Soon after blowing a 24-point lead to the Kansas City Chiefs, causes for the capitulation were explored and analysed. A great deal of the blame has landed at the door of Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien.
Two flash points from the divisional round defeat stem back to arguably incorrect play calls from O’Brien. Whilst up by 21 points, he elected to kick a field goal on the KC 13-yard line when faced with 4th and 1, instead of forcing the issue and attempt to continue Houston’s momentum.
On the next Texans drive which stalled at their own 31-yard line, he rather inexplicably called for a fake punt which ultimately failed. Thus, the pendulum swung in the Chiefs direction and the game script from thereon was written.
The Thought Process
The explanation provided by O’Brien for this play calling was contradictory in its foundations. He described the game plan being built around keeping the ball away from Patrick Mahomes. So this justifies his reasoning for the doomed fake punt calamity, but completely goes against the decision to kick when faced with the aforementioned 4th and 1.
He then went on to say the aim was to score 50 points, knowing how lethal the opposing QB could be. Which again contradicts the field goal decision at 21-0. No wonder frustration amongst the Texans faithful is growing.
His counterpart in the game however, Andy Reid, was quick to leap to the defence of O’Brien; describing it as an opportune time to go ultra-aggressive. Reid was looking at this from a coaching perspective, noting that the call was only inches from succeeding.
This is a classic case of those involved within the game believing one thing, whilst fans see the polar opposite. Whether they were right or wrong calls is completely subjective, what cannot be denied though is just how superior the Chiefs were in this game.
A win by 15+ points is convincing and symbolises the fact that the better team won this football game.
What’s in store for 2020?
In terms of Bill O’Brien’s position, it looks like not much will change. Speaking with reporters in the past week, he more or less confirmed the Texans will not be hiring a general manager. Instead he will continue to have a large degree of control concerning front office matters, alongside vice president of team development Jack Easterby. Vice president of football administration Chris Olsen, who is the de facto interim general manager, is expected to have a prominent role too.
It’s a real mixing bowl of management and delegation that the organisation is determined to make work.
Despite this unconventional method of conducting football operations, the on-field impact has been largely positive. Sending the farm to the Miami Dolphins to acquire Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills raised eyebrows initially, but the move certainly elevated the Texans offence. Of course this was an aggressive win-now move, which is no surprise with a hybrid head coach/general manager attempting to save his job at the helm.
So with BoB all set for his seventh season in Houston, it’s clear he must deliver a Super Bowl sooner rather than later to keep the restless Texan fans at bay. Multiple AFC South titles are not seen as enough to keep him around from the fans point of view. Following the Texans loss and the Tennessee Titans defeating the Baltimore Ravens, it cemented a rather ugly statistic.
2020 and beyond
In the last six years, the Texans have clinched the AFC South four times but have never gone past the divisional round of the playoffs. Conversely, all of their division rivals have managed the feat at least once. It’s this damning evidence which is seeing the growth of discontent within the Houston fan-base.
However large this frustration grows, it will likely take a lot more than multiple divisional round losses to dislodge O’Brien from his perch. From a business sense, he is delivering results that will keep ownership satisfied.
What may cause the tide to turn is large swaths of demonstrations from fans. If we start to see groups of fans boycotting games, hitting the deep pockets of the Texans war chest, it may wake up ownership and almost force them into making a change with the head coach.
The current HC has made it clear he feels this team is in a Super Bowl window. These windows do not stay open forever. Perhaps, if the Lombardi does not come to the lone-star state soon, O’Brien may bow his head and leave on his own terms. Ultimately accepting he would have failed the team and fans alike in not delivering the ultimate prize.
This organisation is entering a pivotal phase. The next two or three seasons will shape the franchise for years to come; the promise is there but so are the big questions.