The Pallilog

Astros, Crane get their apologies out of the way

Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan

Oh, those Apologizin' Astros! If the sincerity shown by some was electricity, a 10 watt bulb might flicker. One hopes they truly grasp what chump, cheating behavior they took part in and that their shame should feel real, because it is real. Unfortunately, at least some are likely mostly sorry that they got busted and face scorn for it. Decency demanded apologies, but if not sincere they are worthless.

While lead owner Jim Crane shouldn't be criticized for not having sensational oratory skills, at Thursday's press conference he more than once came across as ridiculous. There was no graceful way to please close to everybody, but laughable contradictions and absurd assertions don't make anyone associated with the Astros look good.

How can anyone but a fool or someone lost deep in denial maintain that the Astros' 2017 World Series championship isn't permanently tainted? Lady Macbeth fared infinitely better getting that damn'd spot out than the Astros ever can fare removing the stain they themselves put on 2017.

On the bright side, we're inside six weeks from Opening Day.

Whose house?

The best sports team in this city at its level, discounting the marginally apologetic Astros? Kelvin Sampson's Houston Cougars. A nifty achievement for the program already tucked away, a fifth consecutive 20 win season. The great Guy V. Lewis never accomplished that. Not during the Phi Slama Jama, not during the Elvin Hayes era. Never means never! Granted, teams do play more games in a typical season now than they did back then.

Whatever. After mostly a 30 year hoop coma between Lewis and Sampson, Cougar basketball is again sustainably a national factor. The Coogs stand alone top the American Athletic Conference, are ranked number 20 in the nation, and absolutely have a chance at a major March Madness run. And Sampson has one senior on his roster.

It's a wide open NCAA Tournament coming next month (including the South Regional at Toyota Center). There are no superpower teams this season. Baylor has been marvelous and is rightly ranked number one, but the Bears offense can be verrrrrry shaky. Beyond any Cinderella making major noise at the Big Dance, there are a couple of dozen teams that can harbor very plausible Final Four dreams. Last year's national runner-up Texas Tech is one of them. The Houston Cougars are another. Like the Rockets, UH's outside shooting isn't very good. UNlike the Rockets, UH's defense is outstanding, and Cougar rebounding, astounding. The Cougars have played 25 games and amazingly outrebounded their opponents in every one of them.

Taking their shots

Speaking of the Rockets, with their 34-20 record they hit the NBA All Star break living in the league's upper middle class, though they are closer to the eighth place Grizzlies in the Western Conference than to the frontrunning Lakers. The early returns of "super small" ball are encouraging, but the likelihood that the Rockets can shoot, defend, and rebound well enough to win multiple best-of-seven playoff series does not seem especially high. In fact, the likelihood is close to zero if James Harden and Russell Westbrook don't end their seasons long streaks of worse play in the postseason than in the regular season.

The Rockets yet again lead the NBA in three point shots. The math works. High volume three point shooting, Harden's one man free throw parade, and Russell Westbrook's now relentless attacking of the rim combine to give the Rockets the second most efficient scoring offense in the league (Dallas is number one). This is Daryl Morey's 13th season as General Manager. His tenure has produced six seasons with at least 53 wins and zero losing seasons. But Morey has failed the last couple of years in not adding premium three point shooting to the roster. The Rockets are 23rd of the 30 teams in three point percentage. The seven teams worse all have losing records.

'Neck time

After a rousing success in their debut, do the Houston Roughnecks show signs of sustainability or growth in interest in game two, again home at UH's TDECU Stadium. Another lovely weather forecast with no possible arrogant bumbling decision to close a roof should again help the turnout. Plus, you know what they say: When the Roughnecks and St. Louis BattleHawks get together you can throw out the records.

The XFL on-field product quality is obviously way behind the NFL's, but it took June Jones and the Roughnecks' offense three plays to do something Bill O'Brien and the Texans' offense did in none of the 15 regular season games Deshaun Watson played last season. Score an opening drive touchdown!

Buzzer Beaters

1. NBA All Star Weekend? Yawn. 2. But it's still way better than the Pro Bowl. 3. Best sports Harts: Bronze-Corey Silver-Jim Ray Gold-Jim.


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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF O'BRIEN'S COACHING

Not my job: Texans outmatched when it counts against Steelers

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Another game, another loss for the Texans. This time it was only a seven point loss to the Steelers as they fell 28-21 in Pittsburgh. This time around, Bill O'Brien looked to be on his game as far as decision-making was concerned. However, there is still room for improvement.

One thing that I did appreciate that O'Brien did was have trust in the offensive line. The Steelers pass rush could be problematic, but their defense overall is very stout. That's how they were able to nearly make the playoffs last year with a Duck at quarterback. While the Texans did give up five sacks, they weren't all due to poor offensive line play. The Texans lost 33 yards on those five sacks. Tytus Howard and Zach Fulton handled themselves fairly well after looking like turnstiles the first two games. O'Brien called longer developing pass plays and play action in spite of this and it paid off with Deshaun Watson and his receivers putting up 264 yards in the air.

There also wasn't an instance of Bumbling Bill this game. At the end of the first half, there was a minute and fourteen seconds left. The Texans were down 17-14 and had all three timeouts with the ball on their 25-yard line. Classic Bumbling Bill situation right? Wrong! Not only was the play-calling on point, but the players executed and the timeout situation was handled perfectly. First timeout was used after getting to midfield with 47 seconds left. Timeout number two was used after a 20 yard gain after the previous play. A 15 yard gain later to the Steeler 14-yard line and timeout number three was used with 28 seconds left. This set up perfectly for them to call a multitude of plays. They only needed one as Watson found Will Fuller in the end zone on a jump ball in which Fuller rose up and was physical enough to grab the ball over the defender. They went up 21-17 at the half.

Bill O'Brien's teams were 37-3 when leading at halftime. I say "were" because they lost this one after not scoring a single point in the second half. This was more on the defense not being able to fight its way out of a wet paper bag, and a lack of execution by the offense. Specifically, the run defense has been atrocious and Watson either needs quicker reads or to stop holding onto the ball so long by making quicker decisions. That's on coaching to put players in positions to succeed, but also the players to execute.

Ultimately, this was on O'Brien the general manager more than O'Brien the coach. This roster is woefully outmatched. The only time an outmatched roster can compete consistently is in college football with a wacky offense. It just doesn't happen in the NFL. Hey, at least Bumbling Bill didn't rear his butt chin today. Today's Culture Map play call menu was brought to you by Pour Behavior. I suggest getting over there and checking out their daily specials.

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