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


 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome