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

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Dameon Pierce bought Nick Caserio some time. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

As the Astros get ready to make a run at back-to-back World Series championships and the Houston Cougars strive to play their way to a Final Four in Houston, the Houston Texans near term ambitions are much lower. The Texans merely hope to end their status as a three years running dumpster fire of nearly relentless ineptitude. As a follow-up to the energy jolt of the hire of DeMeco Ryans as head coach, the first days of the new NFL year resulted in a word rarely useable since Nick Caserio became general manager: progress!

Specifically, acquiring solid guard Shaq Mason from the cap-strapped Buccaneers for basically nothing was excellent, the addition of defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins should be a legitimate upgrade for the Texans’ d-line that was regularly trampled last season, and a deal with defensive back Jimmie Ward should add veteran savvy to the secondary provided he isn’t poised to tumble over the hill at 32 years old. Ed Reed anyone? Reed was 35. Big difference. Or better be.

The Texans organizationally weren’t really trying to win the last two years but, Caserio didn’t do much to impress in pouring some foundation for the next era of winning Texans football. Year one he was hamstrung by not having a first or second round pick, but his first selection (third round pick) was the failed flyer on quarterback Davis Mills. That leaves wide receiver Nico Collins as the biggest hope of the Texans’ Class of ’21. Collins shows promise of number two wideout upside, but has had health issues each of his first two seasons. It is fine to judge a rookie class on its rookie production, it is foolish to pass final judgment on that class for at least another year or two.

Caserio’s most important 2022 draftees collectively underwhelmed. Third overall pick Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. played okay, before having injury problems as he did in his final two seasons at LSU. The Jets grabbed corner Sauce Gardner with the selection immediately after the Texans took Stingley. Gardner played every game and was spectacular in becoming the first rookie CB named first team All-Pro since Ronnie Lott 41 years earlier. Caserio’s second first round pick, guard Kenyon Green out of A&M, struggled frequently. A whole bunch of rookies taken after Green were better in their first seasons, including guard Zion Johnson who went to the Chargers two spots after Caserio picked Green. Again, no final verdicts, but anyone wanting to gush over Caserio tabbing running Dameon Pierce in the fourth round needs to acknowledge his top two picks weren’t all that.

Fortunately, one of the many rookies better than Green was Texans’ first second round pick Jalen Pitre. On both the human level and football level hopefully their second second rounder last year, wide receiver John Metchie, shows well after having his rookie season delayed so he could conquer leukemia.

Big picture

Ultimately, nothing the Texans do with their roster amounts to much until they next have quality quarterback play. Hence, the defining move of Caserio’s tenure is the QB the Texans take number two overall in the upcoming draft. It’s basically 50-50 that the Texans will be full of crap when they say “we got our guy” at number two. Moronically winning the season finale against the Colts cost the Texans the first pick, which the Panthers now have via trade with the Bears. Whichever QB left for the Texans between C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young could turn out to be the better player. Maybe they’re both great, maybe they’re both busts. There is no disputing that the only way to definitely get your preferred dart at the board was by picking first instead of second, and the Texans blew that control.

The Texans are in the obviously weakest division in the AFC. Right now the Jaguars look to be the team of the present and future, but far from a juggernaut. The Titans are coming off a collapse and like the Colts are very unsettled at quarterback. Well, unless the Colts pull off a huge signing of Lamar Jackson. Last place to first place year-to-year division flips are not extreme rarities in the NFL. The Jaguars did it last year, the Bengals the year before. There is no reason to expect that from the Texans in 2023 but in their division it wouldn’t be a complete miracle if they nail the QB selection. If the Texans’ Caserio-Ryans one-two punch isn’t at minimum legitimately competing to win the division in 2024, then four seasons into his tenure, Caserio will be failing at roster building.

Astros baseball is right around the corner!

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

Apple Podcasts

AudioBoom

Google Podcasts

iHeart

RSS

Spotify

Stitcher

YouTube

*

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome