3 headlines 2 questions and 1 bet ahead of the season opener with the Saints

No time to be new with Saints nearing

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"I understand everybody is going to dissect how we did it"

Bill O'Brien hears the commentary the Texans didn't get enough in the trade of Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans tried to negotiate a contract but they couldn't get to Clowney's number and he wouldn't come down to their number. Thus, the trade.

As for the timing, O'Brien knows it didn't help the value.

"There were a lot of talks that took place. There were contract proposals between the player and us that we just couldn't come to an agreement on relative to the franchise tag. We couldn't come to that agreement, and we had several discussions with many teams over many months and we feel like we made the best decision for the team."

Ultimately the Texans get no Clowney and a third-round pick a year early than say eight games of Clowney and a third round pick in 2021. I don't believe Clowney was ever going to put himself in a position to be traded where he didn't want to go. With him not letting the Texans decide, they did what they thought they could do.

"I feel really good about being able to get a proven left tackle to protect Deshaun Watson"

"They're hard to draft, they're hard to develop, but Laremy Tunsil is an excellent player who was here last night, yesterday afternoon, in here right now meeting with Mike (Devlin) – a really good guy and it's been good getting to know him over the last, let's just call it 36 hours."

Bill O'Brien is right, the left tackle spot isn't easy to fill. Only three tackles drafted in the back half of the first round are starters at left tackle for their team. Taylor Decker (Lions), Garett Bolles (Broncos), and D.J. Humphries (Cardinals) are those players. Decker is fantastic, he was the 4th rated pass blocker at tackle last year according to Pro Football Focus. The other two graded out terrible and they are nothing special. Various other players have slid inside or are on other teams already.

I say all that to say, if the Texans didn't stink, it was unlikely a Laremy Tunsil-level player was getting to them. So, there would be an investment to move up, likely an additional first, to eventually get that left tackle and that player is an unknown. If the Texans aren't very good going forward then there should be criticism for not having the picks to improve the team.

Tunsil has to get ready in a hurry. He is expected to play Monday against the Saints.

"Me being in the offense a little longer than him maybe I can help him with some stuff"

Tytus Howard was excited to talk about his new running mate on the left side of the offensive line in Laremy Tunsil. Howard was a little tongue in cheek when he said he could show Tunsil something but noted they have work to do with each other to get used to one another on the line. It would take reps said Howard.

"I plan on learning as much as I can from him," said Howard. "Let him show me the ropes."

The Texans know four starters on the offensive line. Tunsil and Howard will man the left of center Nick Martin. Seantrell Henderson is the team's right tackle. The only spot up for grabs is if rookie Max Scharping or veteran Zach Fulton get the nod at right guard.

Will Kenny Stills still kneel?

Kenny Stills is one of the last few players still kneeling during the National Anthem. The Texans have rarely come across kneeling players, with one exception a few seasons ago.

Stills has been outspoken on why he kneels. He goes into detail on his website.

"We were not protesting the national anthem. We were actively working to create a conversation regarding police brutality and the race issues that plague this country...My goal truly is to build bridges. I want to foster a positive relationship between police officers and the communities they protect. I want to encourage open conversation, which allows people to discuss issues and learn from each other. I want to help establish opportunities for at-risk kids to have the same opportunities in and outside of the classroom as everyone else."

As for whatever Stills decides, his head coach has his back.

"Relative to any social justice initiatives," O'Brien said. "You guys know that my history here with the Houston Texans is I love the players. I have the players' back and we communicate about those things. I'm not going to get into any discussions that I would have with any player about those things, but I support the players in social justice initiatives."


How will the defense fare against the Saints?

Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas is just the start of what is a fantastic Saints offense. They are also coached by one of the best offensive minds in the NFL in Sean Payton.

The Texans will be breaking in a couple of new starters including cornerback Bradley Roby and safety Tashaun Gipson. The front seven will have no Clowney but Whitney Mercilus is back at the "JACK" position which focuses more on pass rush.

Aaron Colvin is a question mark for this team at slot cornerback. He was disappointing last season. The defensive linemen outside of J.J. Watt and D.J. Reader have plenty to prove. The depth is a concern with a rookie, like Lonnie Johnson, or new faces, like Barkevious Mingo or Jacob Martin playing what could end up being key spots or moments.

Romeo Crennel has his hands full.

I bet there will be some friendly wagering this week between veterans and rookies

Rookies Cullen Gillaspia from Texas A&M and Charles Omenihu from Texas could be wheeling and dealing this weekend.

Omenihu's Longhorns play new teammate Barkevious Mingo's LSU Tigers this weekend. I joked with Omenihu he could get to know his new teammate with a friendly wager. He predicted a 28-17 Texas win.

Gillaspia is in a much more difficult spot as his Aggies ready to play the Clemson Tigers. There are four Clemson players on the roster with DeAndre Hopkins, Deshaun Watson, D.J. Reader, and Carlos Watkins. I would imagine Gillaspia may keep the stakes low with four people to pay off if he decides to make a friendly wager and lose.

J.J. Watt wore a Northwestern shirt a couple of years ago after former Texans linebacker Brian Peters saw his alma mater take down Watt's Wisconsin Badgers. Could we see Watson in maroon next week?

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Jose Altuve sparked the offense with three hits in Game 2 of the World Series. Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images.

The Astros lead the World Series 1-1. Not literally obviously, but with the best-of-seven reduced to a best-of the next-five, even with the scene shifting to Philadelphia’s raucous Citizens Bank Park for three games the Astros reclaimed the role of favorites to win it. Game two was not a must win for the Astros but without it the lifting needed to take the series would have gotten a heck of a lot heavier.

Thank you Framber Valdez. He excelled where Justin Verlander faltered. Framber’s curveball laid waste to the Phillies’ lineup as he gave back just one run of a 5-0 lead in spinning six and a third tremendous innings. The Astros can be hopeful that Jose Altuve has awoken from his offensive coma and stays so. After an undisciplined and feeble first eight postseason games (four hits in 37 at bats, .108 batting average, 12 strikeouts) with 12 strikeouts, Altuve’s three hit game two seems revitalizing. Of note, after his first pitch of the bottom of the first double to left, Altuve’s second hit was up the middle and his third a two strike line drive lashed to right. When Altuve is at his very best he avoids being extremely pull-happy. Yordan Alvarez rediscovering his thump would further boost the Astro cause. Since the first two games of the Seattle series Yordan is four for 28 (.143) without a home run.

It’s now that the starting pitching matchups really tilt in Houston’s favor. Justin Verlander vs. Aaron Nola was no mismatch. Zack Wheeler was at least as good as Framber this season. Now while the Astros have Lance McCullers (though it’s road Lance…) and Cristian Javier cued up for games three and four, the Phillies line up Noah Syndergaard and Ranger Suarez. Advantage Astros in each game. Of course, that’s on paper.

As opposed to the TV-dictated schedule nonsense of the LDS and LCS, the traditional best-of-seven series format remains for the World Series. That means after Sunday’s off day games three, four, and five are set for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday with an off day Thursday before if necessary game six Friday and game seven Saturday back at Minute Maid Park. That means only four different starting pitchers are necessary. The Astros have a legitimate fifth starter option in Luis Garcia should they prefer to give Justin Verlander a fifth day of rest and hold him back for a prospective game six which would move Framber Valdez back from game six to game seven. As I noted last week, only once since July 1 has Verlander pitched on only four days rest.

About the only thing missing on Verlander’s resume is winning a World Series game. If we think of Verlander’s big league career as a beautiful face, his World Series track record is a gross, oozing zit. After blowing the 5-0 lead he was given Friday night, Verlander is now 0-6 with a 6.07 earned run average in eight World Series starts. No other pitcher in history without a World Series win has more than four losses. In the past home runs killed him, nine of them allowed in 38 innings before game one. As frame of reference, in the entire regular season this year over 175 innings of work Verlander gave up only 12 homers. This time, after retiring the first 10 Phillies in order Verlander just lost his command. No homers, but six hits and two walks over the fourth and fifth innings wrecked his outing.

Getting shelled in two of his three postseason starts sure ramps up the pressure on Verlander presuming he has one more start to make. Should he flop for a third time, it’s a complicating factor for the Astros’ decision making as Verlander almost certainly opts out of the 25 million player option he has for 2023 to enter free agency before turning 40 years old in February.

Dusty Baker did not blow game one, Verlander did. Second guessing is easy and comes with the territory but when you break down the game situations there was no obvious spot demanding a hook before the game was tied. The Phils striking for three runs in the top of the fourth was not going to chase the ace. The Phils never considered hooking Aaron Nola after Kyle Tucker’s second homer ballooned the Astros’ lead to 5-0 in the third. In the fifth, Verlander gave up a double and a walk, but then induced a pop up for the first out. J.T. Realmuto then laced the game-tying double to the gap in left-center. There it was reasonable to say “Take him out!” but Verlander then retired the next two batters to end the inning. In real time, going to Luis Garcia in the top of the tenth ahead of Ryne Stanek was a questionable choice, but certainly not plainly stupid. Also, five runs should be enough to win, but the Astro offense produced zero over the last eight innings.

The Astros are supposed to be the much better defensive team. They haven't been thus far. In game one while the Philly D was sharp, Jeremy Pena was not charged with an error but failed to make a play he should have made and Verlander had a shot at a double play but didn’t cleanly field a comebacker. In game two the Phillies gifted the Astros an unearned run, but the Astros again weren’t up to their standards. Jose Altuve egregiously went to sleep on a play that cost Pena an error, and Yuli Gurriel very uncharacteristically botched a routine grounder that cost a run. Tightening up the defense is one element that would boost the Astros’ chances of World Series title number two.

Major League Baseball has had eight different franchises win the last eight World Series. The Phillies have made perfectly clear their intentions to make it nine in nine. As the series moves to the laughably nicknamed City of Brotherly Love, it is worth noting that the Phillies are undefeated at home this postseason, having taken two from the Braves and then swept three from the Padres. That will faze the Astros as much as the Astros having been 7-0 in the playoffs entering the World Series fazed the Phils.

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