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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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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