The start of the 2019 season has been a roller coaster ride for the Houston Texans. They have had two and a half games where they looked crisp (opening night at New Orleans, the second half against the Chargers, and today against Atlanta), but they also have had two games where they have looked like a total dud (both were home games against the Jaguars and Panthers). Sunday’s 53–32 win over the Falcons, was impressive and showed that when things are going well, Houston can hang with any team in the league. My takeaway from the first five weeks is that Houston is a box of chocolates: you never know what you are going to get.
Highlights from Sunday
A week ago against Carolina, it seemed the Texans could do nothing right. In fact, apart from the defense limiting Carolina to just 16 points and forcing three turnovers, everything was terrible. In terms of game management by the coaching staff and quarterback play, last week’s game was the worst game I have ever seen from the Texans; and the Texans have had many bad games in their franchise’s existence. Following a poor performance, Deshaun Watson was seen on the field working on his game.
Well, whatever Watson did following the loss to the Panthers, it worked. Deshaun threw for 426 yards, 5 touchdowns, and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Watson also ran for 47 yards on 4 carries. After looking lethargic the previous three games, the offense had a field day, scoring 16 points in the first half. A player of Watson’s caliber is simply not going to endure two bad games in a row. 16 points does not sound like a lot, but for a Texans offense that has been searching for itself through the early portion of the season, it was great to see Houston get a rhythm early and add to their scoring in the second half.
If I had to nitpick at something in this game, it would be the Texans late-game defense. The defense for the most part held their own against a talented Atlanta offense; but late in the game, up 40–25, the Houston defense let Calvin Ridley walk into the end zone, then the Falcons converted for two to make it a one-score game with over three minutes left. Atlanta still had all their timeouts, so the game was not over. The Texans defense held their own through the majority of the game and delivered the exclamation mark with Tashaun Gipson’s interception, but it would have been nice to see the defense really slam the door on any rally. It would have allowed the offense to kneel out the clock, instead of needing a game-sealing drive to finish the deal.
On the other side of things, Atlanta is just a mess. In July, I said the Falcons had the offense to contend, and though they are just 26th in offense, they will come around. But if they want to get back to the Super Bowl, their defense has to be better. They are currently 22nd in scoring defense, or rather, they were before Sunday’s game, and nothing has gone right for the Falcons. Sunday was just another example of things going horribly wrong for Atlanta, as they stumbled out the gate with a 1–4 start for the second consecutive season.
The only saving grace for the Falcons is that they have yet to play a division game. However, given their start, and the fact that the Saints keep winning without Drew Brees, their division chances for 2019 are slim to none. It also isn’t easy to get a wild card spot in the NFC, so while the Falcons’ postseason hopes are not completely dashed, they are on life support. For Atlanta to end up as a wild card, they would have to go at least 9–2 for the rest of the season. That would have them finish at 10–6. It may be good enough to get in; but that in itself is a long shot.
Postseason results will determine Bill O’Brien’s fate
Following Houston’s disastrous performance against the Carolina Panthers, social media blew up with calls for Bill O’Brien to be fired; frustrated fans also blew up John McClain’s mailbag.
The loss to the Panthers was one of the worst Texans losses I had seen in, well, ever. I also would like to point out that I knew the Texans would goof up one of its home stand games; after learning that Sunday was the day the Texans would put late owner Bob McNair into the ring of honor, I am thrilled that was not the day.
Despite horribly mismanaging the Panthers game, and the gut-wrenching finish in the Big Easy to start the season, the Texans’ record is exactly where I had it through five games.
The Texans will make the playoffs and have their 5th winning season in Bill O’Brien’s six years of head coaching. They will probably win the AFC South for the 4th time in O’Brien’s six years, unless they either have a complete meltdown or Deshaun Watson suffers a significant injury.
In fact, the only two reasons Bill O’Brien would not remain the head coach for Houston after 2019 would be if the Texans have an abysmal season with a healthy Watson, or the Texans suffer another embarrassing postseason defeat.
I have seen some social media posts about O’Brien’s seat getting hot after a loss. But that seat became hot the second the Texans let go of Brian Gaine and O’Brien wiggled his way to GM power. Bill knows this season is his ultimatum: if the Texans get to the next level and win in the postseason, then everything will be fine; however, if the Texans flail in the regular season or get waxed in the playoffs again, then Houston will probably be in the market for another head coach.
I won’t defend Bill O’Brien. My confidence in him dipped after last year’s wild card defeat, though a better showing this January would have me singing a different tune. However, finding the next great coach is not easy. In fact, if the Texans indeed move on from O’Brien, there is no guarantee the new guy could elevate Houston to the Super Bowl. O’Brien has been here six seasons, and the Texans have accomplished the same under him as they did under Kubiak: underachievement in the playoffs.
Here’s Pro Football Reference’s list of the top coaches of all time. I am not suggesting O’Brien will ever make the list; I only mean that a coaching change is not the quick fix many believe it is.
The Texans had a great game and are right where I thought they would be through the first five games of the season. As mentioned earlier, the Texans are like a box of chocolates, meaning you just don’t know which Texans team you’re going to get. They have either looked really good or really bad every week so far, but if Houston can become more consistent in all three phases of the game, they have a real chance at contending.