It’s easy to say a LOT rides on the current three-headed hydra of Houston Texans leadership getting the next head coaching hire right. The pressure to not screw this up goes without saying. Fan engagement is at an all-time low, the team is coming off back-to-back terrible seasons, and the second-most hated man in Houston sports history is still minding the purse in a Judas-like manner.
I’ve talked to plenty of season ticket holders who feel this way. Hard convos. The most angering thing is the team seemingly oblivious, minimizing and blowing off legit reasons for others’ mistrust.— Stephanie Stradley (@StephStradley) January 24, 2022
As for rock bottom, my rule is the rings of bad football hades are infinite. https://t.co/A1c211owvZ
The Texans are known to have interviewed the following candidates for their vacant head coaching spot:
- Brian Flores - former Dolphins head coach
- Jonathan Gannon - Eagles defensive coordinator
- Joe Lombardi - Chargers offensive coordinator (completed)
- Josh McCown - veteran NFL QB
- Hines Ward - special assistant to the head coach at Florida Atlantic University
While there’s no guarantee the next hire will come from this list, every time one of these names is mentioned in conjunction with the Texans, the Twitterspere ignites with speculation that (insert candidate here) is FOR SURE going to be the next head coach. In the end, no matter who the Texans hire, that person is going to have to roll up their sleeves and get after it. This isn’t a job for another David Culley to idly sit by and reel with amazement that rookies benefit from playing time.
No, this is going to require a true head coach who knows how to build a football program from the ashes of what remains.
The Texans finished the 2021 season 30th in points scored with only 280 and 27th in points allowed with 452. That’s a 172 point swing, the equivalent of 24.5 touchdowns. As elementary as it sounds, the 2022 team is going to have to learn to score more points than they surrender.
How do they do that? By getting better in the trenches.
The Texans’ Next Head Coach Must Improve the Offensive Line.
Houston cannot score more points if its offensive line cannot open run lanes and protect the passer. Whether it’s Davis Mills, Kirk Cousins, Baker Mayfield, or any of the other veteran quarterbacks linked to the Texans in the rumor mill, they need an offensive line to really succeed. Deshaun Watson going on a tear in spite of a bad line is an aberration, not a plan for success. The Texans’ offensive line graded out at 29th best in the league in 2021, with center Justin Britt the only one of those who saw the most snaps having a grade over 60.
Eleven different offensive linemen played at least 58 snaps for the Texans this season, with 10 of them playing over 200. The team’s biggest issue is that those who played the most earned some of the worst grades, with the unit’s top three players by workload earning PFF grades between 51.9 and 60.0. Five different linemen earned a run-blocking grade lower than 50.0, and the line as a whole earned the worst PFF run-blocking grade (47.4) in the league — the only unit to grade lower than 55.0.
Offensive lines flourish with consistency and chemistry. Having eleven different players in heavy rotation is the exact opposite of that. James Campen might seem like a better coach than Houston has had in years, but he only managed to improve this unit from 30th to 29th in 2021. Hard to call that a real success, even if it is technically improvement.
The Texans’ Next Head Coach Must Improve the Defensive Line.
ESPN Analytics put together a new set of metrics for measuring offensive and defensive line player win rates. Only one Texans player, defensive tackle Maliek Collins, made the top ten in any measured category.
The Texans ranked 18th in team pass rush win rate, 15th in team run stop win rate, 27th in pass block win rate, and 32nd in run block win rate. Clearly Collins can’t do it all himself.
If Houston is able to secure either Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux in the 2022 NFL Draft, that could go a long way to helping out the defensive front seven that sorely misses the production of a healthy J.J. Watt, D.J. Reader, and Jadeveon Clowney.
Depending on the defensive scheme, Nick Caserio could also bring in any of a number of starter caliber defensive linemen and linebackers, unlike last year’s bulk buy of one-year players.
The Texans’ Next Head Coach Must Improve the Secondary.
It’s really hard to win football games when you have one of the league’s poorest defensive backfields and you actually somehow get worse the following year.
PFF - Final 2021 NFL secondary rankings:
32. HOUSTON TEXANS
Houston’s fielded the lowest-graded secondary in the NFL by a whopping eight grading points. Only one defensive back — nickel cornerback Tavierre Thomas — didn’t produce a sub-60.0 coverage grade. While the group combined for the sixth-most interceptions (14) among the 32 secondaries, it also allowed a successful play at a bottom-five rate.
Kyle Hamilton has been mocked to the Houston Texans yet again. What would the Notre Dame safety bring to the secondary? https://t.co/KnZjkCLrdh— The Texans Wire (@TheTexansWire) January 25, 2022
With safety Justin Reid all but gone in free agency, the Texans might want to take a hard look at Kyle Hamilton in the draft if Hutch and Thibodeaux are taken first and second. If the Texans could actually manage to keep Reid and pair him with Hamilton and bring in some better cornerbacks, this unit could transform very quickly into one of the most feared in the league - given proper coaching.
The Texans’ Next Head Coach Must Improve In-Game Decisions.
David Culley fixed a problem that plagued Bill O’Brien’s entire tenure in Houston. The team actually looked ready to play when it took the field in 2021. Unfortunately, they were outmatched in coaching, scheme, overall talent level, and more most of the time. At least they didn’t come out looking confused and lackadaisical like they did when B’OB was coaching.
“Wait? The game started? How long ago?” - former B’OB player.
What Culley continued, however, was the trend of mind-numbingly bad in-game decision making. Knowing when to punt and when not to, when to call timeouts, what decisions to make based on down and distance...all these things seemed to escape the head coach’s grasp in Houston since Gary Kubiak rode off to Super Bowl glory with the Denver Broncos.
Whether Jack Easterby, Nick Caserio, and Cal McNair decide to hire Jack’s best friend from his third grade Cub Scout pack or an actual top tier, qualified head coach, this person needs to know how to manage a football game.
While the To-Do list doesn’t stop here by any means, these are the four most critical areas that a new coach must address. Now, no illusions should exist that a solid head coach in correcting these elements will make 2022 a deep playoff campaign. But it should certainly get the team to at least middle of the road. That would set the team up for the future, go a long way to repairing fan relationships, and take a lot of heat off the front office.
Anything less will fail to put the brakes on this runaway freight train loaded down with box cars flooded by dumpster fires.