Sean Pendergast

Houston Texans' Opening Drives Failing at an Unacceptable Rate

The Texans have a major problem on opening drives since the beginning of 2018 with Watson at the controls.
The Texans have a major problem on opening drives since the beginning of 2018 with Watson at the controls. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Trying to quantify "good coaching" or "bad coaching," beyond the obvious metric of a win-loss record, is a very nuanced endeavor. The argument as to whether a head coach is effective in his job can become a very emotion-laden exercise. To wit, by the win-loss metric, Bill O'Brien had been an above average head coach in the NFL — 21 wins the last two years, four division titles in five years.

However, if you were to walk into a bar this week and tell even the most sober of Texans fans that Bill O'Brien is an above average head coach, I would recommend covering your face immediately, lest said fan break a beer bottle and try to gouge out your eyes. And who could blame that fan? O'Brien has one of the brightest young quarterbacks in the league, and two games into the season, he has neutered Deshaun Watson, behind poor offensive line play, overly complicated play calling, and engineered  a selling off of his favorite target, DeAndre Hopkins, for pennies on the dollar.

So if you're into supporting your Texan friends who claim that O'Brien stinks, here is one bit of statistical evidence that might get him convicted as such in a court of law — bottom line, since Week 1 of 2018, the Texans have been atrocious in generating touchdowns (really, generating any sort of points, but particularly touchdowns) on opening drives.

Why is this a key indicator of coaching acumen? Well, because theoretically the first drive of a game is the cleanest one, when it comes to being unaffected by game flow or situations. You should be able to script it, work it out on the practice field and the film room, and go execute it. Well, the Texans flat out SUCK at executing first drives of games under O'Brien, with Deshaun Watson at quarterback.

How bad? Here's how bad it is....

That, Is, Atrocious.

For some context on the 3.25 yards per play metric, the New York Jets were the worst offense in football last season, as measured by the YPP stat. They averaged 4.6 yards per play. So on opening drives with Deshaun Watson at quarterback, since Week 1 of 2018, the Texans offense runs at an efficiency level roughly 30 percent WORSE than the worst offense in football.

How does this happen? What do you do to fix it? Well, I asked Bill O'Brien on Monday in his weekly Monday press conference. He didn't really have a good answer (or any answer, for that matter):

So, if you're expecting this trend to change any time soon, then you may as well go find a horseshoe, or a rabbit's foot, or go scouring the meadows for a four leaf clover. It's about as good a strategy as the Texans' coaching staff seems to have right now when it comes to fixing this abysmal part of an already deteriorating 2020 football season.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast