Texans: Bill O’Brien’s massive gamble will impact strategy tremendously

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and head coach Bill O'Brien (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and head coach Bill O'Brien (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

In an instant, the Texans’ front office and on-field strategy has been flipped on its head after one of the biggest franchise gambles the NFL has seen.

In a shocking turn of events which has left league circles reeling even in the midst of a global pandemic, the Houston Texans’ off-season priority now has shifted from being almost entirely focused on rebuilding the defense to how Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans’ offense will move forward after trading away one of its most significant assets.

The impact of trading DeAndre Hopkins doesn’t end with his top tier individual talent, his locker room value, or his beloved status among Houston Texans’ faithful.  Hopkins was the one player a defense had to account for on every snap outside of the quarterback.

His impact in the offense preceded Watson’s prodigal arrival.  Hopkins survived a quarterback carousel including Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage.  He not only survived somehow but managed to establish himself as one of the best young players in the league.

Strategically, it is very difficult to see how the Houston Texans replace what Hopkins gave them in terms of consistent production and as an all-around downfield threat.  No such players exist on the free agent market, and, outside of a grand slam pick in the NFL Draft or another blockbuster trade, it will remain a gaping hole.  In fact, 29 percent of the offense’s pass target share is up for grabs.

The acquisition of Randall Cobb points the unit further in the direction of the New England Patriots model offense with it being a collection of No. 2 and No. 3-type receivers.  Cobb would be the Julian Edelman in this case.

Of course, the huge missing piece is the future hall of famer tight end who opens the field for the “smurf” receivers to do their damage underneath.  Kansas City is making the smaller, faster receiver approach work thanks largely in part to Travis Kelce’s presence up the seams.  Tyreek Hill also possesses a rare ability to play way above his smaller size in one on one situations.

The tight end position has the most as-yet-untapped potential in the Houston Texans team to work its way into a chunk of Hopkins’ 150 vacated targets, as well as into the overall strategy.  Jordan Akins, Darren Fells, Jordan Thomas and Kahale Warring could all stand to gain in the target share.

With Fells’ re-signing after a surprisingly productive 2019, the tight end group should be very competitive after Thomas and Warring viewed much of last season from the sidelines while Akins and Fells emerged.

With David Johnson, the obvious hope will be the Texans are getting the 2016 version who rushed for 1,239 yards, 16 touchdowns and caught 80 balls for 879 yards and four more touchdowns.  Johnson has been just another (injured) guy at the position outside that particular season.

In a league where the running back position has been devalued to a point where Todd Gurley was allowed to walk from the Rams and people have seriously questioned whether or not the Titans should invest in Derrick Henry (franchise tagged), the major doubts over Johnson’s acquisition are well founded.

When Bruce Arians and the Cardinals drafted Johnson in 2015 Draft 3rd round (86th overall),

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Arians immediately compared his all-around skillset to Matt Forte.  Following the aforementioned 2016 breakout, Arians looked like a genius for discovering what appeared to be one of the great modern draft steals.  However, now, Johnson is rapidly approaching what is usually a precipitous drop off in running back effectiveness at the age 29-30 threshold.

Prior to the Hopkins bombshell, the prevailing thought was the Texans would look to the draft to address the running back position after riding Carlos Hyde for the tough yardage in 2019 in tandem with Duke Johnson.  LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, for example, is a talent the Texans were heavily rumored to be tracking previously.

While no one questioned the Texans’ need to try and upgrade the running back position to help divert defenses’ backfield focus from Deshaun Watson, none imagined the cost O’Brien would pay in the attempt.

Next. Texans: Signing Randall Cobb is a slap in the face to fans. dark

If O’Brien fancies himself among the sharpest in any film room he steps into, he will have his biggest chance to prove it in the upcoming season.  The Texans will be perhaps the most scrutinized offense in the league because of the deal when play resumes, and O’Brien’s future will (and should) depend on the immediate results.