Can the Texans be Saved?
Even if Bill O Brien is gone, the damage he did to the Texans is going to leave a mark for a long while, and it raises the question, does ownership in Houston need a change?
The Texans lost their fourth game in a row to the imploding Vikings. This game was likely the deciding factor for both teams coaching decisions, and one that Mike Zimmer won. With O Brien gone, the Texans are temporarily freed of their misery, but a storm is incoming for Houston. Hopkins is gone and the team is depleted of every draft-pick that could rebuild their team.
Let’s start with the arguably most egregious decision of the O Brien era, the Hopkins trade. Right now, DeAndre Hopkins has propped up Kyler Murray in the *derailing* Arizona offense. Hopkins basically gave wheels to the beginning of Deshaun Watson’s career, and his departure left a major hole in the offense. The Texans traded Hopkins with the idea of setting Watson free of his security blanket and give him more opportunities to spread the passing game around.
They added Brandin Cooks from Los Angeles and Randall Cobb from free agency. They thought that Watson would be more comfortable with not instantly relying on Hopkins when his first read fell apart. It’s not actually that bad of an idea in theory, but the execution of the trade is what really deserves the blowback. If they could’ve gotten that valuable eighth overall pick that Arizona had, in addition to a later round pick, they could’ve fundamentally changed their team’s trajectory.
Another trade, arguably just as bad, was the acquisition of Laremy Tunsil for two-first round picks. Of course, pass protection is important, but the Texans gave up an amount of draft capital that can really only be acceptable for a franchise quarterback. Tunsil has been fine, and he’s a good left side defender for Watson, but his talent isn’t special. The addition of Tunsil didn’t radically change the way Watson was protected, in 2018 Watson had a sack percentage of 10.48% which means Watson was sacked on one out of ten (10!) plays. With Tunsil, he was sacked 9.08% of the time, which is an improvement, but not noticeable enough to truly make Watson feel safer in the pocket.
The feeling here was that Tunsil could lock down the line and help Watson actually have a clean pocket. But that’s a pretty fundamentally broken idea of offensive line play. If the Texans really wanted to revolutionize their offensive line, they should’ve sent late-round picks and small contracts to average or below-average linemen. One great left tackle, and an awful line, makes for a bad line, but a line that’s average, with an average left tackle, makes for a good line.
And finally, we turn our focus to the defense, which has relied on the decaying J.J. Watt for almost a decade now. The O’Brien era failed to put other pieces around Watt, who, as he aged, became less and less capable of handling the offensive line himself. They totally gave up on working with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who now is enjoying the success in Tennesee. Over the last five years, the Texans have only spent one first-round draft pick on a defensive player. That player was Kevin Johnson, who is now a Cleveland Brown.
More investment into the defense could’ve taken the load off of Watson, who has basically the entire team on his back now. Additionally, defensive additions could’ve prevented the comeback from Kansas City in the playoffs. And while defensive production is not as important as offensive, it is still a crucial factor in competing with teams like the Ravens and Chiefs who boast some of the best offenses in the league. If you can’t match Kansas City or Baltimore, you have to be able to, curb their production enough to where your offense can compete.
And yes, this is beating a dead horse. Everyone already knows that O’Brien is not a good general manager or coach. But it’s important to look at the shortcomings of this regime and at the future of the Houston Texans. Teams should be looking at the Texans as proof that a leadership ring consisting of one person is almost doomed from the start (save for the occasional legendary head coach).