JOEL BLANK

Is it time to start changing your opinion of Bill O'Brien?

Bill O'Brien deserves some credit for the win streak. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Look, I have been as critical as just about anyone in this market about the short comings of Bill O' Brien and let's face it, he has been an easy target. From clock management, to timeout usage, play calling and challenge flag issues, he has offered up more than enough ammunition for media types and fans to tee off on.

Then there was the contract extension that no one felt was timely or necessary, as well as the highly publicized internal strife between Rick Smith and his head coach for all those mediocre seasons, bad drafts and disappointing playoff defeats. All of that and more led to fans outraged and calling for O'Brien's ouster at the end of this season and the fire was fueled to towering inferno levels when the team started 0-3 and were written off for dead by everyone in the football world.

Lo and behold, after nine straight wins that absolutely no one saw coming and a firm grasp on the AFC South that comes with a guaranteed spot in the playoffs, I ask you,  is it time to start to reconsider our evaluation and opinion of B.O.B.?

I realize that as this streak started and as it progressed on a game by game basis, there were plenty of flaws, calls and mishaps that led to people questioning how good this team really was and if luck was the biggest factor in the team racking up some consecutive wins.

But with each win and every passing week, there was no denying that this team was improving and making progress as they learned from their mistakes and close calls and didn't get too drunk on their own Kool Aid to let over confidence outduel the momentum that success creates.

Everyone knows and understands that it is the players who deserve a majority of the credit, but the coaches' scheme and game plan and in some cases motivate less than exceptional position groups to overachieve and reach new levels of success.

The Texans' offensive line comes to mind in that regard. The man that oversees all of those groups while calling the plays and making crucial in-game decisions is Billy O. As quick as we all were to point fingers and place the blame on the guy in charge of football operations when it looked like they had hit rock bottom, we all need to start to reconsider our critiques and give credit where credit is due for the incredible, season saving turnaround and nine straight wins.

After all, this is the NFL and wins don't come easy. In the case of the Cleveland Browns, some seasons they may not come at all. A team can only control what they have in front of them; they play the games on the schedule and take care of everything on their sidelines, locker room and front office. Everything else is out of their control and can't be included in the grading game. Coaches decisions on fourth down, missed field goals and less than stellar performances by backup quarterbacks are not your problem or concern; wins and losses are.

The reality of it all is Bill O'Brien is a leading candidate for NFL Coach of the Year and we all need to take a step back and recognize, he may be growing up and maturing as a head coach in this league right before our eyes and right after snatching a division title right out of the jaws of an absolute disaster of a start. Never has being wrong felt so right for Texan fans everywhere. 


 

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Yordan Alvarez's homer in Wednesday's game gave him 100 RBI on the season. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Winners of three straight, six of their last seven, and eight of their last ten, the Astros had the chance to move yet another game closer to clinching their playoff spot if they could secure the series with a win against the Angels on Wednesday. Even though it looked as though they were headed towards a loss in extra innings, they would ultimately come out ahead.

Final Score (12 innings): Astros 9, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 91-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yimi Garcia (4-9)

Losing Pitcher: Sam Selman (0-1)

Garcia goes six shutout innings

Although he didn't have swing-and-miss dominance in this start, Luis Garcia could still capitalize on a struggling Angels offense and post a shutout quality start against them. He allowed three walks and three hits throughout his outing but stranded all of them while getting outs on balls in play. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 79 P.

Alvarez reaches 100 RBI as Houston's offense keeps rolling

That performance had Garcia in line for the win, as two homers handed him a 3-0 advantage which he held. Houston once again used early offense to take a first-inning lead, as a leadoff walk by Jose Altuve turned into a monster 456-foot by Yordan Alvarez, pushing him to 100 RBI on the season. The score held at 2-0 until the top of the fifth, when Jason Castro led that frame off with a solo homer to extend the lead to three runs.

Extras in Anaheim

Phil Maton was first out of Houston's bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, but a single, double, and walk loaded the bases with no outs to put him in a jam. A lineout kept the runners put for the first out, but a single and a walk would make it a one-run game and left the bases loaded as Maton would get pulled.

Kendall Graveman entered to try and stop the bleeding, but after a force out at home to put that within reach, Jack Mayfield came through for Los Angeles with a go-ahead three-run double, giving the Angels their first lead of the series at 5-3. In the top of the eighth, a walk by Alex Bregman brought Alvarez back to the plate, and he would nearly miss a game-tying homer and instead got an RBI-single to make it 5-4.

Alvarez would still come in to tie the game, hustling home from second on an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel to knot things up 5-5. Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he sat down LA in order with two strikeouts. Still tied in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Pressly came in to force extras, and despite being shadowed by the winning run on the bases after a leadoff single, retired the next three batters to send the game to the tenth.

Astros keep battling and take it in the twelfth

Jake Meyers took second base as Houston's free runner in the top of the tenth, but he would go nowhere as the Astros went down in order, giving the Angels another chance at a walk-off. Instead of giving Shohei Ohtani a free pass immediately, Houston would let Blake Taylor throw two balls to him before giving him the intentional walk.

Taylor then gave up a single to load the bases with no outs, and after getting a force out at home for the first out, Yimi Garcia would replace him. Thanks to a great play by Chas McCormick, giving him multiple in the game, the Astros would live to see another inning as he would make a great catch in right field and then throw out Ohtani at home.

In the top of the eleventh, a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel moved Aledmys Diaz to third, but that's as close as Houston would come, leaving them stuck at five runs. After Garcia retired three more batters in the bottom of the eleventh, the game moved to the twelfth, where Houston would get back in front on an RBI single by Jake Meyers, then padded the new lead on a two-RBI double by Jose Altuve, who would also score on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it 9-5. Josh James came in and wrapped things up in the bottom half as Houston secured the series victory and reduced their magic number to two against Oakland and three against Seattle.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game series, and the last time these two teams will meet this year, will be an 8:38 PM Central start on Thursday. The expected pitching matchup is Alex Cobb (8-3, 3.59 ERA) for Los Angeles and Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.11 ERA) for Houston.

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