Coaching Time: What To Expect From Bill O’Brien’s Firing

Eli Grabanski takes a look at the impact the former Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien had on the team's offense and how it may change player's fantasy value going forward.

After 100 games as the Houston Texans head coach, Bill O’Brien was finally fired.

His once-promising tenure fell completely apart when he received GM duties in addition to his coaching duties. O’Brien gave up the farm to acquire Laremy Tunsil in a deal that Tunsil himself commented on, saying “I would trade me for that.” He later traded star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and the 131st overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to the Arizona Cardinals for David Johnson, the 40th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and a fourth-round pick in 2021.

O’Brien’s hubris was ultimately his downfall. The fallout is going to be interesting. How will it affect the Texans’ fantasy players now? How will it affect them in dynasty and keeper leagues? Let’s dive in.


Impact on QB


Quality of Quarterbacks

O’Brien didn’t exactly have the cream of the crop for most of his career. Here’s a look at the quarterbacks he’s had in each season of his career as an offensive coordinator or head coach.


Bill O’Brien’s Quarterbacks


Looking at this, it is clear that O’Brien had to deal with mediocre/below-average QB carousels from 2014-2017 but otherwise has had a couple of very talented quarterbacks at his disposal (Tom Brady and DeShaun Watson).


Team Passing Attempts Per Game

In terms of willingness to pass the ball, O’Brien embraced it in New England with Brady as his quarterback but seemed a little more gun-shy since getting to Houston. Since Watson came to town in 2017, the Texans have averaged anywhere from 31.63 passing attempts per game to 33.38 passing attempts per game, which is below the league average. This is surprising considering how good of a quarterback Watson is, and shows that O’Brien didn’t let Watson cook as much as he should have.



Team Passing Yards Per Game

Passing yards are pretty heavily correlated to passing attempts so it should come as no surprise that O’Brien’s offense in Houston was also below average in this realm.



We know Watson is the type of talent that will be successful regardless of the coaching staff around him, but a great coaching staff who embraces the passing attack could help him hit his ceiling of being the number one overall fantasy quarterback. Seeing this data makes it clear: O’Brien has only gotten mediocre passing production out of his quarterbacks in the past and there’s room for growth if the Texans hire a strong offensive-minded pass-first coach next offseason. Because of this, Watson is an intriguing player to buy in dynasty leagues right now as he should see more volume (and therefore yardage & touchdowns) in the future.


Impact on RB


Carries Per Game

Throughout his career, O’Brien has been above average in providing opportunities for his running backs on the ground.



Rushing Yards Per Game

Because of the opportunity O’Brien typically provided his running backs on the ground, his RB room tended to average more rushing yards per game than most offensive-coordinators and head coaches.



Rushing Touchdowns Per Game

Despite his running backs getting more carries and producing above-average yardage compared to most offensive-minded coaches, O’Brien has been dreadful at getting his running backs rushing touchdowns in his time in Houston.



Targets Per Game

In the first ‘Coaching Time‘ article, you may have noticed that O’Brien was ranked as one of the worst coaches at providing opportunities for his running backs in the air.



Looking over the course of his career, O’Brien has only had one season where his running back room averaged more than six targets per game. There’s a good chance we’ll see improvement in David Johnson and Duke Johnson’s PPR value going forward.



Receiving Yards Per Game

Since O’Brien does not provide his running backs with a ton of targets, his running backs tended to get fewer receiving yards than most other team’s running backs.



Receiving Touchdowns Per Game

With regards to passing to his running backs around the end zone and letting them score touchdowns that way, O’Brien was the definition of average. Expect similar production even with offensive coordinator Tim Kelly in complete control of the offense.


Impact on WR


Targets Per Game

Looking at the production of O’Brien’s WR room, he seemed to be around average or slightly above average in providing opportunities through the air for his wide receivers.



Every single year O’Brien has been a head coach or offensive coordinator his WR room has hovered around 20 targets per game (except for 2015 where the team had its best offensive year). This usage likely won’t change much for 2020 since Tim Kelly has been calling plays the whole year and is guaranteed to continue doing so after O’Brien’s firing.


Receiving Yards Per Game

In terms of drawing up plays that generate receiving yards and/or getting the ball into his best wide receivers’ hands, O’Brien has been above average in doing so and had a fairly efficient attack from his wide receivers.



Receiving Touchdowns Per Game

Looking at wide receiver receiving touchdowns per game, O’Brien’s offense had been slightly above average as well. While DeAndre Hopkins certainly played a factor in that, it is important to note that O’Brien’s wide receiver room has been around average in this department even without Hopkins.



Overall O’Brien was average to slightly above average at providing opportunities and getting production out of his wide receiver room. There might be a slight dip in usage and production for wide receivers with O’Brien gone and Tim Kelly in complete control of the offense, but not enough to be very fantasy relevant.


Impact on TE


Targets Per Game

In O’Brien’s time in New England, he frequently targeted his tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. But it was a completely different story when he was off on his own in Houston. In O’Brien’s time in Houston, he targeted his tight ends an average amount of times per game.



Receiving Yards Per Game

Since targets and receiving yards are correlated, it should come as no surprise that the story is similar in this department. O’Brien’s offense was great in this department in New England with Gronkowski and Hernandez but disappeared once he got to Houston.



Receiving Touchdowns Per Game

Going into his tenure with the Texans, there might have been expectations that the tight end room would be utilized frequently near the red zone based on how heavily the 2011 New England Patriots utilized the position in that region of the field. But the results from his tenure in Houston were actually the opposite: The Texans utilized the position very little until they hired Tim Kelly to be the team’s offensive coordinator in 2019.



If there was one area I would expect to see more usage out of on the Texans going forward in the 2020 season, it would be an improvement in the tight end production overall. Darren Fells and Jordan Akins will be solid matchup-based streamers/BYE week fill-ins for the rest of the season.


Final Thoughts


Ultimately, Bill O’Brien’s offense has been slightly above-average. His running backs have gotten a fair share of work on the ground, but haven’t utilized nearly enough through the air or on the ground near the end-zone. He will get some interviews for some offensive coordinator and head coaching positions next off-season and could have a bit of redemption arc if ends up in an offensive coordinator role.

As for the Texans offense the rest of the year, for the most part, we should expect similar production and usage to what the team has done in the first few weeks. Tim Kelly has been the primary play-caller in each of the first four games of the season, and he’s stuck using O’Brien’s playbook for the rest of the season.

If I had to pick one position group on the Houston Texans that benefits the most from O’Brien being fired and Kelly being solely in control of the offense, it would be the tight end room given Kelly’s previous experience as a tight ends coach and the improvement the team had in tight end usage and production has had since 2019 (when Kelly was promoted to offensive coordinator). The running back room will also likely improve in future weeks, but I would attribute that more to the Texans schedule lightening up rather a product of O’Brien’s firing.

In dynasty leagues, Watson and Will Fuller are strong buys after this decision, as there is a very good chance the Texans hire an offensive-mind like Eric Bieniemy (Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator), Arthur Smith (Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator), or Kellen Moore (Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator) to be their next head coach.


Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

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