By Clark Judge | Sept. 28, 2018
Shortly after coach Bill O’Brien completed his first losing season a year ago, a 4-12 calamity punctuated by too many injuries and not enough wins, the Houston Texans did something extraordinary: They gave him a four-year contract extension.
The reason? Well, I’d suggest you don’t ask team owner Bob McNair. Not now, anyway.
Because once upon a time, his Texans were a trendy pre-season pick to challenge Jacksonville this season for a division title in the AFC South. They would have injured starters like Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus back, and they’d turn their home state’s slogan into “Don’t Mess with Texans.”
At least, that was the hope.
The reality is that three games into the season it’s the Texans that are the mess. Correction: The winless mess, firmly anchored to the bottom of their division. Not only are they one of only three 0-3 bottom-feeders (the Raiders and Cardinals are the others), but they just lost to the previously winless New York Giants — at home no less — and currently have the NFL’s longest losing streak at nine straight and counting.
Okay, so we’ll count.
The Texans have lost 12 of their last 13, too, which is also an NFL low and a reason at least one fan showed up at last weekend’s game hoisting a sign that read, “Fire Bill O’Brien.” Well, given the four-year extension O’Brien received in January and that we’re not even through the month of September, that’s not likely to happen.
But the guy could use a lifeline. Yes, he’s had the Texans in the playoffs twice in his four years there but, no, he’s never won a postseason game and he doesn’t have a winning overall record. In fact, he’s 31-36 and sinking, one reason a Houston writer said he’d never seen O’Brien “so down and answer-less” as when he walked off the field after his latest loss.
“It’s not good,” he would say later. “It’s just not very good.”
Not sure if he was talking about the result … the players … the coaching … the season … or all of the above. But pick any … or all … and you’re warm. In fact, the Texans were so bad a week ago that the stadium began to empty before the last two minutes and was a virtual ghost town when Watson found Lamar Miller for a so-what touchdown with one second left.
Maybe that 0-3 record won’t get the attention of the team’s owner, but empty seats will. And so will “Fire Bill O’Brien” signs if they multiply. Which is another way of saying … O’Brien and the Houston Texans better get their act in gear.
And sooner rather than later.
Because there is no silver lining here. Watson was a preseason favorite to be the league’s next MVP. Instead, he is the league’s 18th-ranked quarterback, with half as many touchdown passes (5) as sacks (10). Not good.
The defense that’s been the backbone of this team ranks 18th in yards allowed, tied for 18th in points allowed (24.7 per game) and tied for 17th in sacks (7). What’s more, the Texans are tied for 24th in the takeaway/turnover differential (minus-2).
Bill O’Brien currently is 28th in Head Coach Ranking. See his HCR data here.
There have been too many penalties, red zone failures, turnovers and defensive breakdowns … and, of course, not enough wins. Did I say enough? How about any?
“Look,” said O’Brien, “I think we have to win. We get it. That’s the game. The game is winning, and we’re not winning.”
Granted, that can change, and it can change fast — especially when the Texans’ next three games look like this: at Indianapolis, Dallas at home and Buffalo at home. Put them together and you have three opponents with a combined 3-6 record … and none a winner.
But, then, the teams that beat them are a combined 4-5, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
When McNair extended O’Brien’s contract earlier this year, he said he believed in “his vision for the team moving forward” and had “a lot of trust in him to build a unified, championship culture.” Well, nobody’s moving forward, and the only championship culture in Houston is with the Astros.
The Texans were supposed to be better than this … and maybe they will be. But if not, Bill O’Brien will need more than a contract extension to serve as a security blanket.
In case you haven’t noticed, his job security is beginning to circle the drain.