THE PALLILOG

Texans face uphill task in opener; plus A&M, UT, LSU and the Astros

Deshaun Watson . Tim Warner/Getty Images

The 18th season of Houston Texans football dawns Monday night in New Orleans. It probably begins with a loss to the Saints. While in a 16 game schedule each game matters much more than one game in an NBA or MLB season, the Texans open with somewhat of a playing with house money opportunity. The Saints open the season as the NFC Super Bowl favorite. The Texans are supposed to lose at the Superdome so it's not as if a defeat puts them behind an early eight ball. Win on the other hand, and wow.

The addition of Laremy Tunsil from the Dolphins to play left tackle is a huge upgrade to the Texans' crummy offensive line. Wide receiver Kenny Stills is a good get too. Even though the Texans grossly overpaid in dealing away their next two first round draft picks and their 2021 second rounder, the deal indisputably and significantly improves the Texans' offense for 2019.

For every yin there's supposed to be a yang. Well, trading away Jadeveon Clowney for 40 cents on the dollar was ineptitude. If Duke Johnson plays in 10 games this season the Texans give up a third rounder for him. Only getting a third rounder for Clowney displayed a fundamental failure in grasping the NFL offseason timeline, how leverage works, and how not having a real General Manager can make the Texans look silly. Bill O'Brien is obtuse if not aware that if the Texans crater this season even he could lose his job. If that happens, future high draft picks dealt away wouldn't be his problem. O'Brien can be Billy Bluster but he is not obtuse. O'Brien has harnessed too much power for his level of accomplishment. That doesn't guarantee that things can't work out. Matching last season's 11 wins is unlikely, but with Andrew Luck retired a 9-7 AFC South championship is quite possible.

Big day for college football

What a doubleheader Saturday as Texas A&M and Texas each take cracks at upsetting Tigers: the Aggies play at Clemson followed by the Longhorns home to LSU.

The Aggies are 17 ½ point underdogs. Opening against Texas State was a glorified scrimmage, so irresponsible and hence suspended A&M cornerback Debione Renfro was not missed in that game. Renfro's absence figures to hurt the Ags against the Tigers' dynamic receiving corps. Clemson has a new batch of studs in its defensive line to replace the three guys who went in the top 17 picks of the NFL Draft. How the Aggie offensive line fares against them should in large part determine whether A&M is in the game in the fourth quarter with a chance at the upset.

The Longhorns are surprisingly (to me anyway) six and a half point home underdogs. As opposed to beating an under-motivated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, beating LSU would send up a huge flare that the Horns really "are back." The Tigers may finally have a 21st century offense. UT only has three defensive starters back from last season, but that should not be a big deal. The two departees who were drafted went in the fifth and seventh rounds. If Tom Herman's recruiting classes live up to billing this unit should have more talent.

Bullpen woes

The Astros start the playoffs four weeks from today. Except for maybe the Dodgers, the Astros' chance of winning the World Series is better than everybody else. It's a phenomenal team. But the Astros' Achilles Heel is evident, it's the back end of the bullpen. That also happens to be the Dodgers' biggest question mark right now.

Manager A.J. Hinch is a sharp guy, an excellent handler of people, but of late not the greatest handler of the pen. It's no botch job a la the Texans handling of the Clowney situation, but it hasn't been outstanding. The injury loss of Ryan Pressly is a real problem, but Hinch isn't helping by continuing to robotically use Roberto Osuna in save situations.

Osuna isn't an awful closer. He darn sure isn't a great closer. That Osuna should automatically be the ninth inning guy every time the Astros lead by three or fewer runs, is silly. Thing is, Hinch knows this, having said in the past bullpen roles are flexible and that guys can be used in different situations. Hinch has fallen into "he's my closer" mentality.

Osuna started the season converting his first 12 save opportunities. Through May 23 his earned run average was 0.42. Since then, a notably larger chunk of the season, Osuna has been a closer closer to awful than great. 19 saves while blowing six chances with an ERA over 4 is not good. Hinch publicly professes to still have "complete confidence" in Osuna. It's not a problem for A.J. to say that publicly. It could be an October problem if he feels the same way privately, and manages accordingly.

Buzzer Beaters

1. If the Texans are to win 10+ games or lose 9+, put me down for the 9+. 2. When (ok, if) Serena Williams wins her 7th U.S. Open Saturday, the bookend titles will have been won in 1999 and 2019. That will be one of the great athletic greatness durability achievements ever. 3. Greatest sports Williamses: Bronze-Ricky Silver-Ted Gold-Serena

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Texans fall to Browns. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans kept it closer than the experts thought they would, but couldn't pull out a victory. Here are 11 observations from the loss in Cleveland to the Browns.

1. The game looks totally different if Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor finishes the game. Taylor left at halftime with a hamstring injury. He was playing exceptionally well against his former team. Taylor is not expected to play Thursday according to NFL Network.

2. Davis Mills had a rocky NFL debut which was to be expected. Mills looked to have the wrong elements of a few plays. He also couldn't hit backup wideout Andre Roberts over the middle and threw an interception. It was a fine performance considering what Mills showed he could do in the preseason.

3. Mills didn't work with a full load of offensive weapons in the second half. Rookie wideout Nico Collins didn't return to the game after his lone catch and big run early in the game. Veteran slot receiver Danny Amendola left the game with an injury. Tight end Anthony Auclair left with an eye injury. The Texans entered the game without wide receiver Anthony Miller who was inactive.

4. Brandin Cooks is a monster through two games. He is the most dangerous skill position player on the team, and defenses still have trouble covering him and staying with him. Cooks turned in yet another impressive day for this team and hauled in a Davis Mills touchdown pass.

5. The Browns did a solid job against the ground game of the Texans. Mark Ingram averaged under three yards per carry and Tyrod Taylor was the only rusher to have a big play on the ground. This led to a fair number of third-and-long situations which the Texans usually had trouble converting.

6. Justin Reid was set to increase his payday on his next contract with his early play. Reid forced a fumble and had an interception in the first half. Unfortunately, Reid would leave the game multiple times with injuries. The knock on Reid has always been his health.

7. The Texans were worn down by the Browns rushing attack all day. Once Cleveland committed to the run they saw the success of their work culminating in a 26-yard scamper by Nick Chubb for a touchdown. The Browns didn't run as much as I excepted them to run early.

8. Tim Kelly had another nice day calling plays. Kelly remains creative in finding ways to get the ball out of Taylor's hands quickly as well as manufacturing matchups where the Texans can win and pick up yards. He even got creative to get Davis Mills a passing touchdown late in the game. Kelly has been very impressive through two games.

9. Andre Roberts was inexcusably bad today. The Texans defense held on the opening drive and his muffed punt eliminated the momentum from the defensive stand. He also had poor returns on kickoffs. His lone job is to be a solid returner, and he failed at that on Sunday.

10. David Culley had a head-scratching decision foregoing an offsides call on a third down. The head coach opted for the result of the third down, and a punt on fourth down, instead of another third down. He did not explain himself well postgame on the decision either.

11. The Texans hung tough and should feel solid about where they could have been without the injury to their quarterback. With no Taylor in the short week, it will not be easy to beat the Panthers who upset the Saints on Sunday.

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