Cody Stoots: 3 headlines, 2 questions, 1bet

Plenty of reasons Texans win streak can continue

Bill O'Brien and the Texans face a tough test Sunday. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

"If you start to take the cheese, you start to drink the Kool-Aid, you’re going to get humbled."

Bill O'Brien's comments when he was asked about the future beyond Cleveland were fantastic. He is right. This league will have you tumbling from the top of the hill in no time. The Texans though have not tumbled yet. They have won eight games in a row and just finished perhaps their most impressive win of those eight. There is still room to get better for this team too which should scare the rest of the NFL. This is the longest win streak in franchise history and the first time a team has started with three straight losses and followed it with eight straight wins. 

The Browns are a team that is playing well now so there is no pushover element like previous Cleveland teams. Baker Mayfield is playing really well right now and they are a team on the rise with two wins in a row. 

"It's definitely understood," O'Brien said when he was asked if he had explained to the team it isn't the Brown of old. "This is a big challenge. Big, big challenge."

Running Wild

The Texans set a franchise record for rushing yards in their win over the Titans with 281 yards. Let's first praise the offensive line. They have really come together as a unit in the back part of this win streak and rarely do they struggle in pass protection and rushing the ball. Monday, they struggled a little in pass protection but they were mauling the Titans on the ground early. This is a unit that week to week can really set the tone, good or bad, for the offense. 

Lamar Miller went nuts in this game. One of this best as a Texans player. You can read more about him being the player of the game here.

Let's talk about one of the most important developments for this team, the return of Deshaun Watson's legs. He had just 74 yards on the ground in the past five games. Those were the five games after he suffered an injury against Dallas. Against Tennessee, he rushed for 70 yards. It can't be understated just how big of a weapon his rushing ability can be. You saw it on the scoring run where the play call was executed to perfection and he went almost untouched for six points. 

"You have to be able to run the ball," Bill O'Brien said. "I know the league and the stats say it is a passing league, and I think we've thrown the ball pretty well...We want to be a physically tough, smart football team. We feel like we have to be able to stop the run and we have to be able to run the ball."

The rushing attack getting going the past few weeks has been a pleasant surprise and has helped ease the sting of D'Onta Foreman's long road back to the field. The Texans still aren't activating Foreman. O'Brien said he is feeling "better" but the team had a "little more time" to make the decision. Foreman can be activated to the roster or put on injured reserve. 

Welcome back, your sacks were your ticket out

Welcome back to two pass rushing presences that have been sorely missed in Christian Covington and Whitney Mercilus. Both had struggled to get going this season but it seems now they're hitting their stride much to the chagrin of opposing offenses. 

Mercilus had been a step slow to start the season but he is starting to ramp up. He has at least a sack in back to back games and is hitting the quarterback regularly. Plenty has been made about how the team is using him as to why his sack numbers and other pass-rushing elements have been down but he has been better the past couple of weeks. The injury in training camp torpedoed his start to the season but he's grooving now. 

Covington played his best game as a member of the Texans against the Titans. It was the first multi-sack game of his career as he had two solo sacks and split one with J.J. Watt. Covington was starting to come into his own last season before an injury ended his season and he's been up and down for most of 2018. He has even been inactive for some of the games despite being healthy. The most important element of his game last night was he brought pressure up the middle. If he is adding that type of rush while Watt and Jadeveon Clowney go to work on the outside it will be tough for opposing quarterbacks to get comfortable. 

Can the Texans count on Keke Coutee's hamstring?

The team can count on Keke Coutee when he is healthy. He has had some really nice snaps this season but from the preseason he has been bothered by a recurring hamstring injury. He missed all of the preseason and the first three games with the injury. Then he played in four games before missing two games. After the bye, he had a big performance against Washington but he left the Titans game again with the hamstring injury. 

He is clearly a playmaker when healthy but he hasn't been healthy all year. The best the Texans can hope for is he can manage this and after a good offseason program, he doesn't have to deal with this injury anymore. He didn't run into this problem at Texas Tech so I imagine it is very frustrating for him to go through as well. DeAndre Carter caught a pass and ran some routes from the slot so if Coutee has this issue continue it seems likely he is the guy that could benefit. 

How good are these Browns?

Good, it would seem. Baker Mayfield has taken to his new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens well and it has showed. The top pick from 2018's draft has tossed seven touchdowns his past two games. Nick Chubb has been a monster since taking over as the lead back. Their defense has held two pretty impressive offenses, albeit Andy Dalton got hurt in one of the game, to tiny scoring outputs. Though they have a slim chance to make the playoffs in the AFC, this season is all about building momentum for this team. Mayfield has helped change the culture and their defense has plenty of talent. This won't be an easy out on Sunday. 

I bet Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield battle in the playoffs more than a few times in their careers. They have matched up once before, in 2015 in the college football playoff. Mayfield had the better game passing by far but Watson's rushing ability and the Clemson defense was the difference maker. They both are a part of the young and talented quarterback crop in the NFL right now. If the Browns rise continues and the Texans can solidify their footing we are in for some epic battles between the two, hopefully in January. 

 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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