Bill O’Brien is a head coach who specializes in offense. In his two seasons at Penn State, he made the most of Matt McGloin and turned Christian Hackenberg into a competent quarterback. He even fooled the Jets into using a second-round pick on the latter. Before that, O’Brien had a role in the Patriots’ offense, coaching (and arguing with) Tom Brady. This recent history makes what happened on one of the Houston Texans’ drives Sunday all the more galling.
The Texans were down 13-10 to the Bills with 2:14 left in the game. They had just earned a first down at Buffalo’s 42 after running back Alfred Blue gained 14 yards. Considering the situation, it made sense to take a shot downfield, so that’s what the offense did. Deshaun Watson threw deep to Will Fuller V, who was smothered by Bills corner Phillip Gaines. Even though it didn’t result in a touchdown catch, the aggressive call resulted in a huge gain. The Texans accepted the defensive pass interference penalty and moved up to Buffalo’s one-yard line, which would be the best place to be for pretty much any other team besides Houston.
This season, the Texans have a heinous red-zone offense. Including Sunday’s game, in which they went 1-for-4, they’ve scored touchdowns from the red zone just 35 percent of the time, which ranks 31st in the NFL. The one successful conversion, a pretty sweet TD snag by DeAndre Hopkins, did not happen on this drive. No, what instead happened on this drive is that they lost seven yards and kicked a field goal.
The first play Houston ran from the one was a rush up the middle with Blue. An obvious but sensible play. It lost a yard, but that’s fine. The Texans then had second down with two yards to go. What did offensive genius Bill O’Brien have up his sleeve? Would he try to run the ball again, or set up a mismatch for Hopkins, one of the best receivers in the league? Maybe Fuller could find an opening in the end zone. Ah—
O’Brien called for an end-around to Keke Coutee, and it resulted in a total of ... negative-one yards. The only thing the Texans had accomplished so far with these two plays was getting the Bills to burn two timeouts. Nevertheless, Houston just needed three yards. Three yards, and—
False start, courtesy of offensive lineman Kendall Lamm. Okay, the Texans needed eight yards—eight goddamn yards—so they lined up three receivers on the left, which gave them—
For fuck’s sake. That was a four-man rush!
Left tackle Julie’n Davenport completely whiffed on his block, and that allowed Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes to put pressure on Watson and doom this play before it ever really started. The Texans QB didn’t have enough time to try anything else but a desperate toss to tight end Ryan Griffin, who was sufficiently covered. After an acceptable first-down play, the team’s offense got too cute, became undisciplined, and found itself doomed on a final effort because everyone in the stadium and maybe the world knew there would be a pass coming on third and eight. The Texans settled for a 27-yard field goal to tie the game because they couldn’t gain one yard in three attempts.
The only reason Bill O’Brien isn’t getting his ass burned on the hot seat this week is because Nathan Peterman exists. After starting QB Josh Allen hurt his elbow, Bills coach Sean McDermott had to turn to the guy whose highlights were throwing five interceptions in a half and getting benched 34 minutes into this season, because Sean McDermott is a stubborn idiot who refuses to admit his mistakes. (Maybe he’ll go with Derek Anderson this week.) Peterman needed only two plays to hand the Texans a 20-13 lead. When the Bills received the ball after that, he threw another pick.
Johnathan Joseph’s pick-six was crucial—and also extremely cool—but the Texans are so fucking lucky it happened. Their offense, especially but not only in the red zone, is excruciating to watch. Their offensive line is dreadful and porous. Their quarterback, who threw two picks and fumbled three times (one lost) in the game, has terrible ball security. But Bill O’Brien is in charge of all of them, and he was hired specifically for his expertise and knowledge in these areas. Even if some of his players are crummy and make mistakes, he is supposed to minimize the opportunities where their weaknesses are exposed, and play to their strengths. As that drive illustrates, he is making everything worse.