Charlie Pallilo: Texans-Steelers, Harden's numbers, Herman's first season at UT and more

Le’Veon Bell will be making an appearance at NRG.

What a massive lump of coal for the stocking to have the Texans playing on Christmas Day. Then again, it frees up three hours for more eating, playing with new toys, family time, or anything else besides watching the trash that is the home team playing out the season. Hey, if Jadeveon Clowney can refer to a quarterback who just ripped apart the Texans’ efense (not a typo, there was no d in Clowney’s unit last Sunday) as trash, no way can he reasonably refuse the same categorization for his team. Refuse, get it? Ha ha ha. Actually this time of year, ho ho ho. Amusing that Jaguar fans sent Clowney garbage cans and pails this week via NRG Stadium. Well, perhaps not to Clowney and those who receive the mail at the stadium. Maybe some of the receptacles can be put to use for removal of Bill O’Brien’s clock management binders and Rick Smith’s third round draft preparation manifesto.

It’s a big game for the Steelers Monday as they try to hold off the Jaguars (!) for the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Even without an injured Antonio Brown it would be shocking if the Steelers fail to win. They still have a likely Hall of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, the best all-around running back in the game in Le’Veon Bell, and an excellent offensive line with three Pro Bowlers. The Texans have DeAndre Hopkins. He is the only Texans’ offensive starter who could get on the field for Pittsburgh. Think about that.

The Patriots are the platinum standard in the NFL, but the black and gold standard is pretty darn impressive. The Steelers’ last losing season was 2003. This is their fourth straight season with at least 10 wins. It’s their 12th double digit win season in the last 17, with two Super Bowl wins along the way.  It’s a level of sustained quality that is unreasonable to expect a team to match, and fantasy to think the current Texans’ regime could ever achieve.

On the court

It’s just one game out of 82 but the Rockets at Oklahoma City Monday is roughly a billion times more interesting than the Texans flailing versus the Steelers. The Texans kick at 4:30, the Rockets tip at about 7:00. Should make for an easy remote control choice.

James Harden this week broke Moses Malone’s Rocket franchise record for consecutive games scoring at least 20 points. Moses did it 29 games in a row, Harden hit 30 by pouring in 51 points in a rare Rocket loss, to the Lakers Monday night. If you are wondering if Harden might be in range of the NBA record, he’s nowhere close. In 1961-62 Wilt Chamberlain played every game of what was then an 80 game regular season. The Big Dipper’s smallest output all season was 26 points. Second smallest, 28. The other 78 out of 80 games, 30 points minimum. Overall in ’61-’62 Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game. And 25.7 rebounds. Beyond absurd numbers that no one else has approached or will ever approach. That was the season in which Chamberlain put up his 100 point game.

Hall passes

Six players are first-timers as Basketball Hall of Fame candidates: Ray Allen, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash. This seems easy: yes, no, no, yes, yes, yes. Hill’s NBA career is not Hall-worthy, but it’s not the NBA Hall of Fame. So in conjunction with his spectacular collegiate career at Duke, Hill’s resume passes.

Injury prone

His adductor strain is Chris Paul’s second left leg injury this season. It doesn’t make his breaking down in the playoffs inevitable, but doesn’t help the mood any.

Horns of a dilemma?

I still like Tom Herman’s chances to have major success as head coach at UT, but his first season has clearly been majorly disappointing. The Longhorns are somehow underdogs vs. mediocre Missouri in the Texas Bowl. If the Horns lose, Herman will match the seven losses that Charlie Strong put up in each of his three seasons in Austin. Meanwhile, UT’s arguable four best players are skipping their senior seasons to enter the NFL Draft. They include punter Michael Dickson. A punter going pro early! The Australian-born Dickson was consensus first team All-America, but only a draft fool would use a selection on a punter before the 4th or 5th round. The returns of the first early signing period for college football have Herman and the Horns reeling in a class ranked top five nationally, a dominant performance over late-starting Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M whose class doesn’t rate in the top five of the SEC.

Buzzer Beaters

1. With good weather I wonder if the roof is open for the Texas Bowl   2. Eggnog is good. Fresh ground nutmeg on top, NOT cinnamon. Though if no nutmeg available, cinnamon will do  3. Santa’s best reindeer:  Bronze-Blitzen   Silver-Comet   Gold-Dasher

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Dameon Pierce bought Nick Caserio some time. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

As the Astros get ready to make a run at back-to-back World Series championships and the Houston Cougars strive to play their way to a Final Four in Houston, the Houston Texans near term ambitions are much lower. The Texans merely hope to end their status as a three years running dumpster fire of nearly relentless ineptitude. As a follow-up to the energy jolt of the hire of DeMeco Ryans as head coach, the first days of the new NFL year resulted in a word rarely useable since Nick Caserio became general manager: progress!

Specifically, acquiring solid guard Shaq Mason from the cap-strapped Buccaneers for basically nothing was excellent, the addition of defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins should be a legitimate upgrade for the Texans’ d-line that was regularly trampled last season, and a deal with defensive back Jimmie Ward should add veteran savvy to the secondary provided he isn’t poised to tumble over the hill at 32 years old. Ed Reed anyone? Reed was 35. Big difference. Or better be.

The Texans organizationally weren’t really trying to win the last two years but, Caserio didn’t do much to impress in pouring some foundation for the next era of winning Texans football. Year one he was hamstrung by not having a first or second round pick, but his first selection (third round pick) was the failed flyer on quarterback Davis Mills. That leaves wide receiver Nico Collins as the biggest hope of the Texans’ Class of ’21. Collins shows promise of number two wideout upside, but has had health issues each of his first two seasons. It is fine to judge a rookie class on its rookie production, it is foolish to pass final judgment on that class for at least another year or two.

Caserio’s most important 2022 draftees collectively underwhelmed. Third overall pick Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. played okay, before having injury problems as he did in his final two seasons at LSU. The Jets grabbed corner Sauce Gardner with the selection immediately after the Texans took Stingley. Gardner played every game and was spectacular in becoming the first rookie CB named first team All-Pro since Ronnie Lott 41 years earlier. Caserio’s second first round pick, guard Kenyon Green out of A&M, struggled frequently. A whole bunch of rookies taken after Green were better in their first seasons, including guard Zion Johnson who went to the Chargers two spots after Caserio picked Green. Again, no final verdicts, but anyone wanting to gush over Caserio tabbing running Dameon Pierce in the fourth round needs to acknowledge his top two picks weren’t all that.

Fortunately, one of the many rookies better than Green was Texans’ first second round pick Jalen Pitre. On both the human level and football level hopefully their second second rounder last year, wide receiver John Metchie, shows well after having his rookie season delayed so he could conquer leukemia.

Big picture

Ultimately, nothing the Texans do with their roster amounts to much until they next have quality quarterback play. Hence, the defining move of Caserio’s tenure is the QB the Texans take number two overall in the upcoming draft. It’s basically 50-50 that the Texans will be full of crap when they say “we got our guy” at number two. Moronically winning the season finale against the Colts cost the Texans the first pick, which the Panthers now have via trade with the Bears. Whichever QB left for the Texans between C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young could turn out to be the better player. Maybe they’re both great, maybe they’re both busts. There is no disputing that the only way to definitely get your preferred dart at the board was by picking first instead of second, and the Texans blew that control.

The Texans are in the obviously weakest division in the AFC. Right now the Jaguars look to be the team of the present and future, but far from a juggernaut. The Titans are coming off a collapse and like the Colts are very unsettled at quarterback. Well, unless the Colts pull off a huge signing of Lamar Jackson. Last place to first place year-to-year division flips are not extreme rarities in the NFL. The Jaguars did it last year, the Bengals the year before. There is no reason to expect that from the Texans in 2023 but in their division it wouldn’t be a complete miracle if they nail the QB selection. If the Texans’ Caserio-Ryans one-two punch isn’t at minimum legitimately competing to win the division in 2024, then four seasons into his tenure, Caserio will be failing at roster building.

Astros baseball is right around the corner!

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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