With Bill O’Brien in total control of the football operations on NRG Parkway, we decided to ponder the question “Just how far?”.
How far do you think the current Texans regime can take this team, what’s holding them back from going further ,and what can be done to overcome?
In between sessions of counting the millions of dollars we all earn in BRB endorsements, public appearances, ribbon cutting ceremonies, and all that comes with that blogger life, we tossed this pigskin around the palatial offices for awhile.
Honestly, I don’t think it’s out of the question for the Texans to go to the AFC Championship, but they’ll need a little bit of luck or a strong showing in the Divisional Round. The AFC right now is dominated by the Chiefs and Ravens, as it should be, because they have the best two QBs in the game right now. Watson is definitely third on this list, and I still believe we have yet to see the best from him.
The Texans’ offense is not the problem. It’s the defense. That was proven in the last game the Texans played. It’s hard to win football games when you allow the opposing team to score 50+ on you.
I think as long as the Texans don’t take significant steps back, O’Brien’s job is safe. In fact, I believe O’Brien’s job is safe as long as they are within a game of the NFL Playoffs. He still has two seasons left on his contract and I don’t know if the Texans would want to pay two coaches for two years unless they absolutely had to. I really think the success of the team will be determined by the defense. If the Texans fall out of contention, I think a defensive-minded head coach would do them a lot of good. Perhaps Robert Saleh, the 49ers’ defensive coordinator.
This question gets to the most frustrating part of Houston Texans fandom. I think it’s already pretty clear to most of us who are out on O’Brien, that despite BOB’s shortcomings, Through Deshaun, All (most?) Things Are Possible. In a “typical” season, I just don’t know that Deshaun can raise this team up above its mediocre coach, below-average GM, and questionable defense to advance past the divisional round. By “typical,” I mean, if it’s a season where there is a dominant team or two in the AFC. If it’s an odd year and there is not a truly dominant team, or a dominant team gets bounced early in the playoffs, then sure - I can see Deshaun dragging the Texans into the AFC title game and beyond. Deshaun has that clutch gene, so if the rest of the team can just manage to put him in position, we’re always in it.
The problem is O’Brien isn’t going anywhere and he is what holds them back. I’m a Texans fan and I’m not going to stop - so yeah, of course I will support them and be invested in every game. If O’Brien’s GM moves pay off, I’ll admit I was wrong. If he suddenly becomes a better coach, that will be great, but it doesn’t change what he’s been up to this point, where player primes have been wasted and the franchise QB hasn’t been able to fulfill his true potential. An improved COACH O’Brien doesn’t mean he was better than he was given credit for in previous years.
Could this team overcome the coach? Maybe. I think that would take having either the offense or the defense being ELITE - like top 3 in the league elite in SCORING; to hell with the other measures. I only say that about the offense because it seems that unit has a better chance to be elite than the defense. Anthony Weaver may or may not be an improvement; that defense needs a talent influx more than it needs different or better coaching.
I think we’ve seen the peak.
With BOB at the helm, we’re a poser of a team that can beat down on poor teams but cannot play up to better teams. Sure, there are outliers for the latter part of the statement (Chiefs and Patriots regular season games last year), but the Chiefs more than made up for it in the postseason.
Now we have a GM that’s willing to sell out the future of the team in order to make the offense look middling. The defense is a disaster area, and it actively got worse in the offseason.
The Texans are mediocrity defined.
I think we’ve seen it. We are an 11-5 team who will squeeze by a close home wildcard game and get demolished in the second round. That is as far as we can go under this regime. Especially now that there are two “special” teams in the conference; that is, the Ravens and Chiefs. The Texans are doomed to be a competitive little brother. We would have had to make major changes to compete at a higher level. Which we actually did, but the fruit of those moves were so poor that we’ve shrunk the window of success by two years. This team will be so desperate for young talent in two years, it will be devastating.
The number one thing holding the Texans back physically is the defense. Mentally, it is going to be the moves they have made. The cloud over the team will be so dark, no one will want to come here, and any early losses can turn this team into a dumpster fire.
If the Texans are to make a move up, they need O’Brien to take the leash off Watson, open up the offense, and dominate. Watson needs an MVP season for us to get 13 wins. We also need a miracle from someone we do not have on this roster or is currently a no-name. Someone has to come out of nowhere and have a Rookie of the Year type campaign.
I recently re-watched the NCAA Championship Game where Watson eviscerated one of the best college defenses to ever take the field. He slayed Alabama in such a way that I think there’s a chance that he could even overcome limited coaching decisions by O’Brien at the NFL level. Could he do that enough to win a Super Bowl? I can’t count him out.
That being said, I just don’t see this team winning the AFC Championship against competition like the Chiefs. I think the ceiling has been reached with O’Brien at the Divisional Playoff Round. He’s a slightly above average coach who mostly wins and loses one-possession games week in and week out with the occasional game where he gets blown out due to mostly a bad game plan from start to finish. O’Brien is the primary thing holding the Texans back.
To overcome this, the Texans need a modern offensive coordinator who can build a system around Watson and the talent on the roster. That’s diametrically opposed to the O’Brien approach of trying to force [insert any player name here] into a complex and outdated system that he wants to run come hell or high water.
With Watson, all things are possible. That being said, from a talent perspective, the Texans didn’t improve this offseason. They got worse by trading DeAndre Hopkins for Brandin Cooks and David Johnson and the chance to take Ross Blacklock. You know who’s a great vertical receiver? Hopkins. You know who always moves the sticks? Hopkins. The only big addition Houston made in free agency to their 26th ranked defense by DVOA was Eric Murray, and they lost D.J. Reader and Tashaun Gipson. They went 10-6 and lost to Kansas City last year because they went 9-3 in one score games. As great as Watson is, this sort of thing isn’t sustainable. The Texans needed to get better this offseason and they didn’t. They probably got even worse from a talent perspective.
Fortunately, the AFC South is bizarre. Tennessee will have some red zone offense regression and their mediocre defense is nearly the same as it was in 2019. Philip Rivers was bad last season and the Colts don’t have the top go up and get it air balloon possession receivers Rivers had in LA even though he’ll actually have some pass protection this season. The Jags are at the bottom of the league. The schedule is tough, but it isn’t that tough as it ranks against the entire league. Despite the problems last season and the possible imminent regression, Houston should still be competing for the division and a wild card spot, especially since Roger Goodell brought a seventh seed out of the kiln.
As great as Watson is, there’s only so much one player can do. The rest of the talent isn’t there. His rookie contract is almost up. I think last season is the ceiling unless something insane happens, like, you know, a fake screen pass touchdown, a punt block touchdown, and some bizarre third down drops that could give Houston a 24-0 lead on the road. Even then, that didn’t end up mattering at all.
Offensively, it’s playcalling and play design. A substantial change from establishing the run to the vertical passing game being the staple could bring a dramatic improvement even if the talent is worse than it was last year. I don’t believe it until I see it I see it. Tim Kelly is an extension of O’Brien. He’s a third nipple hanging off OB’s chest. Talent wise, it’s the general manager who exchanged top talent for culture and veteran leadership. There’s only one guy who controls any of this.
Honestly, I don’t even see the path to winning it all. The Texans are far behind Kansas City and Baltimore. They’re going to give $70 million combined to Watson and Laremy Tunsil, and that’s a conservative estimate. They don’t have a first or second round pick in 2021 and lost the ability to add high end cost effective talent to place around Watson. The defense is bad, and the only young building block they really have is Justin Reid. Everyone else is fine or complimentary. Offensively, the only future bright spot is the offensive line. I see this as a team that can get by on the heroics of Watson. What I can’t find is how they can get past this current bump they’ve been stuck on.
Unfortunately, I think the Texans have already knocked on the glass ceiling. Having watched the NFL for more years than I care to admit I’ve been alive, you can see the path of teams that make steady improvements season over season. They start to consistently make the playoffs, then they make the conference championship game, then they finally break through to the Super Bowl. The difference between those teams and the current version of the Texans is the teams that climb to the top don’t misfire in the offseason, and they certainly don’t misfire in back to back offseasons as the Texans have done in 2019 and 2020 (and very well may do in 2021 due to the lack of premium draft picks).
The last time the Texans took the field, the defense gave up 51 unanswered points. In most cases, the defensive coordinator would have been fired a hot minute after the final whistle and the general manager would have done a major overhaul on the defensive roster (if he wasn’t fired too).
Not the Texans. While Romeo Crennel was ultimately replaced, aside from using their first two draft picks on Ross Blacklock and Jonathan Greenard, neither of which is a sure fire Pro Bowler (yet), the Texans did absolutely nothing to ensure they put a better defensive unit on the field in 2020 - unless you count losing D.J. Reader and Tashaun Gipson an improvement (clue: it’s not!).
J.J. Watt has missed half of the last 32 games and without him out there, the defense is rock bottom, the pass rush is non-existent, and opposing offensive coordinators can attack the Texans’ defense at will. There’s no plan in place to take pressure off Watt. There’s no complimentary player on the roster, despite having years to find one and having several available in that time. The linebackers could be something special, but the bodies in front of them don’t provide enough help to let them shine. The secondary is average at best and ranked 24th in the league at the end of 2019 - with no improvement whatsoever in the offseason - which means they’re not even good enough to truly be considered average.
This is no Bill Cowher’s Steelers, Jon Gruden’s original Oakland Raiders, or Sean Peyton’s Saints. All those teams took strides to improve significantly every year until they made the big show. Houston didn’t do that last ofseason and has arguably gotten worse this year. Without an infusion of talent, it’s more of doing the same thing and hoping for different results.
Still, there’s always the x-factor of what Deshaun Watson brings to the table. Just as Brett Favre could will his team to a win, Watson has that same superpower. In the right conditions, with the right breaks going their way, and the perfect storm of ‘any given Sunday’ luck, this team could go all the way. It’s just highly unlikely all those things align o make that happen.
What do you think? Give us your take and then back up your point of view in the comments below.