CHARLIE PALLILO

Texans in a good spot in AFC South if they can pull off win in Denver

The Texans added Demaryius Thomas. Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Texans’ strength of victory during their five game winning streak is not good. Big deal. From 0-3 to 5-3 is laudable. If the Texans just split their back-to-back road trips to Denver and Washington the AFC South should be theirs. However it’s only a meaningful division title if they then win a Wild Card round home game, then at least show well in the Divisional Round.

Regardless of how well it works out, credit to Texans’ General Manager Brian Gaine for acquiring wide receiver Demaryius Thomas from Denver. Thomas is past his prime but still should be a vast upgrade over any Texans’ wideout other than DeAndre Hopkins. Renting him for a fourth round pick carries a favorable risk/reward ratio, though it certainly doesn’t elevate the Texans to legit AFC Champion contenders. That will take being a top two AFC seed (unlikely), or at least winning a road playoff game for the first time in franchise history (doubtful at New England or Kansas City).

The Texan D Sunday gets after Bronco quarterback (and Texan and UH-ex) Case Keenum. So who do you believe: Keenum saying that Bill O’Brien told him he would never be more than an NFL third stringer, or O’Brien saying he would never tell any player such a thing? Keenum last season had a magical run with the Vikings highlighted by his miracle game winning touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs against the Saints in the playoffs. The magic disappeared when Keenum (and pretty much all Vikings) stunk the following week as the Eagles destroyed Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game.

The season overall set up Keenum financially for life, as the QB-desperate Broncos guaranteed him $25 million dollars in a two year $36 million dollar contract. Keenum has played poorly this season. He is the only guy in the NFL to throw at least one interception in all of his team’s games this season. Keenum will have to take a huge pay cut or more likely simply be cut after the season.

John Elway is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever live, but since Peyton Manning picked the Broncos Elway sure has been a blunderfest in quarterback decisions. The Texans made the massive gaffe of guaranteeing Brock Osweiler $37 million dollars, but don’t forget Elway offered Osweiler $30 mil. Elway used a 2016 first round pick on Paxton Lynch who is out of the NFL already. Now Keenum is probably one and done in Denver and will have made 25 mil for that one season.

Rough start

Calling the Rockets’ start to the season pathetic is disrespectful to the word pathetic. Mitigating circumstances exist. James Harden is not in peak playing condition. Chris Paul missing two games suspended. Of vastly lesser importance, James Ennis has been out. Mike D’Antoni keeps talking about how the Rockets have young and new players. As if they’re the only team with young and new players. And the Rockets don’t have any meaningful young players anyway.

What the Rockets do have is serious issues. That Chris Paul was awful against Portland is just a bad night, but that Paul is among the Rockets’ numerous defensive problems, is a real problem. A 33 year old Paul can not keep opposing guards in front of him. Carmelo Anthony is likely finished as a quality player. P.J. Tucker is a good role player but if you consistently need more from him, you’re up a certain creek without a paddle.

Collectively the Rockets have been a disgrace on defense. A switching defense can work beautifully with good, interchangeable players who care. Last season the Rocket D was regularly one of those defenses. Now it’s like a lousy pick-up team, where switching is a lazy way to shirk responsibility as much as it is strategy.

The new emphasis limiting contact off the ball hurts the Rockets big time. Slow and/or physical defenders can’t get away with nearly as much bumping and grabbing. Conversely, the Rockets aren’t helped offensively by the change because running isolation or pick and roll almost all the time, the Rockets have hardly any movement off the ball.

Last season the Rockets lost seven regular season home games total. This season they are 0-4 without coming remotely close to winning, the losses by 19, 11, 20, and 19 points. The season is still very early, but the Rockets’ window of bonafide title contention may be slamming on them amazingly quickly.

Respect for a legend

One can be a Hall of Famer and still be underappreciated. I think that was/is true of Willie McCovey who died Wednesday at 80 years old. McCovey’s career lacked the aura it deserved, largely because McCovey was overshadowed by playing through his prime with Willie Mays as a San Francisco Giant teammate.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Clocks back an hour Saturday night. Only night of the year Standard Time is preferred.  2. Just off the podium, Johnny Mize… 3. Greatest 1B in NL history: Bronze-Willie McCovey Silver-Jeff Bagwell  Gold-Albert Pujols


 

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Life after Correa may not be the worst thing. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Carlos Correa is having a damn good year. The Astros shortstop is hitting .285 with 24 homers, 87 RBI, 72 walks, .862 OPS, a 7.2 WAR, and a .981 fielding percentage. In any other year, those would be numbers worthy of being in the mix for AL MVP (if it weren't for that dastardly Shohei Otani). Correa is also in a contract year. He and the Astros were far enough apart that the season started and he's held true to not wanting to negotiate midseason.

The offers of six years for $120 million and five years for $125 million were both rejected by he and his camp. They're seeking something much longer and for more money on the annual average. With the team unwilling to meet those demands, it seems as if the team and the player are headed for a split.

Lots of Astros fans are not happy with the prospect of Correa leaving via free agency. Some think the team isn't doing enough and should pony up to bring him back. Some feel Correa should take what they're offering because it's a fair deal that'll allow the team to sign other players. Then, there's that small band of us that are totally okay with him leaving.

One of the main reasons I'm okay with him leaving is the players the team still has under control that are potential replacements. Aledmys Diaz and Pedro Leon are the first two guys that come to mind. Diaz is a 31-year-old vet who's stepped up when he's called upon. He can slide over to third and allow Alex Bregman to play shortstop. Leon is the team's 23-year-old hot prospect who signed as an outfielder that the team has been trying to turn into a shortstop. If Correa were to leave, he could instantly plug the hole Carlos would leave behind. Either of those options lead to my next point of being okay with Correa leaving which is to...

...allocate that money elsewhere. Whether it's signing a replacement (at short or third), or boosting the pitching staff, I'll be fine as long as it's money well spent. Signing a shortstop or third baseman would determine where Bregman would be playing. If said player takes significantly less than Correa and fills 70-80% of his offensive shoes, it'll be worth it. Others will have to step it up. If they find a deal on a top of the rotation starting pitcher, that would be ideal as well. As I stated a couple of weeks ago, this team has employed a six-man rotation, but doesn't have a true ace. Spending anywhere from $20-30 million a year on a top-notch pitcher to add to the staff would bolster this staff in more ways than one. It'll finally give them the ace they lack, plus it'll bump all the young talent (still under team control) down a peg creating depth and perhaps even creating bullpen depth.

The only way any of this works is if Correa isn't back. Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander's money comes off the books also. Freeing up that much payroll and not re-appropriating those resources to ensure this team stays in contention would be a first degree felony in sports court. I don't think Jim Crane wants that for this team. I for sure don't think James Click wants that as his legacy. Let's sit back and watch how the organization maneuvers this offseason and pray they get it right.


Editor's note: If you want to read the other side of the argument, check out Ken Hoffman's piece from Tuesday.

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