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Keenum Sets Up Coach of Year

Case Keenum should win Bill O'Brien Coach of the Year: Crazy, fiery pregame speech removes any doubt from first-year run

Case Keenum should win Bill O'Brien Coach of the Year: No doubter now

Bill O'Brien Arian Foster Texans
Bill O'Brien is at the center of everything the Houston Texans have done. Whether it's getting Arian Foster to throw a touchdown pass or helping Case Keenum make the most of his second chance. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Case Keenum sign Texans
Case Keenum brought plenty of fans to NRG Stadium. And happy feelings with a 25-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Kareem Jackson Texans tongue
Cornerback Kareem Jackson played like a superstar against the Ravens. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Brooks Reed Kubiak Texans
Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
J.J. Watt Texans Flacco
J.J. Watt made life miserable for another NFL quarterback. This time, it's Joe Flacco. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Case Keenum pressure Texans
Case Keenum threw the ball 42 times and led the Texans on seven scoring drives. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Bill O'Brien Texans Ravens
Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien should be a serious contender for NFL Coach of the Year. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Bill O'Brien Arian Foster Texans
Case Keenum sign Texans
Kareem Jackson Texans tongue
Brooks Reed Kubiak Texans
J.J. Watt Texans Flacco
Case Keenum pressure Texans
Bill O'Brien Texans Ravens

Lyle Lovett marches through the bowels of NRG Stadium, almost full-bore grinning. The country singer stayed to the very end of the Houston Texans' 25-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens (no early celebrity bolt here) and he seems to be enjoying every moment of it despite his laconic image.

Dikembe Mutombo is already in the Texans locker room at this point, the legendary NBA giant camping out in the training room to pose for pictures. Many of them seemingly requested by Mutombo himself rather than the other way around. It looks very much like Mutombo just wants to be part of something like this again.

There is nothing that quite compares to a winning locker room in big-time sports. Just ask Case Keenum, the first-time NFL winner who pulls an ordinary black backpack on (both straps tight around his arms, none of this casual one-strap hanging look for Keenum) and heads for the interview room. Or ask J.J. Watt . . . he's the hulking guy over there in the red reindeer Christmas sweater. Sure, his face is a little busted up. But it's all good.

"Everything feels better after a win, so I don’t feel it too much," Watt says.

 "It certainly got everyone going. He does a great job of bringing players up to his level of intensity." 

It's good feelings and high cheer all around in Texans land and No. 99 cannot help but notice it.

"It was kind of like one big Houston family out there," Watt says, mentioning he ran into Lovett. "It was pretty fun. Pretty cool."

The creator of this scene has already retreated from sight. He's well into planning for Jacksonville now.

First-year Texans coach Bill O'Brien's made all this possible with one of the NFL's all-time great single-season coaching jobs. There is no other way to describe what O'Brien's pulled off with these Texans anymore. Taking over a lifeless 2-14 team, starting four different quarterbacks and essentially playing the whole season without the game-changing No. 1 pick in the entire NFL Draft, O'Brien still has Houston alive in the playoff race going into Week 17.

OK, so the Texans (8-7) are still ultra playoff long shots, only able to get to nine wins in an AFC where both Wild Card teams are likely to have at least 10 wins. And OK, Keenum — the so-called fourth string quarterback Houston beat Baltimore with — probably never should have been cut by O'Brien in the first place. But none of that changes the larger scope of what Bob McNair's handpicked coach has done.

In Case Keenum's return game, O'Brien does it by delivering one of the most fiery pregame speeches that's likely been heard in any NFL locker room this season. In it, the coach rails against the Texans being completely dismissed as no-shot, no-threats to the Ravens. Ex-Texans like Gary Kubiak and Owen Daniels get all the attention before the game. O'Brien's team is less than an afterthought.

And that clearly does not sit well with a coach who all but bounces off the walls during his pregame talk in the team auditorium. Several players say O'Brien brings up how no one outside of the locker room gives them any chance of beating a nine-win Baltimore team.

"Very interesting," Texans left tackle Duane Browns says, grinning when someone asks about the speech. "A lot of expletives, a lot of stuff I can't repeat."

It's not the type of speech that is ever going to be shown on HoustonTexans.com. It's a little too real. It's much too Bill O'Brien unfiltered.

But it's the type of speech that no one in that Texans locker room is likely to ever forget.

"It certainly got everyone going," linebacker Brooks Reed tells CultureMap. "He does a great job of bringing players up to his level of intensity."

 It's not the type of speech that is ever going to be shown on HoustonTexans.com. It's a little too real. It's much too Bill O'Brien unfiltered. 

That's an interesting way to put it. A perfect way, really. Reed's right. O'Brien's gift in getting these Texans to play hard no matter what's stacked against them has been underrated all season.

The defense has never lost hope — even as things seemed to fall apart around them — and now that side of the ball is on a roll that is reminiscent of the late push of that 2011 first Texans playoff team. Houston's defense has held Andrew Luck and now Joe Flacco to less than 200 yards passing in back-to-back weeks. On this Sunday, cornerback Kareem Jackson and third-year defensive end Jared Crick are as big of stars as NFL MVP contender J.J. Watt.

On one of his two interceptions — both of which set up Texans scores — Jackson absolutely just out fights Owen Daniels, the overhyped former Texan, for the football.

That's a Bill O'Brien play. That's the type of ferocious effort the coach screams for in the pregame.

"We were trying to be in those guys' hip pocket every step of the way — everywhere they went," safety Kendrick Lewis says. 

They are. Daniels might as well be trapped in a phone both for all the room he has. "I think every team takes on the personality of their head coach and this team has really done that in a good way," Texans linebacker Brian Cushing says.

No Case Keenum Whisperer

O'Brien will receive most of his credit for the work that he and quarterbacks coach George Godsey do with Keenum. And there is no doubt the wildcat-utilizing, Arian Foster-throwing-a-touchdown-pass gameplan is inventive. But in truth, Keenum deserves the majority of the praise for getting himself ready in six days to go from the St. Louis Rams practice squad to throwing it 42 times as the Texans QB starter.

Keenum shows how good O'Brien can be as a coach. But it's this East Coast leader's fiery push, his lifting up of an entire franchise, that illustrates why Bill O'Brien should be the NFL's Coach of the Year.

With Bruce Arians' team fading in the Arizona desert, unable to endure through the type of quarterback calamity that the Texans are somehow getting better under, the contest truly shouldn't even be that close. Arguing for Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is akin to giving an Oscar to the guy who won the Razzie award for worst actor of the year for three years running. Garrett only looks good now because he deflated Dallas' record for years by wasting talent.

Oh, with the politics of NFL awards media voting and the late-to-the-party, year late nature of these honors, Bill O'Brien probably won't win Coach of the Year this season.

But his players know. And who knows? Case Keenum may have just shown the rest of the NFL just how good of a coach the guy who cut him is. 

The blistered walls of the Texans auditorium certainly need no reminder.