There are no words that can accurately describe the complete and utter collapse that Houston fans witnessed this past weekend. Not even 24 hours after the Baltimore Ravens were considered to be the most shocking exit in the playoffs, the Texans decided to counter with…whatever they did.
It all started out so well. The Texans were heading into the second quarter with a 21-0 lead on the Kansas City Chiefs, setting up a divisional matchup against the Tennessee Titans for the AFC Championship that no one saw coming. Instead, what the Texans got was a second quarter from hell. The most damning decision made was electing to kick a field goal on 4th and 1 on the Chiefs’ side of the field, then choosing to fake punt in order to land a fourth-down conversion on their own side. A 24-point lead blown in the span of a little under eleven minutes en route to a 51-31 embarrassment.
Head coach Bill O’Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel both deserve all the flak they’re currently getting for this disaster. Crennel will almost certainly be gone, but let’s be honest here. These types of games are enough to get coaching staffs fired, especially if they don’t have some goodwill currently built up (see: Oklahoma City Thunder, Atlanta Falcons, Vegas Golden Knights, etc.). Considering the Texans’ recent history, O’Brien has no such luck, and it is finally time for the team to consider moving on once and for all.
Now I know what the common complaint about this is going to be. You can’t fire someone simply off of one bad game. Believe me, I can understand that. If every coach was fired after a bad game, every sports team ever would be caught in a never-ending coaching carousel. Here is the problem with that defense: this is not simply one game. With O’Brien, this exercise in futility has become habitual.
In 2015, O’Brien rode a strong second half of the season to his first divisional title as coach, only to be shut out by (guess who?) the Chiefs. 2016 saw a similar record (9-7) and placement in the division. They would win a playoff game, although it was against a Raiders squad forced to start Connor Cook after injuries ended the seasons of their top two quarterbacks. They would then get crushed by the New England Patriots war machine. After a rough year in 2017 highlighted by a season-ending injury to Watson, they would recover and win their division again the following year only to be embarrassed at home by the Indianapolis Colts. If it was just this previous game, then it can simply be excused as bad luck and a poor gameplan. When it’s just the latest in a line of postseason struggles, then it may simply be that O’Brien just isn’t the right coach to push a talented team over the hump.
In fact, let’s review this season for the Texans as well. Remember that fantastic Week 1 matchup against the New Orleans Saints? Watson had bailed out the team with a touchdown drive to give Houston the lead with 37 seconds left. Unfortunately, O’Brien and Crennel had no answer for Drew Brees setting up the game-winning field goal. The sad part is, the losses became a lot more glaring from there. The offense being shut down against an admittedly mediocre Carolina Panthers defense. Being outright embarrassed by the Ravens. Being picked apart by Drew Lock in his second career start. I should also mention the Wild Card win against Buffalo. I do not believe the Texans truly won this game. The Bills (or rather, Josh Allen) did everything to hand the Texans the game and O’Brien did the bare minimum to take the initiative (i.e. relied on Watson to bail him out once again).
At what point do the Texans just say enough is enough? Look at the Green Bay Packers, for instance. Mike McCarthy was a good coach who had just hit his expiration date, and the Packers decided to swap him for a younger offensive mind. Some people may say they’re the weakest 13-3 team in the history of the league, but 13-3 is still leaps and bounds ahead of the last couple years for the team. Good coaches with franchise-defining talents enhance their teams and build around them; O’Brien has struggled to do so over the last few years. With everything that’s happened, it appears that the only way this team gets over the hump is to find a coach willing to unleash Watson, and a general manager who can build a roster around their star players.
The Texans owe it to themselves and their fans to finally pull this move off. While the team had some success under the likes of Matt Schaub and Case Keenum, Watson is the team’s first true franchise quarterback since their creation in 2002. The team has made it clear that they want him to stay in Houston for his entire career. They also have some strong pieces like DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt, Laremy Tunsil, and a solid linebacker corps. However, the once-weak AFC South is starting to look a lot better. The Titans seem to finally be getting their act together with Derrick Henry and the resurrected Ryan Tannehill leading the charge. The Colts are a new franchise QB away from being competitive again, and I have full faith in GM Chris Ballard to pull the move off. Even the Jaguars got a jolt of excitement from the real-life Uncle Rico in Gardner Minshew. If the Texans keep O’Brien and embrace the status quo, they run the risk of falling behind the curve and slump back into mediocrity. For a team with a young franchise QB, that is an unacceptable result.
The final piece of evidence to support O’Brien’s firing is the overall quality of the coaching candidates still remaining. Thanks to a relatively bloodless Black Monday and a couple surprise hirings (looking at you, Joe Judge,) some hot commodities are still on the board. The Texans could go for one of the men who thoroughly embarrassed them in Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. They could look for a defensive-minded coach like San Francisco’s Robert Saleh. Josh McDaniels from New England might also be an option, assuming he wants to cash out of New England and seamlessly go from working with one franchise QB to another. It ends up as a rare instance where firing a coach who made the playoffs comes across as an idea that isn’t too crazy.
Now I know that this piece sounds vitriolic towards O’Brien, and it may sound like I have an ax to grind. It’s definitely more venomous than my piece on Jeff Blashill of the Red Wings, and possibly more so than the piece on the Browns. If you need a reason why it sounds like this, it’s because nothing is more infuriating to me than wasted potential. I have called the Texans the NFL’s used car salesman, and it’s for good reason. They clearly have the pieces to be more successful than they are, but they are being held back for a variety of reasons. With the Divisional Playoff debacle, O’Brien and Crennel strike me as two of those reasons. The Texans need to finally take control of their own destiny and do the right thing. If there is any silver lining to this pitch-black cloud, it is the hope that the team is ready to learn from their mistakes.