UNDERRATED OPTIONS

Replacing DeAndre Hopkins' production could come down to this for Texans

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It's no secret that all eyes will be on the Texans offense when they open the season up in Kansas City on a Thursday night in less than three weeks. The controversial decision to trade All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona has been a talking point all offseason and rightfully so.

Without Hopkins as the clear cut #1 target on the team, quarterback Deshaun Watson is going to have to throw to a new group of receivers in the offense that include Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb. Replacing Hopkins' 2019 stat line of over 100 catches, 1,100 yards, and 7 touchdowns will not be easy but what if another unit on offense takes a big step forward to help the other receivers make up for Hopkins' production?

The tight end group for Houston might be the most underrated unit on the team. The team elected to bring back Darren Fells on a two-year contract after the 6-7 270 pound athlete excelled last year in the red zone. Fells' 7 touchdowns matched Hopkins for the team lead.

"Here's a guy that didn't even play college football. He was a basketball player," said Texans Head Coach and General Manager Bill O'Brien. "Really a guy that is just a really mature, good person who cares about winning, who cares about being a good teammate. He really works hard to improve. We do a lot of things with the tight ends and he came into our system last year and he really learns well. He was able to produce. Deshaun (Watson) has a lot of confidence in him in the passing game."

In addition to Fells, the Texans' tight end room also boasts Jordan Atkins. Atkins, entering his 3rd season in the league after being drafted in the 3rd round in 2018, should be able to continue his development and improve on his 36 catches for 418 yards and 2 touchdowns. His coach is expecting a big jump.

"Jordan Akins had a really good day yesterday," said O'Brien. "With Jordan, it's all about consistency and just being consistent. He's a great guy. A really talented guy."

Rounding out the room includes 2018 6th round pick Jordan Thomas and 2019 3rd round pick Kahle Warring. After missing the entire 2019 season with an injury, Warring is essentially going through his rookie season in 2020 according to O'Brien.

"Kahale is a good, young player. He's very talented." O'Brien said. "He's dealt with some injuries early on in his career. He works really hard. He's a good, good kid. I see a good future for him. He's just got to keep working. He's got to keep working and gain experience. He hasn't played a lot of football in his life. He's learning the pro game and he works hard. He's a really good guy to work with."

The Texans offense will be predicated on Deshaun Watson continuing to ascend in his 4th season under center but if the tight end room takes another leap forward that could make all the difference in the win/loss column on gamedays.

"It's a big group that each one of those guys definitely can do a lot of different things," O'Brien said about his tight end room. "They're all very dynamic and can make big plays. They can help this team, help especially this offense, take it to a whole 'nother level."


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Altuve's homer starting the scoring for Houston on Friday night. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After a solid showing to take the three of the four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers to start the week, the Astros returned home for three against the Diamondbacks in a weekend series. They would have a slow start to the opener but would ultimately come away victorious.

Final Score (10 innings): Astros 4, Diamondbacks 3

Astros' Record: 87-60, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Tyler Clippard (1-1)

Bielak makes the impromptu start

With Luis Garcia having to move his start ahead by a day on Thursday instead of Friday with Framber Valdez's finger cut, Brandon Bielak made a start for Houston in the opener against Arizona. He didn't go as deep as he probably would have wanted and certainly ventured out of his comfort zone with traffic on the bases.

He loaded the bases in the top of the first, allowing a single and two walks, but was able to strand all three to keep it a scoreless game. He rebounded with a 1-2-3 second, but he dealt with a threat again in the third as back-to-back singles pressured him to start the inning. He would get back-to-back strikeouts, but that's as far as he would go as Houston moved on to Blake Taylor. Taylor got the final out of the third on one pitch, then erased a two-out double in the top of the fourth.

Altuve breaks up the no-no with a go-ahead homer

Brooks Raley took over in the top of the fifth, but in his three batters, he faced allowed a single while getting two outs before Cristian Javier took over to end the frame. Javier allowed the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, a leadoff solo homer to Kole Calhoun to put the Diamondbacks in front 1-0 before he finished the inning.

Madison Bumgarner didn't allow a single hit to the Astros through the first five and two-thirds innings. He allowed a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, which proved costly as Jose Altuve would get the first knock of the game for Houston, a two-run go-ahead homer. Phil Maton was the next reliever for the Astros in the top of the seventh, maintaining the new one-run lead by erasing a leadoff single.

Astros get the win in extras

The Diamondbacks tied it up in the top of the eighth against Kendall Graveman, getting a leadoff single followed by a walk, then later an RBI single to knot things up 2-2. Houston stranded a runner in the bottom of the eighth, then brought in Ryan Pressly, who tossed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to keep the game tied.

Despite getting the winning run in scoring position with a leadoff ground-rule double by Jason Castro to start the bottom of the ninth, they would strand it as the game went to extras. Arizona scored their free runner in the top of the tenth, getting a sac fly to move it to third then going in front on an RBI single.

The Astros matched that and more in the bottom of the inning, moving their runner to third on a lineout to start the frame, followed by an intentional walk to Yordan Alvarez. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single, then after another walk to load the bases, Chas McCormick was hit by a pitch to bring in the winning run, moving the Astros closer to clinching their playoff berth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will have a start time of 6:10 PM Central on Saturday. Tyler Gilbert (2-2, 3.15 ERA) is expected to make a start for Arizona, while Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.12 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston.

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