From Josh Allen to Minshew Mania the Texans have their hands full

Texans in London with new set of challenges

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The Friday Stoots Six-Pack is here for you to get ready for the Texans London debut. Chip chip cherrio.

London Calling

This is the first trip for the Texans across the pond. It took a lot longer than I thought it would take considering the Jaguars are basically London's team. The Texans avoided a trip to Jacksonville this year which means only two true road division games this year. They still have a trip to Tennessee.

The advantage isn't going to end up being a huge deal for Jacksonville. Two of their most important players, Gardner Minshew and Josh Allen, are making their first trip. It is a double road game, with a tiny bit a familiarity for the Jaguars.

The early start time sucks, that's not fun. But, an early morning win sure would make all of Sunday feel nice for Texans fans.

Shorthanded in key spots

The Texans didn't even take these players to London. That's already five of the seven inactive players.

The Texans will be short a player or two as I am guessing they will have more than two players who can't play on Sunday in London. I would expect Lonnie Johnson, Bradley Roby, and Tashaun Gipson to all be back after the bye week. Their absence makes for another tough game in the secondary this week though.

Will Fuller's absence is noticeable in the ability to stretch the field for the offense. A healthy Kenny Stills would go a long way in bringing back some element of that for Deshaun Watson and the passing game.

Tunsil and Tytus

Laremy Tunsil should play this weekend. The Texans desperately need him. The right tackle spot with Howard potentially being down another week is weak. The Texans eventually solved an element of the issue at right tackle with how they ran the offense late in the game against the Raiders.

The Raiders are not the Jaguars. Jacksonville boasts a much more formidable pass rush. The Jaguars have 29 sacks on the season which is good enough for third. They're a nasty group coming at teams from all angles.

If Roderick Johnson is healthy he should be the right tackle. If he isn't Chris Clark and Dan Skipper are the options. I don't expect Tytus Howard to be ready just yet despite his return to practice. However, if he is ready, wow what a boost that would be.

Minshew's Magic Mania 

Gardner Minshew is fun to watch. It isn't fun to be on the other end of Minshew making plays and kicking defenses ass.

He is a rhythm player. Most air raid guys are. Disrupting him almost always leads to the Jaguars struggling on offense. The problem is even when he is struggling he's dangerous and can push the Jaguars into a position to score.

The Texans have to push Minshew into a position where he can't rely on Leonard Fournette and the rushing attack. He's most dangerous in a close game where his mobility nearly sunk the Texans in week two. He can't win a shootout with Deshaun Watson and the Texans.

No longer the marquee matchup

The best 1-on-1 matchup in the NFL is no more. DeAndre Hopkins and Jalen Ramsey was always a treat to watch. Since the two squared off, Ramsey has a new home in Los Angeles playing for the Rams.

I don't know how the Jaguars will defend Hopkins now. Former Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye is an option surely but I don't think he will follow Hopkins like Ramsey did. Maybe rolling coverage over to him and hoping he doesn't find the weak part of the defense.

Hopkins has been a terror on first downs. If the Jaguars can't slow him down the Texans should be able to stay on schedule and get hot on offense.

The new terror of the AFC South

Josh Allen might end up being the best pass rusher to call the AFC South home since J.J. Watt. He's a monster. He is a freak athlete. He's evolving too. He's hitting his stride.

He has at least a sack in his last four games and is coming off a two sack performance against the Jets.

Jacksonville moves him around a lot to take advantage of his athleticism and match him up with defenders who will struggle with him. It is annoying for the rest of the AFC South that he slipped to Jacksonville and even more annoying that he is starting to figure things out.

The whole Jaguars front-seven is scary, but Allen might end up being the scariest in years.

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Mattress Mack and the Astros host Pearland Little League at Wednesday night's game. Photo by LittleLeague.org

Sure, it’s impressive that the Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting Aug. 17 in South Williamsport, PA.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a 5-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70-mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record was Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. Born in the U.S.A. came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing. The executive asked why not? Well, you might want to listen to the words. Born in the U.S.A. is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly Yankee Doodle Dandy. You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year). The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is considered a slur for Asians).

Later I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA. I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

Play Centerfield by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

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