David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Bill O'Brien no longer darling of Belichick coaching tree after another brutal playoff loss

Alex Reimer
January 07, 2019 - 12:27 pm

Bill O’Brien is no longer the darling of the Bill Belichick coaching tree. In his first three seasons with the Texans, he led them to three straight 9-7 campaigns, including two playoff berths. Most impressively, his quarterbacks during that stretch were Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage. 

If the Texans could be respectable with garbage at quarterback –– and even win a playoff game against the Connor Cook-led Raiders! –– just imagine what O’Brien could do with a good pass-thrower, we all thought. Well, Houston drafted Deshaun Watson in 2017, and seemed to be on its way. Watson set the NFL rookie record for touchdown passes in October and nearly defeated the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. 

Then Watson tore his ACL in early November. The Texans stumbled to a 4-12 finish.

But Watson returned this year, and after an 0-3 start, Houston rallied to win 11 of its next 13 games to capture the AFC South. The Texans were a run-first offense, finishing eighth in rushing behind Lamar Miller, and also relied on their slew of playmakers up front. But Watson showed flashes of brilliance, such as when he engineered a fourth quarter 13-point comeback against the Eagles in Week 16. 

The Texans dropped that game, however, sliding them to the No. 3 seed. That forced them into a Wild Card matchup with the Colts, who dominated on both sides of the ball in their 21-7 win Saturday. Houston’s defense was brutal on third down, with the Colts converting their first six attempts. Andrew Luck finding “clown receiver” T.Y. Hilton for two key third-downs on Indy’s first drive set the tempo for the afternoon.

But the Texans’ defense isn’t the only unit that struggled. Watson looked overwhelmed, going 29-of-49 for 235 yards with one touchdown and one interception. It looked like the Colts knew exactly where he was throwing the ball on his pick.

Houston essentially lost the game late in the first half, when Watson misfired on a toss to DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone on 4th-and-1 from the Indy 9-yard line. Watson’s bad pass was indicative of his afternoon, but the questionable play call falls on O’Brien. Watson is one of the fastest quarterbacks in the game. Surely, it would’ve been easier for him to pick up that one yard with his feet instead of his arm.

Mistakes like that, which we saw plenty of when the Texans lost to the Patriots in Week 1, are the reason why O’Brien is on the hot seat following another early playoff exit. Houston is 11-27 against winning teams during his tenure and 1-3 in the postseason.

If they're going to improve next season, they must start with getting Watson better protection. He was sacked a league-leading 62 times this season. Just ask the Colts and Luck how much of a difference it makes to have a good offensive line. 

It seems like O'Brien will receive a chance to preside over any improvements that need to be made. But Houston seemingly must show substantial progress next season. Or else, O'Brien could be out of a job. 

With Josh McDaniels and Brian Flores going through rounds of interviews, teams may no longer be able to cite O'Brien's success in Houston as an example of a Bill Belichick assistant who's won on his own.