FALCON POINTS

An open apology (sort of) to Texans coach Bill O'Brien

An open apology (sort of) to Texans coach Bill O'Brien
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Bill O'Brien

Editor's note:This post contains something called "sarcasm." Some of you are not familiar with that term, so here is the definition. Technically, the editor is also the writer, so maybe this is really a writer's note. Or just a note. Regardless, you have been warned.

No one has been harder on Texans coach Bill O'Brien than me. After all, for six years, we have seen shaky play calling, poor game plans, mediocre coaching, bad challenges and terrible clock management. It never changes.

Let's not even get started on his say nothing press conferences. Yes, we get it, you have to "coach better, play better."

His surly, arrogant, bully attitude. His power mad climb to the top of the organization. His stubborn refusal to add coaches from outside his sphere of influence to try new ideas. His inability to learn from his mistakes. His apparent wasting of Deshaun Watson.

Today, we apologize for bringing all these things up.

And yes, we apologize for saying O'Brien is Andy Reid's "sex robot." Because over the last two weeks, it has been hard to find fault with O'Brien. Maybe - finally - he is learning from his mistakes?

It's one thing to run up yards on a bad Falcons team. It's another to go into Kansas City and take down Reid and the Chiefs.

And make no mistake, O'Brien outcoached Reid on Sunday. His offense was lively and operated at a good pace. His team ran the ball effectively, keeping the Chiefs off the field. He did not panic when the Texans got down 17-3 and stuck with his game plan.

He even made a good challenge right off the bat on what was obvious offensive pass interference. No, it was not overturned, but he quickly got a makeup call out of it. Apparently, no pass interference call is ever going to be overturned, because this one was obvious.

The Texans have so many likable players, but they are hard to root for because of O'Brien's many failings.

But now The Texans are 4-2, with good road wins over San Diego and Kansas City, a close loss in New Orleans against perhaps the best team in the NFC when Drew Brees is healthy, and a rough loss to a Carolina team that has turned out to be pretty good.

There is still much to prove. A trip to Indy looms, and the Colts had the Texans number last season. But there are reasons for optimism.

The offense has gone to quicker passes, misdirection and has utilized Watson much better over the past two weeks. The result has been a 50-plus point output (six from the defense) and a 31-point effort. The Texans also left points on the field against the Chiefs, throwing an ill advised pick in the end zone and getting yet another missed field goal from the suddenly shaky Ka'imi Fairbairn.

They kept KC off the field with long drives and an effective running game, putting pressure on Patrick Mahomes to be flawless. He wasn't.

The defense, well rested, came up with two big turnovers, pressured Mahomes and did its job. O'Brien and Romeo Crennel tweaked the secondary, and the result was Mahomes having his lowest passing output of the season, even when top CB Bradley Roby went out with an injury.

O'Brien even showed guts going for it up 31-24 on fourth and three instead of letting his struggling kicker try to put the game out of reach. It worked and game over. Whether it had worked or not, it was the right call.

In short, O'Brien has made changes. And they are working. The new offense has gone two games without allowing a sack. Watson is performing at a high level. Coaching is a simple thing - put your players in the best positions to succeed. O'Brien is suddenly doing that.

Of course, things can always revert. The Texans followed up a good win in LA with a brutal performance against the Panthers. But since then, they have looked like a different team.

And O'Brien has looked like a different coach. After six years, has he finally learned to be a coach that can take the Texans to the next level? Realistically, probably not. A six-year sample size doesn't change in two weeks. Then again, maybe he has suddenly transformed into the coach he has emulated for so long - Bill Belichick.*

*-Sarcasm alert.

Still, if you are going to be critical, you should be fair and give credit where it is due. So here it is.

Now, about how Frank Reich and the Colts made you look last season in two of the three meetings...

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Have the Astros turned a corner? Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images.

After finishing up with the Guardians the Astros have a rather important series for early May with the Seattle Mariners heading to town for the weekend. While it’s still too early to be an absolute must-win series for the Astros, losing the series to drop seven or nine games off the division lead would make successfully defending their American League West title that much more unlikely.

Since their own stumble out of the gate to a 6-10 record the Mariners have been racking up series wins, including one this week over the Atlanta Braves. The M’s offense is largely Mmm Mmm Bad, but their pitching is sensational. In 18 games after a 4-8 start, the Mariners gave up five runs in a game once. In the other 17 games they only gave up four runs once. Over the 18 games their starting pitchers gave up 18 earned runs total with a 1.44 earned run average. That’s absurd. Coming into the season Seattle’s starting rotation was clearly better on paper than those of the Astros and Texas Rangers, and it has crystal clearly played out as such into the second month of the schedule.

While it’s natural to focus on and fret over one’s own team's woes when they are plentiful as they have been for the Astros, a reminder that not all grass is greener elsewhere. Alex Bregman has been awful so far. So has young Mariners’ superstar Julio Rodriguez (though not Breggy Bad). A meager four extra base hits over his first 30 games were all Julio produced down at the ballyard. That the Mariners are well ahead of the Astros with J-Rod significantly underperforming is good news for Seattle.

Caratini comes through!

So it turns out the Astros are allowed to have a Puerto Rican-born catcher who can hit a little bit. Victor Caratini’s pedigree is not that of a quality offensive player, but he has swung the bat well thus far in his limited playing time and provided the most exciting moment of the Astros’ season with his two-out two-run 10th inning game winning home run Tuesday night. I grant that one could certainly say “Hey! Ronel Blanco finishing off his no-hitter has been the most exciting moment.” I opt for the suddenness of Caratini’s blow turning near defeat into instant victory for a team that has been lousy overall to this point. Frittering away a game the Astros had led 8-3 would have been another blow. Instead, to the Victor belong the spoils.

Pudge Rodriguez is the greatest native Puerto Rican catcher, but he was no longer a good hitter when with the Astros for the majority of the 2009 season. Then there’s Martin Maldonado.

Maldonado’s hitting stats with the Astros look Mike Piazza-ian compared to what Jose Abreu was doing this season. Finally, mercifully for all, Abreu is off the roster as he accepts a stint at rookie-level ball in Florida to see if he can perform baseball-CPR on his swing and career. Until or unless he proves otherwise, Abreu is washed up and at some point the Astros will have to accept it and swallow whatever is left on his contract that runs through next season. For now Abreu makes over $120,000 per game to not be on the roster. At his level of performance, that’s a better deal than paying him that money to be on the roster.

Abreu’s seven hits in 71 at bats for an .099 batting average with a .269 OPS is a humiliating stat line. In 2018 George Springer went to sleep the night of June 13 batting .293 after going hitless in his last four at bats in a 13-5 Astros’ win over Oakland. At the time no one could have ever envisioned that Springer had started a deep, deep funk which would have him endure a nightmarish six for 78 stretch at the plate (.077 batting average). Springer then hit .293 the rest of the season.

Abreu’s exile opened the door for Joey Loperfido to begin his Major League career. Very cool for Loperfido to smack a two-run single in his first game. He also struck out twice. Loperfido will amass whiffs by the bushel, he had 37 strikeouts in 101 at bats at AAA Sugar Land. Still, if he can hit .225 with some walks mixed in (he drew 16 with the Space Cowboys) and deliver some of his obvious power (13 homers in 25 games for the ex-Skeeters) that’s an upgrade over Abreu/Jon Singleton, as well as over Jake Meyers and the awful showing Chas McCormick has posted so far. Frankly, it seems unwise that the Astros only had Loperfido play seven games at first base in the minors this year. If McCormick doesn’t pick it up soon and with Meyers displaying limited offensive upside, the next guy worth a call-up is outfielder Pedro Leon. In January 2021 the Astros gave Leon four million dollars to sign out of Cuba and called him a “rapid mover to the Major Leagues.” Well…

Over his first three minor league seasons Leon flashed tools but definitely underwhelmed. He has been substantially better so far this year. He turns 26 May 28. Just maybe the Astros offense could be the cause of fewer Ls with Loperfido at first and Leon in center field.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTube with the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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