These are the dog days of winter for the Houston Texans who are still unpacking their improbable 2023 season that stirred dreams of future deep postseason runs.
If no one saw last season coming – the AFC South Division title, a postseason game at home complete with an underdog win – then it’s OK to look ahead with rose-colored goggles. Head coach DeMeco Ryans is a strong candidate for Coach of the Year, quarterback C.J. Stroud should win Offensive Rookie of the Year unanimously, and the offensive coordinator is being lauded as one of the best young minds in the NFL. That’s the big picture for sure.
But it’s the little things that point to the Texans being taken seriously as a legit budding powerhouse, and two of them happened over the past few days.
A couple of nights ago Tampa Bay Buccaneer free agent receiver Mike Evans attended a Rockets game at Toyota Center. When they flashed Evans’ image on the big scoreboard, a tingle shot up Texans fans’ legs. Could the Texans be interested in signing Evans … and would an all-pro talent like Evans want to play here?
Two years ago, the answers would have been hell no! Superstars want to play where they have a chance of winning a Super Bowl ring. They want to play for respected coaching staffs. They want to play in cities where the NFL team dominates the sports headlines.
You might recall that the Texans were a disastrous franchise of unimagined failure – four coaches in four years. One season the team was paying three of them at the same time. The stands were practically empty. No one seemed to care, which is the worst that could happen to a pro team. Fans could count Texans wins on one hand and have fingers left over to show the team owner what they thought of him.
Now? Why wouldn’t Evans want to come to Houston? He grew up in Galveston and played his college ball at Texas A&M. More important, where would he find a better situation to pad his Hall of Fame credentials? In Tampa Bay where Baker Mayfield may or may not be your quarterback? Or in Houston where one of the best young passers in NFL history would be calling your number?
Maybe it’s because he’s played his entire career in small market Tampa Bay, but Evans is compiling numbers that compare favorably with the all-time greats. He racked up more than 1,000 receiving yards in each of his 10 seasons. Last season he caught 79 balls for 1,255 yards. He’s big, 6 ft. 5 and 231 pounds, and he goes deep. He led the NF L in touchdowns last year with 13. Imagine a Texans receiving corps with Evans, Nico Collins and Tank Dell.
Evans will want big bucks, but he’s proven he’s no whammy.
Equally important to the Texans status as an up-and-coming contender, but in a weirdly different way, a Houston Texan has landed a national commercial – the first local hero since J.J. Watt plastered his face on products ranging from Reebok to Gatorade to Ford trucks to Verizon Wireless.
C.J. Stroud has hooked up with Cheetos Crunchy Buffalo snacks. The hook of the Cheetos campaign is, while these chips will never top Buffalo wings, sometimes No. 2 is the best place to be. It’s a play on the Texans landing Stroud with the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft behind Bryce Young.
Stroud’s message: “Buffalo wings have always been superior and king at watch parties in the football season. So Cheetos came out with a new flavor, Buffalo Crunchy Cheetos. We’re trying to take over the second spot right under Buffalo wings. I know a thing or two about being second and still trying to bring the heat.”
As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.
Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).
Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.
But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.
Cristian Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. He acknowledged that some of his struggles last year could be attributed to some extra weight he was carrying around in addition to the already-documented mechanical flaws he had.
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 22, 2024
In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.
Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.
The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.