Texans lose to the Titans, 41-38. Photo by Getty Images
The Texans season came to a merciful end on Sunday in entertaining fashion, as they dropped a 41-38 decision to the playoff-bound Tennessee Titans. The year may be 2021, but it was typical 2020 Texans; Derrick Henry ran all over them once again, and they played hard but lost in dramatic fashion in the final 20 seconds. At least the Texans showed some heart and made the Titans work for it. Five observations from the season ender:
1) At lest we can stop waiting and look forward to new hires. The season is now officially over, and we can turn our attention to who might take over as head coach and GM. The lone bright spot of the season was the end of the Bill O'Brien era, which at least gives some hope. Now we will see if that hope will be fulfilled. It's a stretch to think the Texans will get these hires right, especially if Jack Easterby is involved at all, considering he signed off on the DeAndre Hopkins deal. But at least the wait is nearing its end. It will be a challenging off-season with no picks and a lot of bad contracts, but maybe the Texans get the GM hire right and a better coaching staff improves some of the underperformers. So at least there will be hope - at least until the hire is made.
2) There were some bright spots this season. Watson finished with a terrific statistical season, even though his team was not very good. With a better coaching staff next year, he should take another big step. He did not have much help. Brandin Cooks was solid, and Keke Coutee had a nice second half of the season and looks like a useful piece moving forward. Tight end Pharoah Brown was a pleasant surprise. We've mentioned Tyrell Adams and Keoin Crossen as bright spots on the defensive side late in the season. None of these guys are stars, but they should be useful pieces moving forward. The Texans don't have a lot of those.
3) Does it feel like there is no leadership other than the players? Someone in the front office should have stepped in and made Watson sit this game; an interim coach with no skin in the game wasn't going to do it. The Jack Easterby stories are a matter of lore, and Cal McNair remains mostly silent. This felt like a ship without a captain, and it hit the iceberg hard.
4) Speaking of leaders...it might have been J.J. Watt's final game as a Texan. It was sad to see, but the truth is the Texans should give him a chance to play somewhere he can win. He has been the greatest player in franchise history, and one of the best athletes to ever play in Houston. He is not what he was, but he can still be a big factor for a good team. It's unlikely the Texans will be that next year.
5) This defense has been bad for a while. Maybe the best news in the coaching change will be a total revamp of the defensive coaching staff. Romeo Crennel's defenses have not been good for a long time, no matter who was actually calling plays. It's time for a new system and a new voice. That alone won't do it; there is a LOT of work to be done. They will have to raid free agency since they have no premier draft picks. But it's been a hard watch for a long time, and Sunday was no exception, especially on the last drive.
The bottom line: Thankfully, this disaster is over. The bigger concern is will the Texans make the right hires? Will the O'Brien stench take years to wash away? They wasted a really good Deshaun Watson season. It was a pathetic effort all the way around, and one with very few positives, especially since they will not get a high draft pick. All in all, it was just a lost season.
Ronald Acuña Jr. and Corbin Carroll just got a little more dangerous. Same for Bobby Witt Jr., Elly De La Cruz and the rest of baseball's fastest players.
Major League Baseball wants umpires to crack down on obstruction, and the commissioner's office outlined plans during a call with managers this week. MLB staff also will meet managers in person during spring training to go over enforcement.
The increased emphasis is only on the bases and not at home plate. The focus is on infielders who drop a knee or leg down in front of a bag while receiving a throw, acting as a deterrence for aggressive baserunning and creating an increased risk of injuries.
“I think with everything, they’re trying to make the game a little safer to avoid some unnecessary injuries," Phillies shortstop Trea Turner said Friday at the team's facility in Florida. “The intentions are always good. It comes down to how it affects the players and the games. I’m sure there will be plays where one team doesn’t like it or one team does.”
With more position players arriving at spring training every day, the topic likely will come up more and more as teams ramp up for the season.
“We'll touch on that. We'll show them some video of what’s good and what’s not,” Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “You know, it’s going to be a little adjustment.”
Making obstruction a point of emphasis fits in with an ongoing effort by MLB to create more action. Obstruction calls are not reviewable, which could lead to some disgruntled players and managers as enforcement is stepped up, but it also means it won't create long replay deliberations.
A package of rule changes last season — including pitch clocks, bigger bases and limits on defensive shifts and pickoff attempts — had a dramatic effect. There were 3,503 stolen bases in the regular season, up from 2,486 in 2022 and the most since 1987.
MLB changed a different baserunning rule this offseason, widening the runner’s lane approaching first base to include a portion of fair territory. MLB also shortened the pitch clock with runners on base by two seconds to 18 and further reducing mound visits in an effort to speed games.
“Last year, you know, a lot of our preparation was around like, especially just the unknown of the clock and making sure like we’re really buttoned up on that," New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "These guys are so used to it in so many ways that sometimes I even forget.”
Increased enforcement could lead to more action on the basepaths. But a significant element of MLB's motivation is injury prevention.
Top players have hurt hands or wrists on headfirst slides into bases blocked by a fielder. White Sox slugger Luis Robert Jr. sprained his left wrist when he slid into Jonathan Schoop's lower left leg on a steal attempt during an August 2022 game against Detroit.
“It’s been happening for a while. It’s been getting out of control," Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I know some of the players complained about it the last two years.”
While acknowledging his reputation as a significant offender, Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott didn't sound too worried about his play.
“We like to fight for outs at second base,” he said. "It’s never on purpose, blocking the base. For me, or someone covering second to the shortstop side, it’s a natural move for your knee to go down to reach the ball. It’s never intentional. I guess we’ll figure out how to maneuver around that.”