Bill O’Brien held every football job that matters for the Houston Texans, but a dodgy offseason doomed him. The Texans fired O’Brien on Monday after an 0-4 start, but the problems won’t end there for the AFC South franchise.
O’Brien leaves behind a team hampered by an inconsistent offense and underperforming on defense.
Interim boss Romeo Crennel will do what he can, but Cal McNair needs to quickly identify an ideal replacement. Fortunately, there are as many as six NFL coordinators who would be perfect fits to lead the Texans.
The Offensive Coordinators
There shouldn’t be a more in-demand head-coaching candidate than Eric Bieniemy next offseason. Frankly, the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs should have landed a top job long before now.
He’s learned from a master in Andy Reid. Bieniemy has helped oversee the most dynamic attack of the last few seasons. Maybe the best in the history of the league.
It’s an offense built around the dual-threat talents of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Giving No. 15 the freedom to ad-lib without breaking down the structure of the offense is a tricky challenge for any coach, but Bieniemy has managed it.
He’s helped craft much of the exciting trickery the Chiefs have used to gash defenses:
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 6, 2020
Those who doubt Bieniemy’s creds likely point to Reid’s ownership of calling plays. Yet there’s more to being in charge than reading the script.
There’s already buzz building about Bieniemy landing in Houston. It makes sense as a perfect union of scheme and talent.
Getting the best out of a quarterback as versatile as Watson requires a versatile scheme. Greg Roman already calls an offense that would allow Watson to make plays with his arm and as a runner.
It’s too easy to dismiss Roman as simply a run-first play-caller. He also has a useful line in designing ways to attack coverage vertically. Those ways have made wideout Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown and tight end Mark Andrews big-play specialists in Baltimore.
Roman would get to work with similar weapons in Houston, despite the criticism O’Brien took for trading away key assets like DeAndre Hopkins:
Bill O'Brien in 2020:
🔘 Blew a 24-0 lead in the playoffs vs. Kansas City
🔘 Traded away DeAndre Hopkins
🔘 Started the season 0-4 in a year where Houston does not have their first and second-round picks
🔘 Fired by the Texans pic.twitter.com/K3IQ3yMrst
— ESPN (@espn) October 5, 2020
If Roman could turn Watson loose, imagine what Brian Daboll would do with the gifted QB. Daboll has already fused Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills offense into a devastating combo.
The key to the unit’s success has been Daboll’s willingness to maximize the talents of his players. He calls designed runs to take advantage of Allen’s mobility, keeps Stefon Diggs working deep, and consistently finds ways to put the ball in the hands of playmakers:
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 4, 2020
O’Brien was often guilty of not getting enough from the talented core at his disposal. It wouldn’t be a problem for Daboll.
Add an experienced defensive coordinator alongside any one of these candidates, and the Texans would have the right mix to avoid wasting their Super Bowl window.
The Defensive Coordinators
The alternative to hiring a Watson-friendly coach is to go defensive. It wouldn’t be much of a risk since the offense is in safe hands on the field, but the D’ is on the decline.
A quick look inside their own division would lead the Texans to Matt Eberflus. He’s done outstanding work with the Indianapolis Colts.
The Eberflus defense is based on a throwback scheme. It’s a lot of four-man pressure in front of familiar but steady zone coverage.
Playing a simple system allows Indy’s best players to make plays. Eberflus wouldn’t stifle Watt and Co., he turned them loose with a streamlined remit to attack offenses.
Sometimes a coach needs a second chance to get it right. Todd Bowles largely bombed during his first head coach gig with the New York Jets, but he’s ideal for Houston.
Bowles is an outstanding defensive mind who has been repairing his reputation with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His scheme transformed Shaquil Barrett from career backup into the NFL sack leader in 2019.
#Bucs S Antoine Winfield Jr. playing some of the Jamal Adams role in Todd Bowles' defense.
Was a big time edge presence in last week's game vs. Carolina (sack, FF). Same type of impact this week vs. Denver. pic.twitter.com/ZTeBAoD33z
— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) September 27, 2020
Bowles is never afraid to blitz, often sending six, seven, or even eight after quarterbacks. His X’s and O’s fit perfectly with Houston’s defensive roster.
Things didn’t break Bowles’ way in New York, but he had the Jets at 10-6 in 2015, the last time the franchise posted a winning record.
Replacing Dick LeBeau always looked like a thankless task, but Keith Butler has steadily made it work. He’s brought the Pittsburgh Steelers defense into the modern era without completely trashing the template LeBeau used successfully for years.
The Steelers might be the most intimidating defense in football this season. Linebackers Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, and Devin Bush are mercilessly punishing offenses, while Cam Heyward remains a marquee presence on the line.
The Steelers currently have 4 players in the top-10 in total pressures 🚨
T.J. Watt – 18 (4th)
Bud Dupree – 17 (5th)
Stephon Tuitt – 17 (5th)
Cameron Heyward – 14 (9th) pic.twitter.com/urWLv11CJu
— PFF PIT Steelers (@PFF_Steelers) October 1, 2020
Imagine what Butler could do with Watt, Mercilus, and Benardrick McKinney.
The answer to Houston’s coaching search is finding the right man to unlock the potential of a team that should annually be in the thick of the Super Bowl race in the AFC.