CODY STOOTS

Texans: 3 headlines, 2 questions, 1 bet for Week 5

Deshaun Watson needs to avoid getting hit. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It's Monday and there's plenty to still digest from the Texans game. 

Red Zone Has Fans Seeing Red

It started off so nice. The Texans got into the Cowboys red zone at the end of the first in thanks to the first of many Deandre Hopkins big plays and then the old ugly penalties raised their head. Negative yards, but, alas, a new Texans team. First and goal from the 14 turned into third and one thanks to Watson's legs. Keke Coutee would score on a shovel pass on the next play. 

That was about the last time the red zone play looked cohesive and positive for the Texans. 

From the play calls to the execution and everything in between, it was tough to see the Texans constantly settle for field goals when they were so close. It was especially frustrating to see them come away with no points on a bad play to end the half, and later, on fourth and nearly two, call a play that easily would have got them the points in the second quarter. 

"Not this year," O'Brien exclaimed when someone brought up the Texans success from last season in the red zone. O'Brien then took a good portion of the blame. 

"It starts with me," he said. "I've got to do a better job teaching it and designing it."

O'Brien said there is a menu of plays they can call in the red area and they called them all but "not many of them worked."

Yes, Bill O'Brien has to be better. That's a given. From design to the coaching of execution. This is on Watson and the pass catchers too. Watson can't take off as much and as quick and someone has to win their matchup and get open. If Watson is tossing from the pocket to guys who seemingly have won their matchup the success rate is going to be higher and it sure as heck will be better looking.

Deshaun Watson Hit Maker and Hit Taker

Deshaun Watson again made plays few quarterbacks in the NFL are capable of making and no Texans quarterback has ever been capable of making. He showed massive improvement from just last week on a variety of areas. This is an important skill for a young quarterback to display. Watson also completed 75 percent of his passes which shows how effiecient he is with the passing when the offense is humming. 

Now, let's hope he uses it this next week. He can't put his body in harm's way like he did Sunday against the Cowboys. That isn't practical. This team is going nowhere without him so he needs to remain healthy. If it means sacrificing a few yards on any given play so be it. Also, the interception was a clear example of trying to do too much. It isn't ideal in that situation, but a sack is the right move. The Cowboys didn't but could have won the game off that turnover. 

Bill O'Brien chalked up some of the hits as it is Watson's style and that's a product of how he plays and how he likes to play. It has to change. It wasn't like he was being tackled like a running back either. He was taking big pops from the Dallas defense. He has to take better care of himself. 

Dallas Stars Neutralized

The Texans deserve kudos for how they handled the two best players on the Cowboys in this game. Demarcus Lawrence entered the game the NFL's sack leader and Ezekiel Elliot entered this week as the NFL's rushing leader. You wouldn't know either of those was the truth if you watched this game. 

"Good team defense," O'Brien said. "Ezekiel Elliot is a great player. I thought that our guys really played good team defense."  

Lawrence found himself with just one tackle in the final stat sheet. Now, don't get me wrong. He was disruptive and he required attention but kudos to Kendall Lamm who two weeks in a row has dealt with hot pass rushes.

O'Brien said the team "put a lot of guys" on Lawrence but credited the players who won their one-on-one matchups against the prolific pass rusher. 

Elliot was, of course, the focal point of the defense. He earned just 84 yards total, with 54 of them being rushing yards on 20 attempts. Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham set the tone at linebacker and the secondary was quick to clean up any action that headed their way with Justin Reid, Kareem Jackson, and Tyrann Mathieu all stuffed him at least once. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney also got their patented stops. D.J. Reader had a really nice game at defensive tackle as well. 

The defense should be commended. They played a heck of a game to slow the Cowboys only good offensive skill player. 

How much trouble are the Texans in at running back?

Alfred Blue had the majority of the snaps go his way as Lamar Miller was available for an emergency only according to Bill O'Brien. He had a really nice day catching the football with eight catches and 73 yards of offense. Rushing though was a different story. 

Blue had one rush for 17 yards that made up a good chunk of his 46 on the ground. The other 19 of his 20 carries went for an average of 1.5 yards per rush. 

Lamar Miller hasn't exactly been a world-beater either carrying the ball. After two strong showings to start the year Miller rattled off an average of 2.5 yards per carry the past two games he played and of course, he missed this one. 

The offensive line has something to do with it but so does O'Brien and his rhythm as the play caller. Rushing to the outside was a disaster against Dallas and that simply wasn't going to work. They don't seem to trust Buddy Howell as they were shorthanded and he didn't see the field. Tyler Ervin isn't used as a rusher. 

Something needs to happen here because the Texans will have to call on this element of their team when a defense is slowing down Watson one day and they're going to have to hope it is a lot better than the past three games. 

Is the pass protection coming together?

This might sound crazy but there's some progress here. They might have found just the right mix with Kendall Lamm at right tackle and Julién Davenport at left tackle. Martinas Rankin is the future at tackle for this team, or one would hope, but there was too much inconsistency and not nearly enough success to keep putting him out there. Thus, the Davenport start. 

Against the Colts the Texans allowed seven sacks and 11 quarterback hits. Last night against the Cowboys they allowed one sack and 10 quarterback hits. Not the best line but a dramatic improvement considering the pass rush of the Cowboys is way better than the Colts. Watson can't afford extra shots in a game, he already takes enough, so this team has to make sure they keep improving on protecting him. 

Lamm has been a revelation at tackle because he had not played well in any action he had prior to this. Davenport is clearly more comfortable at left tackle than right tackle. The interior has gaps, Nick Martin has had some whiffs notably among the interior, but they have come together nicely enough. 

The real concern is rushing the football. Watson isn't getting a ton of designed run yards, more so that he takes off. When you take out Watson's rushing yards the Texans team average per rush was 2.28 yards per carry. That's putrid and they will not win a lot of football games if they can't get going on the ground. 

I bet the Texans don't underestimate the Buffalo Bills on Sunday

The Texans know they are in for a fight, especially after Buffalo handed the Titans a loss for their second victory of the year. Sunday should be another ugly and nasty game with the Bills trying, like the Cowboys, to muddy things up and make the Texans beat themselves. If this was a one win Bills team coming to town I would be worried about the look ahead with Jacksonville in week seven. Now, with the Bills handing a fellow AFC South team a loss, the Texans have to take notice and not underestimate the Bills.

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Baseball is right around the corner. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

The Texans and Rockets are disasters, so bring on the Astros! Even if they weren't disasters, bring on the Astros! Their spring training opener is Sunday, their regular season opener one month from Monday. Alexander Pope wrote "hope springs eternal." I hear he played a pretty decent shortstop. All 30 Major League Baseball teams can be hopeful in March. The Astros have plenty to be hopeful about and plenty about which to be wary. A couple of early storylines: 1. Yuli Gurriel admitted he was unacceptably overweight last season. It would be great for the Astros if that explains most of Gurriel's pathetic performance as opposed to age catching up with him. 2. Jose Altuve is in great spirits and health. His MVP level days of 2016 and 2017 are likely gone for good, but getting the Altuve of 2018 or 2019 would be a tremendous boost. The Altuve of 2020 was one of the worst players in MLB.

And now to the dueling debacles…

Rough stretch for the Rockets

The Rockets are awful. They sit with 11 wins and 19 losses. Just three seasons ago they lost 17 games the entire season. They are routinely non-competitive. They lug a nine game losing streak to the court Friday night in Tampa against the Toronto Raptors. Among the losses are blowouts by 20, 22, 25, and 29 points. All of those routs came against teams with losing records. By NBA standards the Rockets' roster stinks. The injured Christian Wood is the only player they have who is or projects to be an average or better starter. John Wall's contract is an anvil.

That they are this bad is actually one of the few silver linings to the Rockets' near term future. The Rockets only retain their first round pick this summer if it falls in the top four of the draft. The Rockets currently have the fourth worst record in the NBA, just one half game ahead of third worst! Where the pick falls comes down to which draft lottery ping pong ball combination is drawn, but the worse their record the better shot the Rockets have of being in the top four. If not in the top four, the Rockets settle for the lowest of their own, Oklahoma City's, or Miami's first rounder. That's probably the Heat pick, and probably not in the top 15.

The longest losing streak in Rockets' franchise history is 17. During their expansion season the San Diego Rockets lost 17 straight. The longest losing streak in Houston Rockets' history is 15 games during the 2001-02 season. They finished the season 28-54. How many of their five most frequent 2001-02 starters can you name? Answer below.

The worst team in Rockets' history was the tanking and awful 1982-83 club that finished 14-68. Longest losing streak that season? 10. The first 10 games of the season.

Releasing JJ Watt might have been a mistake

The Texans are poised to add yet another feather to their dunce cap if J.J. Watt signs with the Packers, Bills, Titans, Roughnecks, Inmates (The Longest Yard) or anybody else for 15-plus million dollars per season. Such a deal would indicate at least one team would have been willing to give up a decent draft pick (say a third rounder) for Watt and the one year 17.5 million that was left on his contract. If the Texans think they score points for doing Watt "a solid" in setting him free they are absurdly mistaken. The Texans need all the draft capital they can get. J.J. Watt will always have a hallowed place in Texans' lore but they owed Watt nothing. Over the last five seasons he played just three seasons worth of football and was paid 82.5 million dollars for them.

More Deshaun Watson drama

Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson reportedly directly told new Texans Head Coach Edward Smith that Watson has no interest in playing for him. It's nothing personal against David Culley (Edward Smith captained the Titanic) but Watson wants the Texans' organization permanently in his rearview mirror. We'll see if Cal McNair and new General Manager Nick Caserio have the stomach to not trade Watson through the draft. If the Dolphins offer Tua Tagavailoa, the third and eighteenth picks in the first round, the fourth pick in the second round, and their first round pick in 2022, the Texans should make the trade and move on.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Rockets' starters by most starts in 2001-02: Cuttino Mobley (74) Kelvin Cato (73) Kenny Thomas (71) Steve Francis (56) Moochie Norris (26).

2. It can't soothe Rocket fan nerves that the best bet for the Eastern Conference Final matchup is James Harden's Nets vs. Daryl Morey's 76ers.

3. Most frustrating 2021 Houston-visiting player appearances: Bronze-Harden the Net Wednesday Silver-George Springer the Blue Jay in May Gold-Watt the Titan this fall? Would he really sign with the Titans?

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