Falcon Points

5 things that have to happen for Bill O'Brien's bizarre offseason to pan out

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The Texans offseason has been a mess to say the least. One website had them with two of the worst five moves of the off-season. While it is hard to argue that the DeAndre Hopkins trade was anything but an unmitigated disaster, there is a chance this all works out. It's unlikely, but let's look at the possibilities.

1) Deshaun Watson takes the next step

Watson has been brilliant at times, shaky at others. He has developed into a fine starting quarterback. But he needs to take the next step and become consistently great. He will always be handcuffed by mediocre coaching, but great players overcome that. If Watson becomes great, he can make up for a lot of issues.

2) The receivers stay healthy

This is a big if, obviously. Brandin Cooks is coming off a concussion filled season. Randall Cobb is getting old. And Will Fuller is a hamstring waiting to happen. But if all of those guys can stay healthy, or even two of them, since Kenny Stills is a nice fallback, this could be a dynamic group. Would it be better with Hopkins? Of course. But at least their are weapons, speed and the potential to be a pretty good group. I certainly would not bet on them staying healthy, especially the peanut brittle mess that is Fuller, but if they do, fans might forget about Hopkins. It's not inconceivable that Cobb plus Cooks could replace his production.

3) Turn back the clock

To 2016, when running back David Johnson was not an overpaid stiff. If the Texans can get better production out of Johnson than they did last year's reclamation project, Carlos Hyde, then the running game should be pretty solid. As with all of these, it is a big if, and no matter what he does, Johnson is overpaid. But did you think Hyde would be a 1,000-yard back?

4) The OL takes a big step

Consistency in an offensive line usually leads to success. All five starters will be back, and with Laremy Tunsil locked up longterm, the tackle positions should be set. Tytus Howard was on his way to a Pro Bowl before getting hurt, and if he takes the next step, the Texans tackles could be as good as anyone. Max Scharping should improve in year two, and Nick Martin and Zach Fulton are at least middling players. Tunsil still has room to improve, but we will have to see if it happens now that he is paid. Regardless, this group should be a strength moving forward. It should be; the Texans have invested heavily. If they have invested wisely, this should be a solid group.

5) About that defense...

The defense was awful last season, generating little pash rush and the secondary was a mess. They have pretty much brought back the same group of corners, minus Johnathan Joseph, who simply can't play anymore. The hope is Lonnie Johnson takes a step forward and becomes worthy of his second-round pick status. They shuffled in some new safeties around Justin Reid, and the hope is it is an upgrade, although that seems iffy. Still, maybe they will be better on the back end. They are solid at linebacker, although Bernardrick McKinney and Whitney Mercilus are vastly overpaid. Maybe they generate some rush and improvement from Jacob Martin, Charles Omenihu, Jonathan Greenard and Duke Ejiofor. And of course, J.J. Watt has to stay healthy.

Of all the things that need to go right, this is the biggest question mark. But maybe a new defensive coordinator makes it all happen.

The bottom line

Yes, there is a lot of wishful thinking and hoping here. But that is what you do in the off-season. Even if all these things work out, the Texans are still not as good as the Chiefs or Ravens. But it could put them at the top of the rest of the conference, for whatever that's worth. Yes, the more likely scenario is they regress, maybe eke out another division title before a playoff exit. But if everything goes right and they stay relatively healthy? Maybe O'Brien's off-season does not look so bad. I wouldn't hold my breath, but hey, we all could use a little positive thinking right now.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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