Last season the Texans, with DeAndre Hopkins, posted the first positive offensive DVOA in the Bill O’Brien era with a whopping 0.4%. They finished 16th in the NFL. After the moves they made this offseason, where do you think Houston’s offense will finish in 2020?
This was the question I asked the masthead. These were their responses:
Since the DeAndre Hopkins trade occurred, the sentiment surrounding the Texans, the head coach, and the general manager have completely flipped. The “Fire Bill O’Brien” chorus has dimmed to stray voices and the occasional pop of a bubble. It seems, at least on the internet anyways, the majority of the fan base has come around to the idea of speed—Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, Randall Cobb, Will Fuller, Duke and David Johnson.
The Texans got worse by trading Hopkins for what turned into Brandin Cooks, David Johnson and what became pick swap that allowed them to take Ross Blacklock in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Two months doesn’t change that. Hopkins is a top three wide receiver. He’s one of the best players in the game. He was one of the best players in the league at creating first downs. Without him, the Texans have a blind spot in their passing attack. They don’t have someone who can consistently move the sticks at an elite level like he can. Plus, you know who is a pretty incredible vertical receiver? DeAndre Hopkins.
The offense can still improve if the playcalling is more aggressive and actually changes. The constant battering of first down rushes. The need to set up the deep ball instead of allowing the deep ball to be its own creature, to open up the rest of the offense. A wider variety of route concepts that create open receivers and attacks the deep part of the field in a way other than deep crosses. All of this could create a dramatic shift in the offense in 2020. Last year’s mediocre offense wasn’t mediocre because of talent.
Additionally, Deshaun Watson is still a young quarterback. He’s entering his age 25 season, just the fourth year of his NFL career. He’ll continue to get better. He’ll continue to mature. His development is another key component for next year’s projection.
Houston could improve to a fringe top ten offense if the playcalling changes and Watson continues to improve. I still see Tim Kelly has a third nipple on Bill O’Brien’s tummy, though. Until Stills, Fuller, Cooks, and Johnson running a wheel route out of the backfield creates some obscene four verticals concept, I don’t buy that some dramatic revolution is coming. There is also a lot of skill player redundancy here. Get ready for Randall Cobb to get a ton of third down targets. Over the last few weeks, Hopkins has somehow become an underrated player, an absolutely absurd thought.
I see Houston finishing around 16th again. They’re worse without Hopkins, but there are things that can make up for it and stave this trade off from being a disaster. I just have to see some of these things to have any confidence in the offense improving whatsoever.
This question gets right at the heart of the problem with the O’Brien/Watson era. Can the offense be good? Sure. Can it be great? Absolutely. Because Deshaun Watson. Even taking away his most effective and reliable weapon in DeAndre Hopkins (breaks stuff, bleeds from eyeballs, claws at skin, punches the sun, etc.), Watson can do wonders.
But so much depends on the health of these receivers, who as a group have been riddled with head and soft tissue injuries. So much relies on Bill O’Brien’s talent evaluation as general manager, and O’Brien’s alleged offensive guru status for what has been a mediocre-to-good group his entire tenure and into Watson’s time. Any improvement due to Tim Kelly allegedly calling plays in 2020 would be a shock; he’s an O’Brien guy who is aligned with the way he wants to do things. Appointing someone outside the building to bring a new perspective would have been a much more encouraging move... but again, Through Deshaun All Things Are Possible.
So yeah, with another year for the offensive line to stabilize, another year of Watson learning, and so on, I think this could potentially be an excellent offensive group. For a prediction, it’s Friday, and I’m feeling optimistic. Let’s say they make a modest jump to 11th.
But for wins and losses? For CHAMPIONSHIPS? Every season, Watson’s ceiling at some point is going to crash right into O’Brien’s, and the question is - will it crash THROUGH it, or will it just fall to the ground in a pile of 10-6 and one playoff win ash?
On paper and employing sound football logic, there’s no way this offense can’t be better in 2020 than it was in 2019 simply due to the next level of improvement from the offensive line. Nearly every team’s success is built in the trenches and the Texans are no exception. With one year together, an offseason to continue learning and (hopefully) an unabridged training camp, Tytus Howard and Max Scharping should take a sophomore step forward, Nick Martin should elevate closer to the Pro Bowl center he was predicted to be when drafted, Laremy Tunsil can cut out the mental mistakes, and the whole unit can operate from a place of experienced chemistry that’s been sorely lacking over the entire O’Brien era.
This opens up all sorts of areas for improvement across the board. Deshaun Watson can actually read and react instead of just reacting and relying on his personal bag of magic tricks to win the play. The running backs can actually hit holes that are - shockingly - open. Wide receivers will have the ability to run expanded route trees, knowing Watson doesn’t have throw the ball immediately like it’s a hot potato because half the defensive front seven isn’t in Houston’s backfield before he can take two steps.
Sure, you simply cannot replace a player like DeAndre Hopkins. Not having that outlet for Watson is going to hurt the offense. But Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb provide different skill sets that a solid offensive coordinator (is that Tim Kelly? Only time will tell) can exploit in a more dynamic manner than he could with only one player.
On paper, sound football logic says yes.
In reality, based on the experience of watching Bill O’Brien’s teams for his entire Houston tenure, what’s on paper doesn’t always correlate with what happens on the gridiron. Throw in the variables of a new defensive scheme (which impacts the offense via time of possession, ability to play with or without a lead, and turnover generation, to name a few), add the inevitable injuries that are sure to come, plus the impact of the pandemic on off- and preseason preparation, and predicting just what this team will do in 2020 is like throwing darts at a moving target while blindfolded after slamming ten shots of tequila.
In the end, I remain hopeful, but feel the specter of once bitten dreams lurking on the horizon.
I think we’ve seen the peak of Bill O’Brien’s offense.
Sure, Tim Kelly or whomever is the offensive coordinator, but the person driving those decisions will still be BOB. Kelly, after all, has sat as O’Brien’s side for years, ineffectively helping the offense.
There is no reason whatsoever to believe the Texans can develop offensive linemen either, not with Mike Devlin’s history. And, no, Martin’s slight improvement is not proof of anything.
David Johnson, Brandin Cooks, and Randall Cobb is a massive downgrade from Carlos Hyde and DeAndre Hopkins. Hyde may not be the best running back in the league (like Hopkins is at WR!), but his style far better fits what the Texans want to do offensively. At this stage of his career, Da. Johnson is not an effective carrier of the rock. Plus we already have the better version of David Johnson on the roster, who just happens to be Duke Johnson.
The Texans were a better offense last year because of Carlos Hyde and slightly better line play. The line play should, hopefully, continue to improve, but that’s not a given. What is known is that Hyde’s style at least helped the offense to some degree in 2019. Without Hyde and without an effective third down weapon like Hopkins, the offense will be about the same, if not a little worse.
All this, of course, is dependent upon the scheme. Hint: we aren’t going to do anything more with the team speed than we did last year.
What do you think? What’s your prediction for where Houston’s offense will finish next year?