Falcon Points

How the Texans will look when they face the Chiefs next week

How the Texans will look when they face the Chiefs next week
Composite image by Jack Brame.

A week from tonight, the Texans will open the season the way the last one ended - in Kansas City against the Super Bowl champion Chiefs.

Yes, NFL football is just a week away. There will likely be some Covid scares along the way, and the game will look different in the stands. But in the end, it will come down to the players and coaches, as it always does. For the Texans, it will be a chance to see where they stand right away in comparison to a real Super Bowl contender.

The positive is Houston will enter the season with very few question marks. The lineup is pretty much set on both sides of the ball. That's a good thing, because in the Rona camp, there was not a lot of time for positional battles. Barring last minute injuries, this is how the lineups should look in a week:

QB: Deshaun Watson. The only question here is how good can he be? This should be the year he takes the next step.

OL: The Texans have invested a lot in this unit. Laremy Tunsil is one of the better left tackles in the league, and Tytus Howard was terrific as a rookie until he got injured. He should be even better in Year 2. That should give the Texans plus players at tackle. Max Scharping should improve at guard in Year 2, giving the team potentially three plus players. Nick Martin and Zach Fulton need to be average for this to be the strength of the team.

WR: DeAndre Hopkins is gone, but there is depth and speed here with Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller, Kenny Stills and Randall Cobb. Even when Fuller's inevitable injured, a Cooks/Stills/Cobb trio should still be effective.

TE: Darren Fells, Jordan Thomas and Jordan Akins aren't great, but they aren't bad. Again, there is depth here.

RB: The Texans are married to the David Johnson/Duke Johnson duo, for better or worse. David Johnson hasn't been good since 2016, but maybe he has a big year. Again, not great, but potentially OK.

DL: J.J. Watt will anchor things as long as he stays healthy. Brandon Dunn, Charles Omenihu, Angelo Blackson, Ross Blacklock will all be part of the rotation. There is a lot of potential here, but there is also a high potential for failure, especially if Watt gets hurt.

ILB: Zach Cunningham played very well last year and got paid for it. Bernardrick McKinney is average. Dylan Cole provides depth.

OLB: Again, a lot of averageness. Whitney Mercilus has always just been OK. Brennan Scarlet and Jacob Martin are just OK. Draft pick Jonathan Greenard has a lot of developing to do.

CB: Bradley Roby leads a very average to below average group that includes Gareon Conley and Vernon Hargreaves. Maybe Lonnie Johnson develops in Year 2, but otherwise this is a group that will struggle.

S: Justin Reid is a potential Pro Bowler. Jaylen Watkins and Eric Murray are just guys. The secondary as a whole is a big question mark.

Regardless of how it comes together, these will be the position players who will determine the Texans fate.

And it all starts next week.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome