So far the "O'Brien Way" has been to win ugly. There's really never been any choice. Following a 2-14 campaign in 2013, rebuilding the ruins O'Brien inherited from Gary Kubiak was not going to happen in a day. But it may be happening faster than many anticipated.
The stats may not show it - the Raiders ended up with more total yards, first downs and a huge edge in passing yards - but make no mistake this was a Texans rout, O'Brien style. He said following last Thursday's practice he'd use Arian Foster as much as needed. Foster, playing against the team he grew up rooting for, was "needed" for 28 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown (after having 27 carries in the week one win against the Redskins). Foster also had a pair of receptions good for six more yards from scrimmage. The rookie from LSU, Alfred Blue had 11 carries for 40 yards, and Jonathan Grimes and Ronnie Brown each had three carries.
At the current pace, Foster will finish 2014 with 440 carries. That would be 89 more than Arian had in 2012 when he led the league with 351, or 24 more than the NFL record of 416 by the Chiefs Larry Johnson in 2006. If that's what it takes to win games for the Texans, then Arian had better be ready because one thing is clear through two games of the O'Brien era, atop the "Pyramid of Priorities" is winning.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was again very efficient - as well as significantly unspectacular - going 14-19 for 139 yards and two TD's. The 129.1 quarterback rating looks great but if ever there was a "game manager," that term QB's hate, Fitz fits the description to a tee. Fitzpatrick avoided mistakes with the same precision he avoided big plays. Garrett Graham's lone reception for 26 yards on a third and eight during the Texans second drive of the game (which ended with a Foster five yard touchdown run) was Fitz' longest of the day. Fitzpatrick had just two completions over 20 yards (the other to Andre Johnson), just one more attempt over 20 yards and just five completions on ten attempts over ten yards on the day.
When given lemons, O'Brien has used Foster to make lemonade on offense.
I've said on The Bstraw & PaulyG Show on SportsRadio 610 if I were O'Brien I'd run Arian into the ground if that's what it took to win and it would seem Bill's either listening (Thanks!) or at least agreeing with my philosophy. But the reality is Foster can't handle 440 carries this season. Fitzpatrick is going to need to be more than just error free, he's also going to have to make some plays downfield.
I also find the play that's getting the most attention - J.J. Watt's one-yard touchdown reception that gave the Texans a 7-0 lead on their opening drive of the game - somewhat cautionary. Yes, it's great publicity for Watt and the Texans that their best and most marketable player scores, but why was it necessary for Watt to be playing tight end? A simple reward for all his hard work and dedication to the organization? Is he the best tight end on the team but needed more at defensive end? Or...is it because the team has no faith in Ryan Griffin and with rookie C.J. Fiedorwicz out, Watt was the only option? Texans' tight ends have just three receptions on five targets through two games, including the Watt TD. Not exactly mimicking the "Patriot Way." Also, back to Foster, it's great he's second in the league in yardage (214) and runs for first down (10), but it's a bit of a red flag that he's 24th in yards per attempt.
Clearly there are concerns on both offense and defense, what else would you expect from a team that had the worst record in the NFL last season. For the second straight week the run defense seems shaky. The Raiders managed just 25 yards in their loss to the Jets last week. Sunday they finished with 101 on 17 attempts for a 5.9 yards per attempt average. Derek Carr tried to pass on 78 plays, he was pressured on just 33 and only twice when the Texans didn't blitz. (Perhaps they're missing first overall pick JaDeveon Clowney who's out after "allegedly" tearing his MCL courtesy one of the gaps in the more than 5,000 seems in the NRG turf?) Both Brook Reed and Whitney Mercilus reverted to form having little success getting pressure off the edge and it was Reed who was fooled on Carr's 41 yard run off a read-option play.
The Texans did take advantage of every mistake the Raiders were willing to make, which was many. Rookie Derek Carr threw a pair of interceptions and the Texans picked up a pair of fumbles. Even when they were made to look bad the Texans defense ended up looking good. On perhaps the oddest play of the day, James Jones beat Jonathan Joseph on the right sideline forr a nice catch and run of 42 yards, only to allow Joseph to recover, pop the ball lose inside the Texans five where D.J. Swearinger recovered the fumble to give the Texans a first down at their three.
It may not be pretty, but after years of watching the Texans self-destruct, always being the team that made just enough mistakes to lose under Gary Kubiak, through two games under O'Brien the Texans are making the crucial plays and avoiding the mistakes necessary to win.
In all, for the fifth straight season (surprising huh) the Texans open 2-0. With a trip to New York to take on the stumbling/aging/talent-starved/dysfunctional Giants next, and a schedule that provides opportunity for hope, a .500 (or better?!) finish is not out of the question. How the team fairs against the vastly improved 2-0 Bills at NRG in two weeks followed by a trip to Dallas to face the schizophrenic Cowboys will provide a major indicator of just how competitive the Texans can be in the AFC South. One thing's already certain, O'Brien's team will do whatever it takes to get the win in those games (even if winning means finding that "franchise QB" in the '15 draft becomes less likely with each victory).
FYI – NEW FALL SCHEDULE for the Bstraw & Pauly G Show: Tuesdays 9:00pm 11:00pm, Wednesdays & Fridays 8:00pm-11:00pm following Texans Radio on SportsRadio 610. [Monday & Thursday evenings there's NFL Football on SportsRadio 610]