Tennessee Titans Could Find an Answer to Offensive Woes in the Division

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10: Offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie of the Tennessee Titans on the field before the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 10, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Titans 12-7. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10: Offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie of the Tennessee Titans on the field before the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 10, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Titans 12-7. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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A Potential Solution from our AFC South Neighbors

If recent rumors are substantiated and Houston Texans HC Bill O’Brien loses his job after a disappointing season for the Texans after two straight division titles, the Titans should be making phone calls regarding his availability as an offensive coordinator. Many would argue that O’Brien has done more than enough to earn himself another year based on his two playoff berths with the team and injuries to his two biggest superstars in 2017, with both J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson both on IR before the season was halfway over.

That said, coaches have been fired for less and the Texans have looked rudderless as their defense and offense have both languished for weeks now. When questioned about O’Brien’s long-term job security, owner Bob McNair made it clear that the situation was up in the air:

"“We’ll talk to him about it at the end of this year,” McNair said at the time. “That’s typically when we do that sort of thing. . . . We’ll sit down and see what he’s happy with and if he wants to be extended and see how we feel."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Furthermore, as reported by Jason La Canfora at CBS Sports, people close to the organization believe that a split is “imminent” due to the rocky relationship with O’Brien and GM Rick Smith. O’Brien also experienced some controversy due to his playing of the obviously concussed QB Tom Savage after a brutal hit in the end zone, which could factor in to a future decision.

The Texans have to know that they have one of the most attractive coaching openings and could have their pick of any number of job candidates as a result of their deep roster with stars like Watson, Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and DeAndre Hopkins, amongst others, providing a lure for coaching candidates.

All things considered, a move away from O’Brien would perhaps be an unwise decision, but it would certainly not be surprising by any means. If O’Brien hits the open market, he will generate considerable interest, but taking an offensive coordinator job could prove enticing for both sides.

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For O’Brien, he would return to what made him so successful in calling plays and working solely on the offensive side of the ball as an OC. Not only that, he would join an exciting, young offense stocked with talent that will face his former team twice a year, providing O’Brien the opportunity to exact his revenge. O’Brien even sports a connection to the Tennessee organization in that he and GM Jon Robinson both spent six years working together from 2007-2013 as members of the New England Patriots organization.

Before 2017, O’Brien might not have been considered the best option for the Tennessee Titans because he had traditionally gravitated towards pocket passers like Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer, Brock Osweiler, and Tom Savage rather than a mobile, spread quarterback like Marcus Mariota.

All of that changed, however, with his 2017 run alongside Watson. Watson, a National Champion, was largely considered the most pro-ready prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft, and the quarterback-needy Texans mortgaged their future by trading up with Cleveland to select the signal caller.

After an ill-advised Week 1 start from Savage, O’Brien realized his mistake and threw in Watson before the game was over. O’Brien adapted his scheme to fit Watson by running more no-huddle, incorporating the read-option, using more plays from the shotgun, and implementing designed quarterback runs to put defenses on edge. Watson proved the Texans investment was worth it immediately, as he responded with almost 1600 yards passing, 253 yards rushing, and 20 total touchdowns in only six starts with the team.

The rest of the offense also benefitted as a result, with a slumping Hopkins immediately becoming the league’s most-targeted receiver and regaining his status as one of the sport’s best young receivers. RB Lamar Miller’s two most productive games came during Watson’s stint as the Houston starter.

O’Brien’s ability to adapt his offense and tailor it to the strengths of his young quarterback demonstrates a flexibility that Robiskie has been unable to mimic over his last two seasons with Mariota. 

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The reasons why O’Brien would be desirable as an offensive coordinator all directly correlate with his success with Watson during the first half of the 2017 season. O’Brien has proven that he can run a creative scheme for a mobile quarterback in a similar mold as Mariota that incorporates aspects of the offense that complement his skill set by using read option, plays from the shotgun, misdirection runs, bootlegs, and no-huddle.

When the scheme is better suited to Mariota, the Titans will still be able to place an emphasis on the running game, albeit in a different manner. The offense will open up around the dual threat of Mariota and create new opportunities for DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. For a recent example of this, in a Washington Redskins offense tailored to Robert Griffin III’s unique skillset, running back Alfred Morris took advantage of RGIII’s transcendent rookie season and dual threat ability to gain 1613 yards on the ground. In another aspect of the offense, in the same way that O’Brien resuscitated Hopkins’ career after a down year, he can increase the usage of WR Corey Davis and get him open consistently against some of the league’s best cornerbacks, which Robiskie has been unable to do this year.

Should O’Brien be relieved of his coaching duties by Houston, their loss could be the Tennessee Titans’ gain, and Tennessee should make every effort possible to convince O’Brien to come to Nashville if he becomes available to maximize the wealth of talent on offense that has been misused or underutilized in 2017. The Titans must make changes to allow Mariota and this offense to reach its potential next season. Whether Bill O’Brien becomes available or not, Jon Robinson must bring in some new blood to the coaching staff to transform the Titans into bonafide playoff contenders.