The NFL schedulers put together a Week 1 matchup between two teams who had a combined 5 wins last year. The good thing is, both of these teams have improved from last year's disastrous season that saw major coaching and player changes during and after the year was over. Best friends Gary Kubiak and Mike Shanahan - GONE. In are Bill O'Brien for the Texans and Jay Gruden for the Redskins. Both of them are first time NFL head coaches with experience as NFL Offensive Coordinators. O'Brien has head coaching experience in college after taking over the Penn State program two years ago, and Gruden has head coaching experience in the Arena Football League. But the head coaches can only do so much, and they have to use the talent they have on the team, and bring in players that fit the type of football they want to play. Which coach has the better team heading in to Week 1 this year?
1) Bill O'Brien was on a lot of Redskins fans' radar when it became very clear that Mike Shanahan was finished in Washington. What are your impressions of him as a head coach, and how quickly do you think he will turn around the team?
BK: Bill O'Brien is about as different from Gary Kubiak as one can get. He's passionate, he's calculating, and he's all about the team rather than the individual. Kubiak was loyal to a fault when it came to "his guys", and that resulted in a lot of players staying on the roster long after they became ineffective. Not only that, but Kubiak's play calling was bland, repetitive, and flat out boring at times. O'Brien, on the other hand, is a "game plan" oriented coach who preaches unpredictability and multiplicity on offense. His number one goal each week is find the biggest weaknesses in his enemies and ruthlessly exploit them. Expect to see David Amerson getting a lot of face time with Andre Johnson this weekend.
2) How confident are you in the backup RBs behind Arian Foster? Who steps in as the #1 back if Foster is not playing?
BK: Jonathan Grimes, who is currently slated as the number two back, has been jokingly referred to as "Diet Foster" around BRB for the last couple seasons. If pressed into the starting role, I think that the offense would only take a minor hit to production with Grimes as the bell cow. As a one cut "slasher" type of back, Grimes excels in O'Brien's zone scheme on all three downs. Whether keeping the chains moving on the ground, catching passes out of the backfield, or pass protecting on third down, he is more than capable of backing up Foster this season.
3) Jadeveon Clowney is an athletic freak. How has he adjusted to the NFL game, what stories have we missed about him during the offseason, and what can we expect to see when Clowney and Watt are on the field at the same time?
BK: When Watt played without Clowney during the preseason, offensive lines still collapsed anyway. When Clowney played without Watt, left tackles were darn near helpless to stop him. When both of them were on the field together for a handful of snaps against Arizona, it looked to be a downright apocalyptic combination. Hell, Carson Palmer hit the grass within thirty seconds of the game's first whistle. Brandon Harris managed to play himself right off the roster that game after practically escorting the Cardinals offense into the end zone on multiple occasions, but the Clowney-Watt duo left an impression that cannot be ignored. This is a tandem that will be feared for many, many years.
4) Has Rick Smith been feeling the heat from fans/media for his recent string of draft picks that have been cut? How do you think this draft class compares to the past few? Xavier Su'a-Filo is someone I would have definitely liked the Redskins to draft, how has he performed so far?
BK: Su'a-Filo is one of the bigger disappointments of this Texans draft class thus far, but that is largely because he shares that spot light with the engine of destruction that is Jadeveon Clowney. He has been fine as a run blocker, but pass protection is a noticeable weakness as this stage of his career. Third round tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and rookie fullback Jay Prosch were both stars throughout the preseason, and their run blocking skills should catapult Arian Foster to new heights if he stays healthy. Tom Savage was very hit or miss in his limited snaps, but he has shown enough physical upside to get moderately excited about his future. Even late round picks like Andre Hal and Jeoffrey Pagan managed to contribute to the team in meaningful ways this August, and both of them are now on the active roster. If Sua'-Filo develops into a solid left guard and rookie nose tackle Louis Nix plays up to his potential after recovering from a knee injury, the Texans could have a draft class for the ages on their hands. Even though Bill O'Brien clearly makes the picks in Houston, Rick Smith should still be given a lot of credit for his talent evaluation skills. The man knows a good player when he sees one.
5) Andre Johnson has been a great player for a long time. Is this his last ride in Houston? How did the fanbase react to the trade stories this offseason?
BK: Andre Johnson still has a few years left in the tank. Despite being ancient by football standards, he is still clowning the best corners in the game on a weekly basis. 2014 actually has the potential to be a career year for Johnson as he is finally in an offense that is not afraid to throw the ball in the red zone. Will this finally be the year that Johnson cracks double digit touchdowns? I would not bet against it. As for how the fan base reacted to potential trade scenarios, let's just say we all had our bleach cocktails at the ready.
Bonus Question: How much do you hate the Cowboys?
BK: Their tears are our sustenance.