Important lessons learned: Why Texans QB situation is cut-and-dry

CJ Stroud needs to start from day one. Composite Getty Image.

As the Houston Texans week of OTAs winds down, we’re told that Davis Mills and C.J. Stroud are sharing QB1 snaps, and it’s an open competition for the starting quarterback job.

“I’m competing for that starting job,” Mills told reporters on Tuesday. “Since I’ve been drafted in the NFL, I have been in a competition. I don’t think anything is going to change.”

Oh it’s going to change.

The Texans should say right now that Stroud will be the starter when the Texans open their 2023 season against the Baltimore Ravens and put this silly photo op to rest. The Texans didn’t draft Stroud at No. 2 and give him $36 million guaranteed over four years, including a $25 million bonus just for scribbling his name on a contract, to sit and watch Mills run this team to another three or four-win season.

Granted, Stroud is an unproven talent at the NFL level. Mills is. And that’s why there’s not really a competition for the starting quarterback job.

And that’s the smart thing for the Texans to do. They just bought a 2023 model luxury car – why let it sit in the garage while they take their 3-year-old economy car to work?

Maybe the Texans are insisting that Stroud has to earn the starting job to put a burr under his saddle. But if the Texans’ goal is to win a Super Bowl in coming years, Stroud is their best bet.

Even if they have to suffer another losing season, like the last three when they won three games, four games and four games.

As Michael Corleone said, “if history has taught us anything …”

Troy Aikman was 0-11 as a starter his rookie season for the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. He threw nine touchdowns and 18 interceptions. The Cowboys finished 1-15 that season.

Aikman won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys.

Peyton Manning went 3-13 as a starter his rookie season for the Indianapolis Colts in 1998. He threw 26 touchdowns and a league-leading 28 interceptions.

Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl with the Colts and later another one with the Broncos.

Eli Manning went 1-6 as a starter his rookie season with the New York Giants in 2004. He threw six touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Giants went 6-10 that year.

Eli Manning won two Super Bowls with the Giants.

John Elway went 4-6 as a starter his rookie season with the Denver Broncos in 1983. He threw seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Elway won two Super Bowls with the Broncos.

In 1965 the New York Jets drafted two quarterbacks: Joe Namath from Alabama and John Huarte from Notre Dame. The Heisman Trophy winner that season: Huarte, not Namath. The Jets signed Namath to a record-smashing $427,000 contract. Huarte got half that.

Namath went 3-5-1 as a starter his rookie season. Four years later he led the Jets to a historic upset over the Colts in the Super Bowl. Huarte never saw the field for the Jets and was traded to Patriots the following season.

Terry Bradshaw, Jim Plunkett, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson all started as rookies and later won the Super Bowl.

Sure, Aaron Rodgers sat on the bench for three seasons before becoming a Super Bowl quarterback. But he sat behind Brett Favre. Recently Jordan Love had to sit three seasons behind Rodgers.

Davis Mills is no Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers. There’s no reason for C.J. Stroud to have to wait to start for the Texans. What do the Texans have to lose, besides another 12 or 13 games?

Of course, being drafted No. 2 and starting immediately doesn’t always lead to Super Bowl glory.

In 1998, the San Diego Chargers drafted can't miss, physical specimen Ryan Leaf at No. 2 behind Peyton Manning. Leaf was named QB1 and threw two touchdowns and 15 interceptions in his nightmare rookie season. Head coach Kevin Gilbride (remember him?) was fired after six games.

Leaf finished his brief career with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. Deadspin ranked Leaf as the sixth-worst player in NFL history. Some say Deadspin was too kind. He later spent almost as many months in prison (32) as he did as an active player (36).

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Numbers don't lie. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros better be mindful. The Texas Rangers are better than the Astros right now because while the Rangers’ offense has been awesome, the Astros’ attack continues to rate as screamingly average. The Rangers have opened up a four and a half game lead over the Astros in the American League West. 27 games represent one-sixth of the regular season schedule. Over their last 27 games the Astros have gone 19-8. Extrapolated over 162 games that’s awesome 114 win baseball. Over those 27 games the Astros have gained zero ground in the standings on the Rangers.

While 19-8 is an impressive stretch no matter what, it is notable that within that stretch the Astros went 11-1 versus the A’s, Cubs, and White Sox, three bad teams. Winning five of six from the mediocre Angels was good, particularly beating Shohei Ohtani twice. The Astros lost two out of three to the Brewers, lost two out of three to the Twins, and need a getaway win in Toronto to gain a split with the Blue Jays.

Maybe the Rangers will be akin to the 1979 Astros, rising but not quite ready yet. July 4, 1979 the Astros led the Reds by 10 and a half games in the National League West. Reds’ pitcher and top 10 greatest pitcher ever Tom Seaver said no worries, the Astros would “fall like a lead balloon” in the second half. The Reds won the division. Here is one stat that points toward Rangers' slippage: as a team they are batting a preposterous .335 with runners in scoring position. No way that holds up all season. The Astros and Rangers have a four game series in Arlington starting June 30. That series looms as much more important to the Astros than one would have thought back in spring training.

Here's the catch

Dusty Baker this week offered his most elaborate explanation for his playing time split at catcher. It was largely balderdash. Thursday’s series finale in Toronto is Martin Maldonado's 45th start behind the plate. Yainer Diaz has 15 starts, Cesar Salazar three. Dusty talked of how there is more to the catching position than hitting. Fair point. His “points” deteriorated from there. It’s definitely attention getting that General Manager Dana Brown has publicly acknowledged talking with Baker about Diaz playing more. Good for Dana.

Let’s leave aside that Maldonado is a lousy offensive player, while Diaz brims with potential and recently has translated some of that potential into results. The Astros’ record is better with Diaz catching than with Maldonado. The pitchers’ earned run average is better when Diaz catches. The “Machete” blade has dulled. Maldonado has thrown out just six of 28 base stealers. Diaz has nailed seven of 18. Maldonado has three passed balls (and at least a couple more that were generously for him scored wild pitches), Diaz has none. All upside growth lies with Diaz.

Dusty sees it as tough to have rookie pitchers throwing to a rookie catcher. I guess if they stink that’s true. Especially dubious is Dusty’s “point” in having Maldonado catch Hunter Brown’s last six starts so that should Diaz get hurt, Maldonado wouldn’t have to start catching Brown with little familiarity. How about the inverse? Diaz catching all the other starters more so that should the approaching 37 years old Maldonado break down, Diaz is more up to speed. Oh, Brown’s earned run average over those six starts with Maldonado is 4.81. Over his first six starts, five of them pitching to Diaz, Brown’s ERA was 2.60.

Wednesday Dusty gave Alex Bregman and Jeremy Pena the night off. Nothing wrong with that. The 29-year-old Bregman had played in all 61 games this season to date, the 25-year-old Pena in 60 of 61. Meanwhile, 36-year-old season long disaster Jose Abreu was penciled into the starting lineup for the 60th time in 62 games. Abreu’s ended the night with his OPS at .534. He is the worst player in the Major Leagues getting everyday run. Thursday marks his 61st start in 63 games. Another spot where Diaz should be getting more time.

All eyes on Texas

Some more on those Rangers, who last season finished 68-94. They are now 40-21, and that with their desperate five year 185 million dollar contract dice roll on pitcher Jacob deGrom crapping out. deGrom finishes with all of six starts and now faces a second Tommy John surgery that could sideline him until 2025. One of the very few pitchers to ever pitch viably again after two Tommy John surgeries is Alvin native Nathan Eovaldi. The Rangers gave him 34 million guaranteed for two years, which so far is the best signing of the offseason. Eovaldi has been every bit as good as Framber Valdez.

Will he hold up is a very fair and very important question. Since 2015, only in 2021 has Eovaldi topped 125 innings in a season. He’s on pace for about 200 this year. Overall, Rangers’ starting pitchers have a lower ERA than Astros’ starters. The Rangers weakness is their bullpen. There is virtually no doubt they will strengthen it by the trade deadline. Their offense has had no weaknesses. Only one team since 1950 (1999 Indians) has amassed more than 1000 runs in a season. About 40 percent of the way through this season the Rangers are on pace for 1025. Going position by position, Yordan Alvarez remains the only Astro who would crack the Ranger lineup so far this year.

Reminder that there are no one game tiebreakers to decide division titles or wild card spots. Season series winners win out. Astros-Jays Thursday outcome decides the season series. It’s conceivable that could be very important come season’s end.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule a first video segment goes up at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, with the complete audio available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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