Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Texans' Mistake Looming Larger as Playoffs Near

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterDecember 14, 2016

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 04:  Brock Osweiler #17 of the Houston Texans walks off the field in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on December 4, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

(The Texans are toast, Luke Kuechly's future, and the greatest NFL coaching tree of all time.)

    

1. The Texans Can't Win with Brock Osweiler

You are the Houston Texans. Your defense is fast and talented. You have a solid running game. Your offensive line isn't bad. You have (or had) one of the best wideouts in football. In many ways, overall, you're not a bad football team. 

Except for your awful, horrid quarterback that you pay $18 million a year and will give $37 million guaranteed. Other than that, all is fine

So what do you do?

What does a team do when its franchise quarterback is the obvious weak link?

There's a good chance the Texans capture the AFC South, which is akin to winning a lottery where the grand prize is a flaming bag of dog poo. The division is awful, but hey, a division title is a division title.

Still, there are some positive things happening in Houston. The defense is ranked in the top 10 in the NFL, and the rushing attack ranks fifth.

Yet Houston has the third-worst passing offense, and it's all due to Osweiler, who has been part Jay Cutler and part JaMarcus Russell.

Osweiler has been so bad, he has turned one of the NFL's greatest receiving weapons in DeAndre Hopkins into Johns Hopkins.

So back to the original question: What do the Texans do about Osweiler after they likely make it into the postseason? Truthfully? Nothing.

The Texans are stuck with Osweiler for their potential playoff run. The options behind himBrandon Weeden and Tom Savage—are poor, to put it kindly. As bad as Osweiler has been, he's likely better than what's behind him.

Another problem is the eye-popping contract they gave Osweiler, which has left them in classic slave-to-the-salary-cap mode. Benching Osweiler would be an admission the team made a colossal blunder in signing him to such a large deal.

In short, the Texans can't bench him and can't get rid of him. They're stuck with each other.

This situation is unusual but not unprecedented. In 2001, the Ravens gave Elvis Grbac a contract that included $11 million guaranteed. He lasted a single season.

Going that extreme route with Osweiler, though, would leave the Texans on the hook for $25 million in dead cap space next season, a hole no team wants to create for nothing in return.

A playoff appearance is no small thing, but if the Texans are forced to watch Osweiler throw footballs into the dirt and 10 feet over the heads of receivers in January, that buyer's remorse they may already be feeling is going to sting just a little more.

   
2. Luke Kuechly Has His NFL Brethren Worried

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 30:  Luke Kuechly #59 of the Carolina Panthers looks on during pregame warm up against the Arizona Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium on October 30, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It didn't take long after the heartbreaking image of a concussed Luke Kuechly being carted off was shown across the country for the texts to pour in to me from players. Four veteran players sent messages expressing how they weren't just concerned for Kuechly; they were scared for him.

The players all knew Kuechly, and each described him, in various ways, as one of the most honorable players they've ever known. That's why they all said they hope Kuechly thinks hard about his future. This is the second straight season the Panthers linebacker has missed at least three games with a concussion.

"He needs to think about not 30 years from now but five," one of the players wrote.

All believed Kuechly should sit the remainder of the season, and one player even said Kuechly should strongly consider retiring. Kuechly is 25.

A decade ago, maybe even five years ago, this conversation wouldn't have happened. Players would have lauded Kuechly's toughness.

Now the head trauma awareness is so heightened, whenever some players see others suffer from multiple concussions in a short period of time, they don't ignore it. They address it.

    

3. Jeff Fisher Was Stuck in the 1990s

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04:  Head coach Jeff Fisher of the Los Angeles Rams looks on during the game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The best coaches, no matter the sport, from Bill Walsh to Bill Belichick to Gregg Popovich, all adapt. They adapt their schemes. They adapt their coaching style. They learn from college and even high school coaches. That's what Belichick does. It's one reason he is buddies with Nick Saban and Urban Meyer and eats up all kinds of coaching techniques and strategies.

This isn't to say now-former Rams head coach Jeff Fisher never did this, but he wasn't obsessed with it the way great coaches are. He lived off his days in Tennessee with Steve McNair and Eddie George and then his days with the Vince Young and Chris Johnson. Fisher remained a defensive specialist who didn't broaden his coaching acumen.

Belichick was (and is) a defensive genius. He's the best defensive coach of all time, but he adapted to become a coach of everythinghiring smart offensive people and coaching Tom Brady to become the best passer of all time.

When Todd Gurley said after Sunday's game that the Rams ran a "middle school offense," that's one of the biggest indictments you can make of a head coach. If you think Gurley was just speaking out of frustration, Steve Young said Monday on ESPN that Gurley was right. 

And those sentiments touched on why Fisher was firedbecause he had lost his adaptability and curiosity as a head coach.

It is, unfortunately, the same reason Rex Ryan will also be fired this season. 

    

4. Alex Smith Still Gets No Respect

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 08:  Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs throws a pass against the Oakland Raiders during the first half on December 8, 2016 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Former linebacker Bill Romanowski, a dramatic talent when he played and someone who knows the sport as well as anyone, said in an interview with CBS Sports Radio that Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith is doomed to fail in the playoffs.

The reason? Smith isn't that good.

"He's a solid game manager, but not a game winner." Romanowski said.

Smith has fought that perception for some time; he may always face it until he gets to a Super Bowl. It's unfair (mostly). It's wrong. But it's also what many people across the sport think. Raiders coach Jack Del Rio basically said a version of this earlier in the season.

The criticism may be unfair for a guy who has won 39 of his 58 games with the Chiefs. Of course, if Smith can win big with a trip to the Super Bowl, and that's possible this season, a lot of those voices will quiet down.

5. In Defense of Hue Jackson

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 9: Head coach Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns watches from the sidelines during the first half against the New England Patriots at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 9, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Browns are probably going to be winless this season, and it's been ugly. Like, truly ugly. Against the Bengals on Sunday—and Cincinnati isn't exactly the 1986 Bearswith about four minutes left in the first half, quarterback Robert Griffin III was 2-of-9 for 20 yards with 0.0 passer rating.

That's bad. 

Yet several assistant coaches told me this week how impressed they've been with Jackson's coaching of this supposed mess.

Much of this is about perspective. The flea-flicker call in their own end zone on Sunday looks reckless on the surfaceand maybe it is—but several assistants thought Jackson should be going for broke and, well, that's what going for broke looks like.

Word around the league, not surprisingly, is the Browns' roster is so subpar that it is one of the least talented in recent league history. One assistant said think Yuccaneers from the 70s bad.

In other words, few coaches in NFL history, if any, would have been able to win with this roster.

Will Jackson survive this season? Probably. No one ever said the NFL was fair, but it would be patently unfair to fire Jackson (essentially blaming him) when the roster is so thin.

6. An Ugly Play...

Take a look at this. Everyone saw this. Not to make fun of Ryan Tannehill (well, maybe a little), but plays like these show how, despite all of the technology to make football more weather-durableimprovements in field turf, use of gloves, all the fancy thingamabobs on the sideline including seat warmersweather can still at times dominate the game.

7. ...And a Dirty One

The cheap shot Tennessee wide receiver Harry Douglas delivered to Denver defensive back Chris Harris on Sunday should no longer be tolerated in the sport. This isn't the 1950s. Or the Mean Machine.

The biggest thing about this sort of play, and some others, is that players often complain about what they feel is the league office's intrusion, and over-emphasis, on player safety. I still hear complaints from players about how they feel the NFL takes the violence out of a game that is intended to be overly violent.

But when the result is Douglas dangerously undercutting a player, something needs to be done.

8. Why the Chiefs Are Winning for Dummies

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 18:  Head coach Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs waits on the sideline in the second quarter of their game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

CBS Sports analyst Amy Trask (full disclosureshe's my buddy, but this is still valid) offered a simple yet insightful analysis about how Kansas City has become one of the hottest teams in the game:

"Andy Reid is … doing what I believe the best coaches do, assessing the talent on his roster, and putting that talent in the best position to win by putting them in the position in which they play the best. He's not doing what some coaches do, which is looking at their players and forcing them into a scheme for which they're not suited. He's in his second location as a head coach, and by the way, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll also had tremendous success in their second stops."

This seems straightforward enough. Your talent has a certain skill set. A coach should design schemes to match that skill set. But it is stunning how often that does not happen. In far too many cases, coaches put their egos ahead of almost everything.

I once covered a coach who made that mistake, who put his scheme ahead of the players. That team was terrible. Reid isn't like that. He adapts, a lot. And that is why his Chiefs are the pick by many in the league to win the AFC.

    

9. A Coaching Tradition Unlike Any Other

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 09:  Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers coaches during the game against the New York Jets on October 9, 2016 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

We could argue for a decade about who the greatest coach is in NFL history. Some will say Don Shula. I say Belichick. Others will say Chuck Noll. Or Tom Landry. On and on it can go.

I think, however, the argument about the best group of head coaches for a single team in NFL history is over. There's no question now it's the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Mike Tomlin got his 100th victory this past week. That's impressive enough, but according to the team, the Steelers are the first franchise to have three head coaches in its history to reach 100 regular-season victories: Noll (193), Cowher (149) and Tomlin.

One coach that stays with an organization long enough, and is good enough, to get 100 career regular-season wins is impressive enough. Two? Pretty amazing. But three? Virtually impossible.

It goes to the character of Steelers ownership and, frankly, their wisdom. This is what happens when you're patient with your coaches and don't fire them when things get ugly. It's the Steelers' way and why they have been so successful for so long. 

10. Louis Riddick Needs a New Job?

Anonymous/Associated Press

Don't get me wrong; Riddick is terrific on television. He's one of the best analysts, in any sport, on any network.

But Riddick, a former front office executive in Philadelphia and current ESPN analyst, should be running a front office. There are any number of candidates that could use him. The front offices of Indianapolis, Buffalo, San Francisco and Los Angeles, to name a few, need to be Death Star-ed, and Riddick would be a good leader for any of them.

As far as I know, Riddick hasn't been contacted by any teams this season (yet). That needs to change.

    

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.  

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