UNDERRATED OPTIONS

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

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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."


You can listen to The Jake Asman Show weekdays from 8 AM - 10 AM Central on SportsMap Radio.

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Houston drops first of three

Mariners heat up late to take series opener over Astros

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With the playoffs just a little over a week away, the Astros started their last week of regular-season games in Seattle against the Mariners. A couple of wins against them would secure Houston's spot as the AL West's second playoff participant, with Oakland all but having locked up the first spot sitting six games in front of Houston with seven left to play. Here is a quick rundown of the opener from T-Mobile Park:

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 1.

Record: 27-27, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Marco Gonzalez (7-2, 3.06 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 4.24 ERA).

Bitter end to an impressive start for McCullers Jr.

Both starting pitchers would take a scoreless deep late into Monday night's game. While the Astros were trying to figure out Marco Gonzalez, Lance McCullers Jr. was repeating the success of his last start, a seven-inning two-hit start against the Rangers.

McCullers Jr. allowed a two-out walk in the bottom of the first inning, then proceeded to retire the next fourteen batters before a one-out double in the bottom of the sixth gave the Mariners their first hit of the night. He would go on to finish the sixth before things unraveled in the seventh.

A leadoff walk would result in a run after an error by Jose Altuve left runners on first and second, setting up an RBI-double to give the Mariners the first run of the night and a 1-0 lead. McCullers Jr. looked like he was going to cap off his night by stranding the runners on second and third after back-to-back strikeouts, but before he could get the last out of the inning allowed a three-run home run to blow the game open at 4-0. His final line: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR, 102 P.

Mariners take the opener

Despite getting several hits against him along the way, Houston could not get anything substantial going against Gonzalez, who would shutout the Astros over eight innings of work. After Enoli Paredes finished the seventh, Brandon Bielak would take over out of Houston's bullpen for the bottom of the eighth.

He struggled mightily, loading the bases with no outs, including a hit batter before allowing a two-RBI single to extend Seattle's lead to 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the top of the ninth, getting a two-out double by Carlos Correa, who would score on an RBI-single by Josh Reddick. That would be too little, too late as the 6-1 score would go final as the Mariners took the opener, keeping the Astros' magic number at two.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will be another 8:10 PM Central start on Tuesday. On the mound will be Framber Valdez (4-3, 3.82 ERA) for the Astros and Ljay Newsome (0-1, 6.35 ERA) for the Mariners.

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