Houston Texans, NFL, Bill O'Brien

O’Brien’s play-calling crucial in Texans' big win

By DENNIS SILVA II, Times Sports Editor
Posted 12/2/19

Quarterback Deshaun Watson and a stingy defense were the primary headliners for the Texans’ impressive 28-22 win over the Patriots on Sunday, Dec. 1, but coach Bill O’Brien also had a stellar evening.

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Houston Texans, NFL, Bill O'Brien

O’Brien’s play-calling crucial in Texans' big win

Posted

Quarterback Deshaun Watson and a stingy defense were the primary headliners for the Texans’ impressive 28-22 win over the Patriots on Sunday, Dec. 1, but coach Bill O’Brien also had a stellar evening.

There’s a reason he was given the game ball by players afterward.

“This was big for him, for the franchise, for all of us, man,” Watson said.

In earning his first win over his mentor, O’Brien outcoached the Patriots’ Bill Belichick, widely regarded as the greatest NFL coach of all-time.

O’Brien introduced a new wrinkle to his vaunted run-pass option scheme, going with three tight ends. It’s something he saw from Baltimore when the Ravens dominated the Texans, 41-7, on Nov. 17. The Ravens used a three-tight end formation successfully, and O’Brien remembered as much.

With Jordan Thomas back healthy, he lined up next to the right tackle while fellow tight ends Darren Fells and Jordan Akins aligned in the backfield. It froze the Patriots’ defense when Watson faked a handoff to running back Carlos Hyde, and Thomas and Fells ran out to the left side into the secondary. With Thomas clearing the perimeter, Fells caught a 13-yard pass from Watson for a 14-3 lead in the second quarter.

The Texans used the formation earlier in the game on a run play, which helped keep New England off balance.

“I think that we have three talented tight ends,” O’Brien said. “(Darren) Fells has had a good year, Ake (Jordan Akins) has done some good things, we get Jordan (Thomas) back. He hadn’t played in a while; the last two games, he’s played a little bit. We’ve got to keep incorporating him into the lineup because he’s got a lot of ability and he’s worked hard to get back into the lineup. So, I think that we’ve got to keep looking at those things and keep trying to incorporate the tight ends into our offense.”

Fast forward three quarters, and O’Brien’s creativity and open-mindedness was at the forefront once again.

On the Patriots’ 6-yard line, Watson handed the ball off to running back Duke Johnson, who quickly tossed it to a sweeping DeAndre Hopkins.

Hopkins ran to his right, directly into the teeth of the waiting Patriots defense, before pitching perfectly to his right to Watson, who took the ball and strolled into the end zone.

The idea was that of Watson and backup quarterback A.J. McCarron. They had seen the Chicago Bears use it earlier this season on a two-point conversion.

“Now, there’s a debate about whose idea this was,” O’Brien joked on Monday. “I started this I guess, but now (Deshaun) Watson’s taking credit for it, so we’ll give him credit … him and (A.J.) McCarron, right? They said that they came up with it? All kidding aside, we collaborate all the time with these guys. I think that, especially in the quarterback room. Deshaun, he has a really excellent football mind, so he sees things and he’s done things in the past, whether it was here, now that he has a lot of snaps here, or even at Clemson, that he’ll say, ‘Hey, look with this motion or this look, we kind of did this. Would you ever think about doing that?’ We map it out on the board and we talk about it. Then A.J.’s got a lot of experience in a lot different offenses, whether it was Alabama, Cincinnati, Oakland and here. A.J. does a good job during the game and so there’s a lot of collaboration.”

Watson said he and McCarron took the play to O’Brien and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly. It was Hopkins, however, who was particularly enthralled with the idea. The Texans kept working on it, figuring once they got within reasonable distance of the goal line during a game, it would work.

“It was a play we’ve been working on for four weeks,” Watson said. “I kind of knew the whole play-call that was going to be called. Hop (DeAndre Hopkins) was excited. I was excited. He did a good job of really selling the guys that come up, and then giving me a good pitch enough where I can catch it and dive in. Give all the credit to Hop and the pass. It was good.”

Added Hopkins: “They played it very well. He (Watson) was patient. I knew I had to kind of tuck the ball, wait for him to commit, to throw it to Deshaun. I knew once I threw it to him, he was going to be in.”

Like any trick play, and an acute awareness on the coach’s part, O’Brien said it was all about timing.

“I think any gadget play, this is just my opinion, is all about timing,” O’Brien said. “It’s not necessarily always where the ball is, it’s more about like, ‘OK, how is the rhythm of this drive going and can we smoothly just call this play and get this play run?’ I thought that the timing was right for that call, so that’s really what it was about.

“If you feel like you’re really trying to force a gadget play, which I’ve been at fault to do that before, then you probably should not call that play. But if you feel like you’re in a pretty good flow with the offense, moving the ball down the field or wherever the ball might be, I think you can call it.”

The 8-4 Texans next host the 4-8 Denver Broncos on Sunday, Dec. 8, at noon at NRG Stadium.

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