Hard Knocks in preseason, now a lost season for Texans
HOUSTON – Reflecting on a 1-3 start by his Houston Texans, Bill O’Brien said: “I have to do a much better job of being head coach of this team.”
Sorry, Coach. It’s too late for that.
The Texans’ season unraveled before it began, with Arian Foster’s groin surgery and O’Brien’s inability to decide who should be quarterback.
The Texans, even before O’Brien became head coach, have been built to run, on the strong, fast but often injured legs of Foster. With their featured back expected to be of little or no use for the first month of the season, O’Brien knew he would have to throw. And the sooner the No. 1 quarterback is established, the sooner the team unifies behind its leader.
But as the Texans head toward Thursday night’s NRG date with their main AFC South rival, Indianapolis, they’re still playing flip-flop with Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer.
Indy’s coach, Chuck Pagano, is doing the same thing with Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck. But at least they know who they want to be No, 1, even if Luck with a damaged shoulder has played almost as poorly (5 TDs, 7 picks) as healthy Mallett/Hoyer for Houston.
O’Brien knew Mallett from five years ago when both were with the New England Patriots. But in spite of that knowledge – actually, because of that knowledge — O’Brien could not bring himself to name Mallett as the Texans’ starting quarterback when training camp began.
Instead, he declared open competition between Mallett and Hoyer, who was released, most recently, by the woebegone Cleveland Browns. Obie complained of reporters asking too many questions about his quarterbacks. But of course it was the coach who created and maintained the controversy with his endless dithering. He couldn’t see that, as the venerable resident football sage John McClain put it, “nobody in Houston really wanted Hoyer.”
Hoyer, 29, and benched last season in favor of Cleveland’s troubled rookie Johnny Manziel, gave Houstonians no hope.
Mallett, 27 and untested, but with what Hoyer described as “the strongest arm I’ve ever seen,” offered upside. If only he can develop control of his fastball.
Mallett and Hoyer both played so-so in preseason, as their game of Survivor played out on the HBO reality show Hard Knocks. When O’Brien decided on Hoyer a week before the opener, Mallett responded with anger, stayed up late and then missed an early-morning team meeting.
Terrific television drama but not the film a coach wants his team. fan base and world to see. QB battles inevitably cause fissures in a locker room. You can’t keep players from pondering and discussing among themselves who should be their leader if the coach can’t make a decision.
When Hoyer was, predictably, horrible, O’Brien switched to Mallett, who’s been little better. Hoyer relieved Mallett in Sunday’s blowout loss in Atlanta and put up pretty numbers against the second-teamers. O’Brien said that “being in the short week . . . I think it’s important for us to stick with Ryan right now.”
Not exactly brimming with confidence there – implying that if they were playing Sunday instead of Thursday, Hoyer would be the guy.
Regardless of who’s behind center, the Texans have looked out of sync, as if still in training camp trying to develop rhythm. The center and rest of the line, repeatedly reshuffled because of injuries, continue to struggle to get right with the quarterback’s cadence, resulting in delay of game and false starts.
The running game has gone nowhere. Foster said he wasn’t near 100 percent against Atlanta, but O’Brien felt it wise to give him eight carries, with which he gained 10 yards. The Texans knew they didn’t have much backup in Alfred Blue, who with Foster frequently out had 169 carries last season and averaged all of 3.1 yards. The running game is so bad that the Texans, with the worst passing in the NFL, set a league record for most pass attempts in the first four games: 209.
So now we’re hearing about the Curse of Hard Knocks. There may be something to it, upsetting a team’s chemistry as public intrudes on team. The Cowboys, Jets, Bengals, Dolphins and Falcons didn’t do so well in their seasons that followed the television series.
Even if they beat the underperforming but division-leading 2-2 Colts, and even if Foster soon returns to health, this is a lost season for the Texans. They haven’t even developed much young talent. Jadeveon Clowney? Or just another clown? Maybe next spring they’ll draft a QB, if there’s another Derek Carr available on the second round. But that’s another sad story. . .