CHARLIE PALLILO

Texans find unusual path to 5-3 record

The Texans are doing very well. Zach Tarrant/Houstontexans.com

So after blowing out the Dolphins Thursday night, at the midpoint of their schedule the Texans are 5-3 and in command of the AFC South. At season’s outset I picked them as a 10- win team provided Deshaun Watson stayed healthy. Well they are halfway there, though I certainly didn’t forecast an 0-3 start followed by five straight wins. Exactly nobody foresaw that. Credit to the Texans taking advantage of a soft schedule, a couple of breaks handed to them, and the unraveling of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Life is funny sometimes. If Brock Osweiler had been mediocre in his one Texans season instead of a complete mess of a free agent signing, the Texans would have stuck with him and all his guaranteed money for at least one more year. That would have made it highly unlikely the Texans make their 2017 Draft move up to draft Watson. Given a choice, a majority of NFL teams would opt for Patrick Mahomes over Watson. Mahomes has the bigger arm, and the no-ACL tears history. But these two guys, taken two spots apart in the draft and born three days apart, have a chance to be a near Peyton Manning-Tom Brady AFC quarterback pairing for the next decade-plus.

Up next the Texans face another of their ex-QBs when they face Case Keenum at Denver. If the Texans win that game and/or win at Washington after their open week it will be hard for them to not win their division.

Raise the roof

It will forever be lame that the Texans continue to keep the NRG Stadium roof closed when conditions are excellent for open-air football. The stadium is not markedly louder when the roof is closed. It’s a fabric roof not a hard dome. They wasted about 50 million dollars on the retractable roof.  They should at least admit the boondoggle if not make an equal donation to worthy causes. Firemen raises? New computers for HISD schools? 50 million dollars of free parking at NRG Stadium events?

Time to worry?

If you are a Rockets’ fan, no it is not too early for you to be concerned. Not panicked or resigned, but concerned. Of course, if James Harden’s ailing hamstring turns out to be a recurrent or lingering issue, PANIC AWAY! A 1-3 start is nothing catastrophic, but it’s a bad start with troubling early signs that suggest this Rockets’ team will not come close to matching the franchise record of 65 wins set last year. If everything went right for the Rockets winning 65 again would be unlikely.

Daryl Morey is too sharp to not know this, hence his continued pursuit of Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler beyond the fact that Butler is a top 30 NBA player. Morey cannot simply trade just four future first round picks for Butler. The Rockets must move more than 15 million dollars in salary to be allowed to take in Butler’s roughly 20 million. Eric Gordon and filler plus the picks could make for a match.

On the brighter side, Chris Paul’s hamstrings seem fine but he didn’t help the cause by missing back-to-back losses while serving his suspension from the Rajon Rondo fracas. Paul’s reaction to Rondo’s loser/punk behavior was understandable, but it did hurt the Rockets.

Carmelo Anthony finally had a good scoring game in the Utah loss but his 22 point night was padded by garbage time baskets. This team will not be as good defensively as last season’s. The downgrade from Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute to Anthony and James Ennis is significant. So is the retirement of defensive coordinator Jeff Bzdelik.

Compared to other would be Golden State challengers Boston and Toronto, the Rockets bench is thin.

But a reminder that last season the Rockets got off to a modestly good 5-3 start and then ran roughshod over the NBA for the rest of the season with separate winning streaks of 14, 17, and 11 games.

Defending it

Disappointing playoff dismissal from the Red Sox aside, one element of the Astros’ 2018 excellence that went perhaps underappreciated was their defense. By advanced metrics only the A’s and Rays were better in the American League. Oddly, those advanced metrics say Alex Bregman is a mediocre third baseman. That seems ridiculous, so good for Bregman being named a Gold Glove finalist (he has no chance to win, Oakland’s Matt Chapman is a lock). Martin Maldonado won last year and is a finalist this year, which makes it stand out that much more how badly Maldonado struggled behind the plate against the Red Sox. Dallas Keuchel won three years running (2014, 15, 16) and could score a fourth Gold Glove for the mantle at his new home wherever he winds up signing.

Buzzer Beaters

1. The Texans’ all blue uniform is their best.  2. UH needs to clobber USF Saturday to perhaps crack the Top 25. The Group of Five bowl possibilities this year are the Fiesta and Peach.   3. Worst trick-or-treat handouts: Bronze-any edible other than candy Silver-candy corn Gold-small change


 

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Another tough loss for Houston. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans remain winless as the team comes up short against the Bears in Chicago. Here are 11 observations from the game.

1. Davis Mills made two costly mistakes with interceptions. The first one took points off the board and the second allowed the Bears to kick a game-winning field goal. These were the first two of the season and they highlight the need for near perfection from the offense.

2. Davis Mills claimed he made the correct read on the second interception. He said the tip is the reason the Bears intercepted it. I disagree. It looks like Roquan Smith read it like a book and might have been there anyway.

3. The other interception from Davis Mills wasn’t a good read either. Mills made a quick decision and rifled the ball to Brandin Cooks but the defensive back basically had his whole body between Cooks and the ball. The Bears made a nice play to come down with the deflection.

4. Davis Mills is not to be trusted in moments where most quarterbacks can move the football. The Texans failed to get into field goal range at the end of both halves. Mills has consistently failed in those spots this season.

5. There were some curious calls from Pep Hamilton. The Texans don’t have much talent, but Hamilton has had some unique moments. There was a screen to Pharaoh Brown on third and long. The team called a screen on third and one. There was a telegraph on third and short in the red zone.

6. Why can’t this team get the wideouts more heavily involved? Rex Burkhead shouldn’t be getting the second greatest number of targets. Brandin Cooks shouldn’t leave a game where he has less than 10 targets. It would be worth scheming the ball to Cooks a few more times than he is currently getting the ball.

7. Kamu Grugier-Hill is not playing well right now. The veteran just bounced right off a Bears running back at one point. He is also a liability in coverage. Christian Harris is hopefully back after next week but it would be worth seeing if Garrett Wallow has anything more to his game than the veteran.

8. The rushing defense was assaulted again. This time by running wideouts and a backup running back. Lovie Smith needs to look at playing time and the depth chart to see if something can get corrected here. This can’t keep happening earlier and earlier in games each week.

9. Jerry Hughes has been one of the best players on this team through three games. The veteran has been consistent and flashed more than a few times. A nice addition by the team this offseason.

10. Jalen Pitre is so damn good. He’s already one of the best players on this team. He had two interceptions today to go along with a sack. He wasn’t fooled on play action and nailed Justin Fields for the sack. When it felt like the Bears were getting whatever they wanted, Pitre darted in for a tackle in the backfield. He’s been awesome.

11. There must be some evaluation from the Texans. The team might need to ask if everything they’ve put together at this point is the right direction. There is a sound argument the team should be 3-0. Instead, the team is winless, and closing in on hopelessness

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