4th and Mile with Paul Muth

Three reasons I punted the Texans

Three reasons I punted the Texans

In 2015 when the Dallas Cowboys made the controversial decision to sign convicted domestic abuser Greg Hardy, I wondered to myself what exactly it would take for me to stop being a fan of a team I grew up watching.

Monday I learned just that, only instead for the Texans.

Wednesday was validation.

No, it wasn't a singular egregious act. Instead, it was a slow burn. It was year after year of incompetent ax swinging to the trunk of my fandom that finally compromised its integrity, causing the whole thing to come crashing down.

I didn't come to the decision easily. I've been a fan since before learning that they had chosen the dumbest name in professional football. I even remember watching game one against the Cowboys in my room as a kid on a little 13" tube TV, trying to read out player names in between static caused by my rabbit-ear antenna. But just like any relationship that's gone on longer than it should, instead of noticing a need for change, I found it easier to ignore the stack of issues, continue being a fan, and hope for the best.

"Maybe they'll change!"

"They didn't mean to let the greatest player in franchise history leave unceremoniously for our rival!"

So let's examine the three biggest strikes that led to this public breakup:

17: "Tom's the starter."

After giving up two first round picks (and then some) to move up in the draft and claim collegiate star quarterback Deshaun Watson, you would have thought Bill O'Brien was being forced to work with a brother-in-law with body odor. He seemed thoroughly hesitant on trusting the rookie QB, and an actual competition between him and incumbent starter Tom Savage seemed unlikely. Watson hardly touched the field, and when he did that glimmer of brilliance would show through. Even still, come week one O'Brien had handed the keys to Savage, who immediately drove them into a brick wall.

Now, I didn't think Savage was better than Watson, but I also understood not starting Watson from the outset. There are cases all throughout league history that show that letting your quarterback sit his first year and study the game has a lot of merit. But if you're going to do it, you need to stick to it. So how long did O'Brien stick it?

Less than one game.

That's about the time I really started perking my ears up to the issues with the Texans. Any coach that honestly thought Savage brought more to the table than Watson is beyond worthy of skepticism. To then fold one half of a game into the season on a stance you had taken for the past four months prior should make you wonder just how quick he is to abandon game plans when they go awry.

2020: Bill O'Brien, General Manager

The Texans have always come across as a team seemingly content with being merely decent. Another perception is that ownership is simply loyal to a fault, and willing to give a coach and/or GM time to fully realize their plan. So when the nobly fired Gary Kubiak mid season just weeks after collapsing on the sidelines of a game, I turned a blind eye to the callousness and did my best to be optimistic with the team's potential. The Texans pounced on former offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien at the first chance they had and his fiery nature initially had me pretty pumped.

That was 2014.

That fiery nature has since morphed into simple pettiness, be it with refs, the media, the fans, and his players as well. O'Brien sports a disappointing 52-44 record in one of the most perennially disappointing divisions in football, and is constantly exposed as a fraud in the postseason. This was no more so apparent than this past season's divisional round, where the Texans not only blew a 24-0 lead but were beaten by 20 points.

So what do you do with a guy like that? Promote him, obviously. And what does a guy like that do once promoted? Fired people he didn't like, obviously.

The pettiness is palpable and yet despite the ineptitude and awful image problem, ownership stopped looking loyal and started looking content.

March 16, 2020: The trade

We were all expecting something questionable to come from O'Brien's first full offseason with full control, we just didn't realize how immediate it would be. But through their own draft failings and questionable trade machinations, the Texans headed into the 2020 offseason strapped for cash and in what is affectionately referred to as "draft hell."

So the Texans made a trade. The initial report?

"Texans trading for Cardinals RB David Johnson."

"Ok," I'm thinking. "He's kind of a retread, but they got a lot of value out of Carlos Hyde the year before. Not a bad pickup."

Then the other shoe dropped.

"Cardinals to receive WR DeAndre Hopkins."

That was it. When I realized it wasn't a joke, I was done. In no way did that trade make the Texans better, relieve noticeable cap space, or provide draft capital. It was the only example left that I needed to prove just how poorly managed the Texans are from top to bottom.

So I declared that day that until Bill O'Brien is gone, I will take my fandom elsewhere. And that's what it's going to take from everyone.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of [terrible coaching/ownership] is for good [fans] to do nothing."

-Edmund Burke, sort of.

It's true though. I've been called a quitter and a fake fan (of 18 years I guess) since I made that announcement. But if anything is going to ever actually change, it's going to need to come from the stands. Only when the McNairs see a change in their balance sheet at the end of the season will they consider removing O'Brien from the obscene amount of power he currently holds. If you truly love your Texans, the best thing you could do is not "weather the storm," but walk away. Most wont, though, and that's why Grumpy Bill will keep his job.

In the meantime, I'll be planning an awesome road trip to our sister city to watch my new team in the Big Easy.


Four Downs of the Week (from hell):

1st Down: Every athlete and organization pledging money toward stadium workers

That doesn't include our own billionaire Rockets owner Tillman Ferttita, who's actually slashing benefits at the moment. But in the most extraordinary time in most of our lives, it's heartwarming to see people and organizations banding together to help those most affected by the circumstances.

2nd Down: Using technology for good.

Once again, it's refreshing to see acts of kindness in crumby situations. The following are a few examples of organizations doing wonderful PR moves to our collective benefit while we're all spending a little more time at home:

From the NBA

From the NFL

And, my favorite, a collaboration with Netflix and Google

3rd down: Test shortages, but not for athletes apparently

Does anyone else find it convenient that a league of millionaire athletes in peak physical form managed to get their hands on desparately needed coronavirus testing kits, while the rest of the country waits for hours in hospitals?

4th down:

We all know what fourth down is. Stay safe, everyone.

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Jose Abreu looks lost at the plate. Composite Getty Image.

It’s a long baseball season, sure the Astros have started 4-8, and there are plenty of fingers to point around. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

Not yet.

Last year, the Astros didn’t start much better – they were 5-7 after a dozen games. It just seemed different, though. Nobody was wringing hands over the slow start. After all, the Astros were the defending World Series champions, coming off a 106-win season and figured to make mincemeat of the American League West again. Business as usual.

This year is different. The Astros are losing games in very un-Astros-like fashion. While the starting pitching has been surprisingly fine, at least the starters healthy enough to take the field, the bullpen has been a mess. The back end relievers, supposedly the strongest in all of baseball, have been disappointing. Bryan Abreu’s earned run average is 5.79. Ryan Pressly’s ERA is a sky-high 11.57 and closer Josh Hader, the best shutdown in the bigs, is at 6.00. The Astros are losing games late.

The Astros starting rotation is comprised mostly of seat-fillers. The Astros are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers to be declared fit for battle. McCullers’ contribution to the team in recent years has primarily been confined to H-E-B commercials.

Impatient fans and copy-hungry media need a target to blame for the Astros’ slow start and they’ve zero’d in on first baseman Jose Abreu.

For good reason. Abreu, 37, a former American League MVP, is being paid 19.5 million this year and next. He is having a miserable time at the plate. Originally slated for No. 5 in the batting order, now dropped to No. 7 and sinking in the west, Abreu is hitting a paltry .088. But that number actually is deceptively positive. He has three hits (all singles) in 34 at bats, with 12 strikeouts, no home runs and no RBI. Frankly one of Abreu's singles was a pity hit from a friendly scorekeeper who could have given Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an error on Abreu’s weak grounder Tuesday night.

We can go all-analytics and brain-busting stats to explain Abreu’s troubles at the plate. But let’s use simple baseball language: Abreu is horrible. He’s done. Maybe it’s time for the Astros to cut bait. He is untradeable.

Abreu had a disastrous 2023 season, batting .237, the lowest average of his 11-year career. But after 12 games last year, he was hitting .271, not bad at all. Or as Larry David would say, pret-tay, pret-tay, pre-tay good.

This year he’s fallen off the end of the Earth. Fans groan as he swings meekly at breaking balls outside the zone. Or he fails to catch up to 95 mph-plus. Or he can’t connect on low inside pitches. Look, when you’re batting .088, it’s all bad.

Last year, the Astros actually had two, as Little Leaguers put it, automatic outs in the lineup. Abreu hit .237 and catcher Martin Maldonado blasted .191.

This year, it’s a tight battle between who’s the worst of the worst. Maldy is hitting .091 with two hits in 22 at bats and no RBI for Abreu’s old team, the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is hitting .088 for Maldonado’s old team, the Astros. This could go down to the last week of the season.

If Abreu is still with the Astros at season’s end. The Astros are no longer the high exalted dominant force in the American League West. They can’t afford an .088 hitter in the lineup. They can’t play eight against nine.

It didn’t help when manager Joe Espada recently said, “I got a ton of confidence in Abreu. I'm not going to talk about strategy. José Abreu has been a really good hitter for a very long time, and I have 100 percent confidence in José that, at some point, he's going to start hitting.”

How long is at some point? Didn’t Astros fans go through this last year with manager Dusty Baker refusing to sit Maldonado despite Maldy killing rallies in a tight pennant race?

The Astros don’t have a strong support system, especially backing Abreu at first base. But there are options. Mauricio Dubon is a jack of all trades. He could play first. Despite the funny line in Moneyball, first base statistically is the easiest position to play in baseball. Backup catcher Victor Caratini can fill the gap until the Astros sign a free agent first baseman.

Or the Astros could do something that would light a fire under fans: call up rookie Joey Loperfido, who’s belted five homers and driven in 13 RBI in 10 games for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

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