceiling With Bill O’Brien?

The Masthead gathers for our latest version of “How far can Bill O’Brien take the Texans?”

NFL: International Series-Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

What is the Houston Texans’ ceiling with Bill O’Brien running the show? This is one of the most opined topics both on Battle Red Blog and “behind the scenes” when the Masthead has super top secret discussions the contents of which can NEVER fall into the wrong hands.

After the largest margin of defeat in Deshaun Watson’s football career, an embarrassing 41-7 bed-kittening against the Baltimore Ravens, the Texans once again showed they aren’t ready for prime time beyond the promise of a division title. At least, for now. Back to back wins at home against Indianapolis and New England could turn things back around in quite a hurry. Your move, Coach O’Brien.

So what’s BRB’s current opinion of the heights O’Brien can take this team? Here we go.

Matt Weston:

The most important thing is talent. The Texans have been a talented team for eleven (?) years or so now. The previous iteration of a contending team was trampled by Albert Haynesworth, and that team didn’t match up with the life cycle of its quarterback. The mid 2010s were a lost time because of the quarterbacks Bill O’Brien HELPED PICK OUT. And now, the Texans went all in, on this year and next year after hoarding their cap space all offseason, because their head coach is also the general manager, and it looks obvious they aren’t even a real contender anyways.

This isn’t to knock the team’s talent. With a quarterback like Deshaun Watson, you’re a de facto contender. The problem the Texans face is that when the talent is equal, they rarely** overcome it. They can handle the bad and mediocre teams, which typically just means the rest of the AFC South, because Houston’s players are better. It really isn’t that hard to gameplan and beat the 2018 Washington Redskins. Houston’s coaching seldom outschemes other top teams, and you end up with games like last Sunday, or last season in the Wild Card Round against the Colts. In nearly every BIG game under Bill O’Brien, they’re outcoached. And that’s entirely on Bill O’Brien.

The only chance Houston has to truly contend is if they get a 2019 New England Patriots schedule and they waltz into a first round bye. By having one of those, you’re automatically a Super Bowl contender. But whenever football gets chilly, and the talent on the field is equal, this team fails. So to answer your question, the ceiling would be an AFC Divisional Round. Until they get past that, I won’t expect a Bill O’Brien team to do it.

**With exceptions being the wins over the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs and 2015 Cincinnati Bengals.

Capt. Ron:

I don’t think there is any question that Deshaun Watson is fully capable of winning numerous Super Bowl championships. What is in question is if he can somehow overcome the limited coaching ability provided by Bill O’Brien to deliver those championships to Houston. Given the body of evidence we have now from six years of the O’Brien system, along with 33 games with Watson as the starter, I don’t see it happening.

The talent parity in the NFL is real. To O’Brien’s point, it is indeed an 8-8 league by design. To overcome that, a team has to have:

Exceptional leadership in researching and preparing for each game plan. O’Brien has been consistently below average in this category. His team often looks lost, unprepared, confused, and outmatched from a strategic perspective. Bill Belichick is the gold standard here, and O’Brien is near the bottom 5 in the league.

Superior execution of said game plan(s) with very little room for mistakes during in-game decision making. – O’Brien has been well below average in this role. Sean Payton and Bill Belichick are the gold standard in this category, and O’Brien again ranks in the bottom 5.

Creativity to find new wrinkles and mismatches to give your team’s schematic system the edge. John Harbaugh, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Andy Reid, (and yes, again) Bill Belichick are your top-5 at this in the NFL. Sadly, O’Brien again ranks in the bottom of the league with a stubborn and uninspired approach.

The benefit of a truly exceptional handful of talented superstars who can single-handedly change the outcome of a given play and the overall game itself. Houston has this with Deshaun Watson, but willfully chose to depart from Jadeveon Clowney and then lost J.J. Watt to injury.

A coach who can do more with less. A leader who can find ways to inspire and motivate players to perform well above expectations, and to overcome their individual imperfections (emotional, intellectual, social or otherwise). Again, Belichick sets the benchmark on this, with a few exceptions (Antonio Brown and Aaron Hernandez come to mind). O’Brien can’t seem to find a way to coach any players who don’t conform to his rigid way of doing things. If they express independent thoughts or opinions and don’t love football with endless passion, they are added to a large scrapheap just outside NRG Stadium.

That’s five key elements that I feel separate the best head coaches of football from the rest and give their organizations the best opportunity to win championships. The first three points can be overcome by hiring an outstanding coordinator. Point #4 is a matter of having a great scouting department and general manager, and a bit of luck in the draft. Point #5 is core to the role of the best head coaches in history. Bill O’Brien struggles at all of these in his effort to be GM/HC/OC. For that reason, I don’t think the Texans will ever reach the AFC Championship under his command.

Jeremy Brener:

I think the Texans have a limited ceiling, but I am unsure if that is because of them or because of who is ahead of them.

Patriots - #1 defense, defending champions

Ravens - Top 5 defense, revolutionary offense

Chiefs - Revolutionary offense

The Texans have proven that they are on the same level with the Chiefs after beating them last month.

If you told me before the season began that the Texans would be 6-4 at this point, I’d probably say that was accurate and optimistic; 5-5 seemed more reasonable.

Before the season, I expected a Chiefs loss (that was win) and a Panthers win (that was a loss), so those two flipped isn’t horrible.

Keep in mind, Houston played the 8-2 Saints really close (should’ve won) and beat a surprisingly good Raiders team.

I think if the Texans fall short this year, it won’t necessarily be an O’Brien thing, but rather who is ahead of them.

I am giving OB til the end of Deshaun’s rookie deal (two more seasons after this) to prove himself. If not, he isn’t the guy.


The Texans are good enough to make the NFL Playoffs every year. They may or may not get past the divisional round depending on the opponent (they can beat KC/OAK but may get steamrolled by Baltimore and New England).

Deshaun Watson has carried BOB since last season. If not for him, BOB would’ve been fired last year for his 0-3 start and his bad record. I’ve been convinced for a while that BOB is not the guy to lead the Texans to the promised land. However, the Texans could be stuck with him for the next couple of seasons, especially if we make the playoffs this year. BOB is nowhere near the worst coach in the NFL, but he’s nowhere near the best either. He’s average at best, and that’s what the Texans will continue to be as long as he is at the helm.


Bill O’Brien has been screaming for years that he’s incapable of bringing the Texans past the first round of the playoffs. Worst of all, he’s the only coach in the NFL capable of stopping Deshaun Watson. Maybe, just maybe, we should listen to what BOB’s been saying to us.

Mike Bullock:

There’s a few things I’ve been saying for quite a while now.

1) Bill O’Brien seems like a great guy and he’s someone I love to root for.

B) Everything rises and falls on leadership. A great coach can win with a mediocre team but a mediocre coach can’t win with a great team (unless it happens year one where a previous great coach’s culture is still in effect) .

3) At the end of the day, O’Brien seems destined to be in the same category as Norv Turner, Charlie Weis, Wade Philips and, yes, Romeo Crennel - coordinators promoted beyond their competency that just couldn’t get the job done at the head coach level.

As I’ve said before, Bill O’Brien is an average head coach. Meaning, at the NFL level of coaching, he’s one of the 32 best in the world, but against the top 10, he’s simply out of his depth. For every step forward, there’s an equal and opposite step backwards. Gain Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills, lose Jadeveon Clowney. Build a powerhouse offense, dismantle a stifling defense. There’s an old saying, attributed to the legendary Indian Chief, Sitting Bull: ‘Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket and sew it to the bottom of a blanket and have a longer blanket.’ In his short tenure as Head Coach/GM, Bill O’Brien has done a lot of cutting and sewing, but the blanket hasn’t gotten any longer.

While I really hope I’m wrong, wrong, wrong, it’s hard to see a a true path that leads the Texans to an AFC or NFL title with O’Brien at the helm. Too many fundamental mistakes (team not prepared to take the field, clock management, poor adjustments at halftime, predictable play calling, etc. etc.) and too much inconsistency. While it’s easy to point to last year’s record winning streak as a sign of consistent winning, it’s also easy to point at the mistakes several opponents made that saved the Texans from Bill O’Brien.

In the end, the song remains the same: I think Bill O’Brien is a great guy and I love rooting for him, but my hope that he will bring the great city of Houston an NFL championship is dead and gone.


I believe that the ceiling with O’Brien as the head coach of the Texans is at best the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. It has become increasingly clear that O’Brien is in over his head when having to come up with game plans or schemes against top tier teams. He is consistently outcoached and can’t come up with adjustments when what he has planned isn’t working.

In the past few years, I’ve been a huge Bill O’Brien supporter. I was impressed at what he was able to get out of the team when we had no legitimate QB. However, now that he has the QB, he has underwhelmed. I think this perfectly sums up what O’Brien is. He is a middle of the road coach. He is able to get the best out of bad teams and able to pull the worst out of good teams.

O’Brien is currently 48-42. That’s a winning percentage of .533%. I would love to see the Texans win a Super Bowl and if O’Brien was the head coach when it happened, I’d be ecstatic. The reality is I don’t think he’s capable of that. He’s a middle of the pack coach and the Texans should look into finding someone who can win it all.

Feel free to use the comments below to share your thoughts on O’Brien and where he can take this team. The Texans can do a lot of damage with Deshaun Watson, but it remains to be seen if O’Brien will ever fully and truly embrace what he has in #4, and if he does - if Watson can lead this team to a level that most of us can’t quite see in the near future.