11 observations from the Texans' 20-14 win over the Cowboys

11 observations from the Texans' 20-14 win over the Cowboys
The Texans are 2-0 in the preseason. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans earn another win in the preseason game as players begin to separate themselves in the quest to make the roster.

1. Jacob Martin's strip-sack on the first drive was a welcomed sight. Martin is a speed demon off the edge so in clear passing situations these are the types of plays the Texans need from him to make his reps have meaning. Martin beat the Cowboys starting right tackle on the rep as well. It should be expected Martin will be in the defensive line rotation.

2. It's a small criticism, but in a quick-change scenario like a fumble, the Texans can do more. The first play out of the takeaway wasn't a deep shot or attempt at the end zone. A quick change like a fumble allows you to take a shot, but offensive coordinator Tim Kelly ran a play with a handful of shorter routes. It would have been nice to see a shot to the end zone or a potentially bigger play.

3. The fourth and short aggressiveness was nice to see. The Texans will have to win some of those risk-taking situations to beat teams this year. The play calls on the two fourth and short plays though left a lot to be desired. I won't be too critical since you don't want to show your good stuff in the preseason, but I would've liked to see a throw on the second attempt.

4. Mark Ingram is the first running back who will play for this team, and he has plenty of juice left in the tank despite his long NFL career to this point. Ingram will surprise some opponents this season with his catching ability, he's flashed it in practice. Ingram being in a rotation should keep him fresh all year.

5. Maliek Collins flashed more than a few times in his first preseason action. 97 looks like a weird number, but get used to seeing it as Collins will be an important piece of this Texans defensive line.

6. The Texans could have some tough decisions to make on the interior defensive line. It feels like almost every player on the defensive line has had some good stretches. Perhaps the team can store someone they cut on the practice squad as the expanded practice squad rules are in effect this year.

7. Speaking of first preseason action, how about the eye-popping play of Charles Omenihu? The former Texas product annihilated a tight end and took down the Cowboys quarterback. Omenihu must be great this season for this defense to be good. His growth as a pass rusher is one of the most important aspects of 2021's season.

8. Desmond King has flashed more than a few times as the returner for this team. There could be some thought given to keeping an additional wideout, someone like Chris Moore, instead of Andre Roberts who was signed as a returned specialist. King's success in games, and practice, is hard to ignore.

9. Davis Mills, nor Tyrod Taylor for that matter, made very many highlight-reel plays. Mills locked onto his receiver far too much but had a few nice passes. The whole offense felt disjointed most of the night. Third down was putrid, and Texans head coach David Culley mentioned blitzes affected how they were operating in the money down. The team needs to be efficient and make third downs manageable. They don't have the talent to overcome long third downs.

10. Lonnie Johnson's interception was one of the many takeaways the team had. Don't call them turnovers, not to defensive coordinator Lovie Smith at least. This team will have to capitalize on takeaways almost every time to beat most teams. Johnson's interception is a huge play for the third-year player who has to play well for this team in 2021.

11. The tight end group is an easy decision at this point, as I see it. Cornerback is shaping up pretty well too. Most of the other positions will come with some difficult decisions. It will be a fight to keep certain players in the organization while some will easily find themselves looking for a new team.

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Jose Abreu looks lost at the plate. Composite Getty Image.

It’s a long baseball season, sure the Astros have started 4-8, and there are plenty of fingers to point around. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

Not yet.

Last year, the Astros didn’t start much better – they were 5-7 after a dozen games. It just seemed different, though. Nobody was wringing hands over the slow start. After all, the Astros were the defending World Series champions, coming off a 106-win season and figured to make mincemeat of the American League West again. Business as usual.

This year is different. The Astros are losing games in very un-Astros-like fashion. While the starting pitching has been surprisingly fine, at least the starters healthy enough to take the field, the bullpen has been a mess. The back end relievers, supposedly the strongest in all of baseball, have been disappointing. Bryan Abreu’s earned run average is 5.79. Ryan Pressly’s ERA is a sky-high 11.57 and closer Josh Hader, the best shutdown in the bigs, is at 6.00. The Astros are losing games late.

The Astros starting rotation is comprised mostly of seat-fillers. The Astros are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers to be declared fit for battle. McCullers’ contribution to the team in recent years has primarily been confined to H-E-B commercials.

Impatient fans and copy-hungry media need a target to blame for the Astros’ slow start and they’ve zero’d in on first baseman Jose Abreu.

For good reason. Abreu, 37, a former American League MVP, is being paid 19.5 million this year and next. He is having a miserable time at the plate. Originally slated for No. 5 in the batting order, now dropped to No. 7 and sinking in the west, Abreu is hitting a paltry .088. But that number actually is deceptively positive. He has three hits (all singles) in 34 at bats, with 12 strikeouts, no home runs and no RBI. Frankly one of Abreu's singles was a pity hit from a friendly scorekeeper who could have given Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an error on Abreu’s weak grounder Tuesday night.

We can go all-analytics and brain-busting stats to explain Abreu’s troubles at the plate. But let’s use simple baseball language: Abreu is horrible. He’s done. Maybe it’s time for the Astros to cut bait. He is untradeable.

Abreu had a disastrous 2023 season, batting .237, the lowest average of his 11-year career. But after 12 games last year, he was hitting .271, not bad at all. Or as Larry David would say, pret-tay, pret-tay, pre-tay good.

This year he’s fallen off the end of the Earth. Fans groan as he swings meekly at breaking balls outside the zone. Or he fails to catch up to 95 mph-plus. Or he can’t connect on low inside pitches. Look, when you’re batting .088, it’s all bad.

Last year, the Astros actually had two, as Little Leaguers put it, automatic outs in the lineup. Abreu hit .237 and catcher Martin Maldonado blasted .191.

This year, it’s a tight battle between who’s the worst of the worst. Maldy is hitting .091 with two hits in 22 at bats and no RBI for Abreu’s old team, the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is hitting .088 for Maldonado’s old team, the Astros. This could go down to the last week of the season.

If Abreu is still with the Astros at season’s end. The Astros are no longer the high exalted dominant force in the American League West. They can’t afford an .088 hitter in the lineup. They can’t play eight against nine.

It didn’t help when manager Joe Espada recently said, “I got a ton of confidence in Abreu. I'm not going to talk about strategy. José Abreu has been a really good hitter for a very long time, and I have 100 percent confidence in José that, at some point, he's going to start hitting.”

How long is at some point? Didn’t Astros fans go through this last year with manager Dusty Baker refusing to sit Maldonado despite Maldy killing rallies in a tight pennant race?

The Astros don’t have a strong support system, especially backing Abreu at first base. But there are options. Mauricio Dubon is a jack of all trades. He could play first. Despite the funny line in Moneyball, first base statistically is the easiest position to play in baseball. Backup catcher Victor Caratini can fill the gap until the Astros sign a free agent first baseman.

Or the Astros could do something that would light a fire under fans: call up rookie Joey Loperfido, who’s belted five homers and driven in 13 RBI in 10 games for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

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