The Texans have had a sick perversion with the New England Patriots since Bill O’Brien was hired in 2014. I have a fuzzy memory of Bill O’Brien pasting ‘Accomplish Your Task’ or some other equally vile vinyl signs around the locker room immediately after being hired. They hired former Patriots’ Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel, who has been perfectly fine at his job. They tried to replicate the same two tight end super genius passing offense without Tom Brady at quarterback, or even one good tight end. They played quarterback musical chairs for two seasons, in an attempt to find a diamond in the rough, and create their own magical quarterback story. They actively pursued Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer to start at quarterback. They signed the quarterback who beat Tom Brady in the snow during the regular season, who ended up winning a Superbowl as a backup, who lasted one season in Houston. They added Vince Wilfork to constipate the center of offenses, who was entertaining and lovable off the field, but elderly and movable on the field. They made former Patriot Mike Vrabel their defensive coordinator, until he left to lead men in Tennessee to mediocrity.
This Patriots replicating and emulating has brought them three division titles in five years, one playoff win over Conner Cook and the Oakland Raiders, and an 0-5 record against big brother. During the majority of the Bill O’Brien era this team has played boring football, and scraped the bare minimum out of their roster talent. The one exception are those beautiful weekends when Deshaun Watson ran the super cool offense in 2017, and the times the Texans fell behind in 2018 allowed Watson to throw the ball downfield. Other than that the Texans have played banal football, perfect for hangovers, perfect to leave on in the background while you do bigger and better things.
And now the Texans have sunken deeper into this New England pit. They fired general manager Brian Gaine, in an attempt to steal Nick Caserio from New England, were then thwarted by tampering charges, and now will probably wait until next season to try and sign Caserio again in 2020. 2019 will see the Texans model the Patriots even further. Bill O’Brien will have a Bill Belichick level of power by being both the general manager and the head coach in 2019.
With the hiring of Jack Easterby, O’Brien still at head coach, and the pursuit of Nick Caserio, the Texans have hunkered down on being the Houston Patriots. They are the Admirable Nelson to their Captain Morgan. The Greta Van Fleet to their Led Zeppelin. The Doctor Thunder to their Dr. Pepper. They are the Hill Country Fair version of the NFL’s postmodern dynasty.
The core of the problem is that copying the Patriots doesn’t work. Former coaches under Belichick who have gone on to coach in the NFL have won one playoff game. Bill O’Brien did it. That’s it. Romeo Crennel had one winning season out of five. Nick Mangini failed in both New York (J) and Cleveland. Josh McDaniels burnt down the house and was hated in his second season in Denver. Matt Patricia was 6-10 in his first season in Detroit as he continues to build a blue collar rough and tough gritty run the ball and stop the run team around a $30 million quarterback. Mike Vrabel, who played but didn’t coach under Belichick, was a shoddy defensive coordinator in Houston, and was a better head coach in a role where he can focus on leadership and rent-a-car management instead as he leads the Titans to countless 8-8 seasons. Bryan Flores is going to coach a tanking Miami team this season.
The Patriots’ assistant coaches aren’t what makes the team great. Having the greatest head coach of all time who constantly revolves his perfect marriage of scheme and personnel around the league’s rules and landscape, and the greatest quarterback of all time who takes a substantial pay cut every year is what makes the Patriots great. It wasn’t O’Brien or Patricia, or Mangini or Flores, or McDaniels, it’s Brady and Belichick.
Not only does copying and pasting the Patriots not work, but it creates a boring football environment as well. 3-4 defenses. Quarterbacks in the pocket. Quick passes to the flat or drags across the middle of the field. Fun squandered in the name of cold brutal efficiency. Why anyone would want to copy that is beside me? Figure it out. Find your own way. Take advantage of the players you have in place and learn how to win with them in a unique and interesting way.
Often, as sports’ fans, and fans of teams, we get so wrapped up in winning, and is this team or player good or not. There’s more to it than just that. There’s an entertainment factor along with it. How the team wins, and how it looks while it wins is important. How the team stretches the margins and finds value in unique ways. The aesthetic of the team. All of it is also important, and from an enjoyment aspect, is almost as important as the winning component. Winning nine games instead of seven doesn’t mean much when it’s through a consistent soulless 17-13 manner.
Nostalgia is a disease. That being said, in every Texans’ fans heart is love for those teams from the beginning of this decade. They went as far as O’Brien went into the postseason. All they did was beat the Bengals twice. But everyone thinks fondly about them. They were pleasing and enjoyable to watch, and they won in their own way. There was Arian Foster floating through cadaverous ruins and shifting in and out of gaps and cutting back across the waves of the defense in an outside zone heavy scheme. There was Matt Schaub boot leg play action passes, alone, all alone, with infinity to throw the ball downfield. There was Andre Johnson who could carry a pass offense on his own as the perfect combination of size, athleticism, and skill. And there was Wade Phillips’s defense, aggressive, blitz heavy, making quarterbacks complete passes in the bottom of the ocean, that created an environment for J.J. Watt to capitalize his talent in. Not only did they win games, but they won them in their own specific way.
The best part of the O’Brien era has been the games when Watson is allowed to run an offense directly attributed to his skills. A super cool one filled with interesting run plays that utilize his tires, an array of play action passes built off these plays, jet sweeps that extrapolate the same way, and a propensity for him to throw the ball downfield. None of it looks like New England, or any other team. It was a unique blend showcasing Watson’s talent.
Too often this is hidden. O’Brien usually saves this for when the Texans are behind and stuck actually trying to have to score points. Too often the Texans are running inside zone for three yards, and throwing short of the sticks on third and seven, until every so often, everything breaks right, the field position is nice, and they put together one of their three scoring drives. The three years before Watson shouldn’t have played out like this. A team with Watson shouldn’t look like this. The signing of AJ McCarron and the hiring of Carl Smith, both point to Watson sticking inside of the confines of the pocket, instead of Houston further pushing the boundaries on what has worked with him previously. You know, the best part of the last five years of Texans’ football.
The Texans are in the business of winning football games. To do so, they have plucked parts from the Patriots and placed them in a different ecosystem. This doesn’t work. It never has. Rather than realize this, they’ve committed to it even more. And even if the Texans become the first team to make it work, which it probably won’t, it will bring about the same boring and empty football. So please. I beg you. Stop trying to be the New England Patriots. Not only is it impossible to replicate, but it’s bland as well.