The Texans just can't catch a break. Photo by Getty Images
Let's face it; there is not a lot of interest in the Texans right now. They have nothing to play for, no draft pick to tank for and are basically playing exhibitions. Sunday, they played a decent game again with a gritty effort, but came up short in a 27-20 loss to the Colts, once again fumbling on the final drive. Deshaun Watson had another monster game (33 of 41 for 373 yards and two TDs), but other than that, it's a struggle to come up with any reason to keep watching this team. We still managed to somehow find five:
1) Let's see if Whitney Mercilus can continue being invisible. The overpaid Mercilus had gone two games in a row without so much as a tackle entering Sunday's game. When it came to ineptitude, he did not disappoint against the Colts, with ONE tackle. One freaking tackle in three games. (He also had a nice flail at the running back early in the game). Can he keep continuing to be useless over the last two games? Let's find out. Play a drinking game; for every quarter he goes without a tackle, take a shot. You will get at least three in per game. He appeared to injure his arm late, so maybe the Texans are merciful and put everyone out of their misery.
2) We should find out if Brandin Cooks can win a job here next year. Cooks has been solid when on the field, but he is a $12 million cap hit next season and the Texans can cut him with no penalty. Keke Coutee (if he can learn to protect the ball) and Chad Hansen should be on the roster next year, and Randall Cobb is not going anywhere due to his ridiculous contract. So it might come down to re-signing Will Fuller (or adding a better free agent) or keeping Cooks. He needs to have a big couple of weeks to make the new GM and coaching staff have a hard decision.
3) We can enjoy what might be J.J. Watt's last two games as a Texan. Watt has been the greatest player in franchise history and one of the best to ever play in the city. But the Texans won't be contenders next season, and they would be doing Watt a solid by dealing him to a legitimate contender at the twilight of his career. The guy has been a joy to watch, and seeing him on the field in a Texans uniform for what will likely be the last two times will be bittersweet, but enjoy him while you have him.
4) Then there is always the players who will be back next year. Mercilus will be but shouldn't. Unfortunately his contract is too punitive to purge unless they can find a trade partner. That probably won't happen unless Bill O'Brien is the other GM. The Texans should sit Watson (he was sacked four times in the first half and they are going to get him killed), but he is putting together a strong year and 4,000 yards, 30 TDs and under 10 turnovers would be outstanding. He has eight 300-yard passing games this season. Other than that? Hansen, Coutee, Laremy Tunsil, Tytus Howard (if his injury isn't season ending) and the cadre of tight ends are worth watching to see what the Texans can start with next year. On defense? It's basically Zach Cunningham, Tyrell Adams and Charles Omenihu. That's about it. Sad.
5) Let's see if any of the young running backs can be part of the future. David and Duke Johnson and their ridiculous contracts should be gone next season. The Texans will have to invest rare draft picks or free agent money for a legitimate replacement. But they will need backups, and we should see Buddy Howell, Scottie Phillips and any other guy they can find off the scrap heap over the last two games. We don't need to see another minute of the David Johnson experience. He had a nice game as a target for Watson passing, but he can't run, and all he does is remind people what a crappy trade Bill O'Brien made with DeAndre Hopkins. The snake has been beheaded. Let's chop off the rest of it now. (That includes you too, Jack Easterby).
The bottom line: Yeah, these aren't great reasons. But we have to look for something, right? It is still NFL football. Sort of. And there are only two games left before what will be a critical off-season. Might as well find something to enjoy. Admittedly, I miss having O'Brien to make fun of and criticize. There is no joy in beating up on Romeo Crennel and his staff, which is basically still O'Brien's staff. So we will focus on the five reasons above over the next two weeks.
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.”