The Texans have one player on their roster who truly matters, and that’s Deshaun Watson. Everyone else here isn’t integral. They could be traded or cut. They can be replaced. The entirety of the franchise is tied around their star quarterback, who is one of the five best quarterbacks in the league, playing the most important position in the game, a player who routinely turns the third into the fourth, who melds the supernatural into the natural here on Earth.
Despite having the league’s worst run game by DVOA, Watson has carried an offense that is seventh in passing DVOA, the highest mark the Texans have seen since the Matt Schaub days. Without a run game, without his best wide receiver, playing behind a still porous offensive line, Watson has completed 330 of his 472 passes (69.9%) for 4,134 yards, and has thrown 27 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. He’s having the best season of his career even through the horrors he’s played through.
Although Houston’s passing offense has been dramatically better with Tim Kelly instead of Bill O’Brien, Kelly has still barely scratched the surface of what an offense built around Watson could look like. The major contribution he’s made is the amount of spread and empty sets the Texans have utilized. These formations are the future of Texans football. Spread and empty formations are what the next good Texans team will be built around. These formations allow Watson to stretch zone defenses horizontally, seek and pick out match-ups presnap, and if nothing is open, he can use his legs to take off and turn nothing into something. It gets the most out of his skillset.
That being said, Kelly’s offense still has no ground game to speak of, hasn’t used Watson as a runner nearly enough (praise be, in a meaningless season), lacks a vertical passing game, hasn’t stretched the seams, and is based mainly around juke routes and crossing patterns. It still hasn’t made the most of Watson’s athleticism or his ability to push the ball downfield.
This is where the next head coach comes in. There’s no need to overthink it. You don’t have to galaxy brain it. You aren’t that smart. I’m not that smart. None of us who spend time on the internet talking about football are that smart. The Texans need an offensive minded head coach who can provide offensive stability, design an offense around Watson, and continue to tinker with it as the team and environment the game is played in changes. Watson is the only thing that matters. Wringing all the production from him they can is how Houston can fix this franchise and jump back to being a playoff team again.
Arthur Smith can do this. The Titans have a top five offense. They are so much more than Derrick Henry. Ryan Tannehill is a MVP candidate. He runs an outside zone play action game with spread quick passing elements. With Watson, he could evolve his spread passing game, and get the run game juice needed to open up throwing lanes. The only concern is how much of his game is based around the outside zone. The Texans current offensive line can’t block this scheme, or any scheme for that manner. I believe that Smith would change his offense for Watson, but there is some level of gray here. If he didn’t, it would take a season or two for him to get the offensive line and back he needed to run his offense. If he does, Houston’s offense would take off to another new level in a single offseason.
Eric Bienemy can do this. He’s been the offensive coordinator in Kansas City since 2018. Since then the Chiefs have had a great offense with Alex Smith that evolved into one of the greatest offenses of all-time with Patrick Mahomes. Speed. Attacking every blade of grass. Pre-snap motion that creates interesting run designs that set up bizarre play action passing angles. Utilizing route combinations to open up easy throws. One of the best screen games in the league. A beautiful deep passing game. Bienemy has designed and called it all with Andy Reid.
Brian Daboll can do this. The Bills have an excellent spread quick passing offense and have morphed Josh Allen from a reckless daredevil who would stiff arm multiple defensive linemen on the snap and heave the ball 55 yards into triple coverage, into one of the league’s best quarterbacks over a three year period. He uses Allen as a runner a perfect amount. He’s gotten the absolute most you can out of a true number one wide receiver since Buffalo traded for Stefon Diggs, and have meshed him perfectly with their complimentary options Cole Beasley, Dawson Knox, Gabriel Davis, John Brown, and Isaiah McKenzie. With a revolving offensive line this year, he’s continuously tinkered with the run game, and now it’s starting to come together with the playoffs about to start. His offense is the most applicable to Houston, and would be the easiest one to copy and paste.
Aside from these three, name any offensive minded head coach, and they’d be a better option than a defensive minded head coach. Jim Caldwell, Joe Brady, Greg Roman, Byron Leftwich. All of these names are better options than what someone on the defensive side of the ball can bring.
The Texans have a talent deficiency on defense. They have three players on their defense that would be starters for other teams: Justin Reid, Zach Cunningham, and J.J. Watt. That’s it. Everyone else ranges from horrendous to below replacement level. Since 2018, Bill O’Brien has mortgaged talent from the defensive side of the ball, invested in his offense, and never had the results needed to make up for it. The cracks were there all along. This year the dam burst.
In case you forgot, Houston’s defense lost D.J. Reader and Tashaun Gipson last offseason, and only added Eric Murray to it. They drafted defensive players who failed to contribute this season in any meaningful way. It’s not a rookie season. Idiot. Aside from Reid, the defensive players they’ve added haven’t developed into consistent starters. The great players they’ve kept have only gotten older. Get your shopping cart. Don’t go into the basement. It’s a gray apocalyptic wasteland. Even with Watt playing a full season, Houston is 30th in defensive DVOA, and are 24th in points allowed.
Anthony Weaver deserves part of the blame. He’s consistently made decisions that have actively hurt this team. As recently as last week he played two high shells to defend the sideline against Philip Rivers, who can’t throw the ball down the sideline well, and saw his defense absolutely crushed in the slot and the seams because of it. He’s done everything from continue to start Whitney Mercilus, to have Jacob Martin drop in coverage and rush on the interior instead of rush along the edge, play Eric Murray at slot cornerback, turn Lonnie Johnson Jr. into a meaningless single high safety, failed to use Ross Blacklock in any way similar to how he had success at TCU, called plenty of blitzes without generating pressure, and so many other things that have been lost to the sands of time. The list goes on on and on.
As hurtful as Weaver has been, a new defensive coordinator isn’t going to dramatically change this defense. At its heart, the defense has a talent issue. It’s going to take a year or years for Houston to have a competent defense again. The entire building needs to be demolished and rebuilt.
Robert Saleh had an all-time great pass defense in 2019 because it had Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, DeForrest Buckner, Dee Ford, and Sheldon Day demolishing fronts, and coverage linebackers in Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw who could carry out every coverage task needed for a cover three defense to cover the middle of the field. His 2020 defense has been underwhelming and it’s propped up by the turnovers its created. His cover three, and now cover four defense, isn’t what Houston is missing. It’s missing the defensive line, coverage linebacker talent, and boundary cornerbacks needed to play it.
Matt Eberflus turned the Colts defense around in 2018. This had more to do with the fact that he had great players we didn’t know were great players yet. Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore, Denico Autry, Anthony Walker, and Pierre Desir all came out of nowhere this season. Since then the Colts have had a good, to now a great defense that has recently been picked apart some, that has seen its young players develop further and has added Buckner, Julian Blackmon (the type of player everyone wanted Malik Hooker to be), and Xavier Rhodes to it.
The Texans defense lacks the talent needed for both of these defensive coordinators, or any defensive coordinator, to bring this defense up to acceptable. Houston is praying to have at best a 20th ranked defense next year. It’s questionable that any coordinator could do this in the span of a season with the problems they currently have, and even then, this wouldn’t be enough without the offensive production needed to make up for it.
For Houston to become a playoff team again, they need to get the most out of Watson, and outscore whoever it is they are playing. You don’t have to drop 31 a game to be a winning football team, but for a team with a defense this atrocious, ball-control, high possession do just enough football wouldn’t make this possible. The future and the entire franchise is Deshaun Watson. Getting the most out of him is the only thing that matters.
Don’t overthink it. The Texans need an offensive minded head coach to do exactly this.