Will the Houston Texans offense be better in 2017?
That depends. Can head coach Bill O’Brien be effective doubling as offensive coordinator?
With five weeks before the start of training camp, that remains to be seen. What we do know, O’Brien has enjoyed the new, hands-on approach he’s taken since firing George Godsey.
“That’s really what I love to do,” O’Brien said after Wednesday’s workout at the Houston Methodist Training Center. “Coach and coach the players and be around the players.”
The offense has struggled so far under O’Brien, ranking 14th in the NFL in points in 2014, 21st in 2015 and 29th in 2016. Football Outsiders DVOA, a comprehensive measure of efficiency, paints an even bleaker picture of their performance during his tenure: 21st, 24th and 30th.
How much of that was O’Brien, and how much of it Godsey? It’s worth noting, the dip in production did coincide with increased responsibilities for Godsey, who worked with O’Brien when they were with the New England Patriots and was part of his original staff here in Houston. O’Brien called plays in 2014, before turning the reins over to Godsey in 2015. O’Brien did take back control early in 2016, then again, Brock Osweiler.
In the end, O’Brien decided to fire Godsey shortly after the season ended. Instead of replacing him, O’Brien simply assumed his duties.
“We’ve tried to do things in a way that put us in a position to win, and we’ve won more than we’ve lost” O’Brien said. “But one of the changes that needed to be made this year was for me to be more hands-on.”
Will it work?
O’Brien does have a record of success.
In his only year as offensive coordinator with the Patriots, 2011, they ranked 3rd in the NFL in points, won 13 games and made a run to the Super Bowl. Of course, Bill Belichick was the coach, and Tom Brady was the quarterback. How much was O’Brien and how much was Belichick and Brady? Hard to say.
His best work may have come at Penn State.
O’Brien inherited a program coming off crippling NCAA sanctions, and the shadow of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and took over an offense that ranked 110th of 120 in major college football. Yet in 2012, they scored 29.1 points per game, good for 63rd, and nearly 10 points more than they had the year before. In 2013, they scored 28.7 points per game, and had Christian Hackenberg put himself on the radar of NFL talent evaluators as an assumed future first round quarterback prospect.
But until it happens in the NFL, and without Brady and Belichick, the question remains: just how good is O’Brien really?
So far, O’Brien said, he likes the arrangement, and the way players have responded.
“I love coaching these players,” O’Brien said. “I’ve had a lot of fun these last nine weeks with these guys. These guys have given us everything they’ve got for these nine weeks, and we’ve been happy with where we are.
“I appreciate the players saying that, and I’m just looking forward to training camp.”