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Battling the Houston Texans in the post-Bill O’Brien Era

Houston has been better since BOB left, but how much of that is really BOB, and should the Packers be worried?

Minnesota Vikings v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

There’s not much to discuss about the Houston Texans’ defense — at least nothing interesting. The Texans are a bad team because on defense they are 27th overall by DVOA and sit outside in the top 20 in every individual pass defense category.

Texans Defense vs. Receiver Type

Receiver Type DVOA DVOA Rank PA/Game
Receiver Type DVOA DVOA Rank PA/Game
Primary 14.9 20 6.7
Secondary 38.4 29 5.6
Slot or Lower 1.8 20 6.5
Tight End 23.6 27 7.3
RB 9.2 20 7.1

If you watched them attempt to stop Derrick Henry last week, you also probably know they’re awful against the run, ranking 28th overall, and this should be a nice bounce-back game for the Packer offense across the board. Houston is a well-rounded bad defense, and Green Bay should be able to do whatever it wants on offense.

The Houston offense? That’s another story, and a much more interesting one. Let’s start with the departure of Bill O’Brien, or BOB, as we call him on the internet.

BOB was bad, BOB is gone.

BOB was, until a few weeks ago, the head coach and GM of the Texans. This is odd for several reasons, including the fact that there are almost no examples of this arrangement actually working out. Even the greatest coach will have trouble convincing an ownership group that they should also be in charge of personnel, and BOB is emphatically not the greatest coach, although he is one thousand times better as a coach than as a GM. The biggest indictment of his coaching and GM work is best captured in the offseason trade of DeAndre Hopkins, one of the league’s best wide receivers, and currently 6th in Football Outsiders DYAR stat playing for Arizona, for David Johnson, a frequently injured 29-year-old running back who hasn’t had a good season since 2016. It’s insanity to value any running back enough to trade for a good receiver for one. This particular trade borders on criminal, and should have gotten O’Brien immediately fired.

BOB didn’t exactly acquit himself well on the field either. A basic lack of structure in the Houston offense meant that Deshaun Watson was often charged with doing everything himself. Watson takes a ton of hits and could be more careful with the ball, but O’Brien’s offense does nothing to create easy throws. Watson spends a fair amount of time in the shadow of Patrick Mahomes, who went two picks before Watson in the 2017 draft, and that’s not really fair. Mahomes landed with perhaps the greatest playcaller and quarterback guru in the NFL today in Andy Reid, while Watson has had to deal with BOB’s nonsense from day one. It’s a testament to Watson’s talent and efforts that we still do appreciate him as an elite talent.

The Houston brass waited for an entirely predictable 0-4 start to dismiss BOB. Watson has bailed out BOB many times before, but the Texans faced a gauntlet of outstanding teams with outstanding pass defenses (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Kansas City) and Watson was simply overmatched. A baffling loss to the Vikings was the last straw, and BOB was jettisoned in favor of Romeo Crennel on an interim basis. Since the end of BOB, and due largely to a much easier schedule, Houston has looked much better. This is especially true on offense where Deshaun Watson has been dominant over the past two weeks.

Over that same time period, due to excellent play and more substantial opponent adjustments through the first 4 games, Houston has jumped from 18th in offensive DVOA to 8th.

The Packer defense excels against number one receivers and slot receivers, but they’re extremely weak everywhere else. That’s a problem against Houston, because in spite of losing Hopkins they’re still extremely deep at receiver. Will Fuller is currently 5th in DVOA with Randall Cobb not far behind at 11th. Those two will probably be bottled up by Jaire Alexander and Chandon Sullivan, but with Kevin King likely out this week, things get dicey for the Packers after that. The third and fourth receivers for Houston are Brandin Cooks and Kenny Stills, who are more than capable of dominating suspect backup corners. With tight end Jordan Akins likely missing the game with a high ankle sprain, don’t be surprised if Stills gets a few additional snaps, and has a big day.

The Packers’ lack of pass rush may also bite them here. Watson runs himself into sacks all the time, but if you can’t apply consistent pressure he’ll eat you up, and mostly because of Preston Smith, that pass rush just isn’t there, per noted analytics fan Rob Demvosky:

Green Bay should win this game in a shootout, but lack of pressure and a lack of corner depth opens the door for Houston, especially with BOB out of the way. Green Bay should not take this matchup lightly. This game should easily hit the over, and is likely closer than everyone thinks.