DROWNING IN A SEA OF NEGATIVITY, THERE WERE SOME POSITIVES FOR TEXANS FANS AS WELL IN GAME 1

Texans: It wasn't a win, but at least it was fun to watch

I'm going to try something different with this column and focus on the positives I took away from Game 1 of the Texans season Monday night in New Orleans. I know everyone wants to focus on "Usual Suspects" for all the hate and negativity when talking Texans, mainly Bill O' Brien, the offensive line and the defensive secondary. Don't get it twisted, those were all areas that warranted criticism in the past and deserved plenty of blame again Monday, but I want to talk about a few bright spots to build on as the team goes forward, including turning a few perceived negatives into positives that could pay off in a big way in the final 15 games.

Lamar Miller Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The first bright spot for the Texans was the ability to run the ball effectively against one of the better defensive lines in the NFL. When the Texans lost Lamar Miller to a season-ending knee injury in the preseason there was little hope that the team could replace him and his steady output at the tailback position.

With no one on the roster capable of carrying the load, Bill O' Brien and his staff went outside the organization and pulled off two trades that created the duo that was able to account for 140 of the 180 rushing yards Houston finished the game with. Deshaun Watson scrambled his way for 40 yards while keeping plays alive, but the rest of the runs were compliments of two guys that weren't on the roster midway through training camp.

Duke Johnson joined the squad in a trade with the Browns early in the preseason. Initially, he was looked at as a third down back with more ability in the passing game than running the ball and the hope was that he would compliment Miller while lightening his workload by occasionally picking up some carries.

That all changed when Miller went down and suddenly he was the only experienced RB on the roster that O'Brien could trust. The versatile back rushed for 57 yards on 9 carries and added 33 receiving yards out of the backfield as a safety valve for quarterback Deshaun Watson. He averaged a little over 6 yards per rush and 8 yards per reception and will only get better as he gets more familiar with the offense and playbook.

The other move that was made to add depth to the ground game was a late move to acquire Carlos Hyde from the Chiefs. Hyde had some good seasons early in his career but had struggled of late making brief stops with several teams. The Texans took a flyer on him and he paid off in a big way, rushing for 83 yards on 10 carries as he showed speed, quickness and the ability to make people miss. He too will only improve as he gets more comfortable with his new team and system and the hope is the duo will be able to put up numbers similar to what Miller gave them over the past few seasons.

Another reason for optimism if you're a Texans fan has to be what you saw from two of the other newcomers that came to Houston before the start of the regular season, wide receiver Kenny Stills and left tackle Laremy Tunsil. The two main pieces of the Dolphins trade showed that the sky is the limit for them and their new squad as both made steady, solid contributions to their new team as they helped keep them in the game and gave fans hope for the future. Stills had the big 37-yard touchdown reception with under a minute to play that looked like it was going to be the game-winner as his time on the field was limited as he learns a new offense. He will be a welcomed addition to the receiving core as he showed he is still a deep threat and steady target for Watson to utilize, as well as an insurance policy for the often injured Will Fuller and KeKe Coutee. Tunsil had less than a week to get some chemistry with his new teammates while learning the blocking schemes and playbook and while he wasn't perfect, he showed that he is the future at left tackle and the perfect protector of Watson's blindside.

Deshaun Watson Deshaun Watson had an up and down day. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The biggest takeaway for me when watching the game in New Orleans was how exciting and productive the offense was when they had the ball, regardless of the sacks and QB pressures. O' Brien and his new offensive coordinator Tim Kelly called a pretty good game as they weren't hyper-conservative and predictable, didn't run it into the center of the line on every third and long situation and let their stars shine.

Watson and DeAndre Hopkins were clicking all night long as they constantly put pressure on the Saints secondary. Fuller looked great coming off his serious knee injury as he showed his speed was still there and his hands were better than expected. Johnson and Hyde provided offensive balance while showing the ability to make defenders miss and getting productive yards after contact. Johnson also contributed in the passing game and he will only get better as he gets more familiar with the offense and playbook.

The biggest positive of all was the play of Watson who just gets better and better with each passing game. He continues to prove that no stage is too big and no lights are too bright for the emerging superstar as he led his team all night long, including on the biggest drive of the night when they got the touchdown they needed in the final two minutes of the game. If the line can find a way to prevent him from getting sacked 6 times a game as he was in New Orleans and Watson can stay healthy, this team is going to put up a lot of points while being extremely fun to watch.

Deshaun Watson had an up and down day. Tim Warner/Getty Images

So what does Bill O'Brien have in store for a Sunday encore in the clock management follies department? All's well that ends well for the Texans if another Billy Botch episode comes with another win. Get it and home games vs. the Panthers and Falcons make 4-1 a very legit possibility.

The Texans have a good shot to get the win in Los Angeles Sunday. They may have half the crowd rooting for them. The Chargers have the lamest homefield advantage in the NFL. L.A. has largely yawned at them since their move up the coast from San Diego. In their home opener the Chargers couldn't sell out the 27,000 seat soccer stadium serving as their temporary facility. Next season they move into the monument of wow and greed they'll share with the Rams. That place will hold about 70,000.

On the field it's a big game for the also 1-1 Chargers if they hope to hang with Kansas City in the AFC West race. The Chargers' three following games are at the joke Dolphins, then home vs. the not good Broncos and the Roethlisberger-less Steelers.

For the Texans, one major subplot is a constant. How porous will the offensive line be? Deshaun Watson has been sacked 10 times over the first two games. The Chargers have one of the NFL's better pass rushing duos in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. If the Texans can protect, opportunity knocks for big plays downfield with the Chargers down both of their starting safeties. Rookie All-Pro Derwin James is on injured reserve recovering from a broken foot, Adrian Phillips broke an arm last Sunday at Detroit.

Warm California sun

So if you were 300 strikeout man Gerrit Cole, what would you be thinking about re: 2020 and beyond? I mean after next month ideally helping the Astros win the World Series. And if you are the Astros what are you thinking?

In his two Astro seasons Cole has been tremendous. The ballclub is tremendous, and if Cole re-signs it that much more figures to stay tremendous for at least another couple of seasons. But Gerrit Cole is to become the most highly coveted free agent on the market. The low end of what he should be able to command is probably in the six years 150 million range. Heck, he could get seven years 250 million.

Next year the Astros payroll is set to soar into competitive balance tax territory. Meaning, in addition to the payroll itself, the Astros are looking at paying millions in penalties if they pay up to keep Cole. To counter that the Astros certainly could pivot and trade Zack Greinke. They basically will be open to giving away Josh Reddick and the 13 million he'll make in the final year of his contract.

Maybe Jim Crane and his partners say this is such a special era, we'll forego huge chunks of profits to keep this core together. That would be fantastic, but drawing a line on how far they'll go to keep Cole would not be miserly. Long term megadollar pitching contracts carry large risks. Cole turns 30 next season.

Cole grew up in Southern California. His wife too. It's where they live in the offseason. He went to high school under five miles from Angels Stadium and grew up an Angels fan. The Angels have a desperate need for starting pitching. Even with Cole though, the Angels can't essentially promise perennial contender status. But the Dodgers can, every bit as much as the Astros, and the Dodgers have much deeper pockets. If the Coles want to spend the rest of Gerrit's prime pitching years living year-round back home in SoCal, no one should take offense. Still, if the Astros’ bid is competitive when factoring in income tax rates, proven comfort level with the team, air conditioned comfort for home games…

Big weekend for Aggies

Better college football schedule this week after the garbage card of a week ago. The biggest game nationally is seventh ranked Notre Dame at number three Georgia. Big game for Texas A&M vs. Auburn at Kyle Field Saturday. The 17th ranked Aggies are three and a half point favorites over the eighth ranked team in the nation. A hard fought loss wouldn't be shameful, but would mean that with games yet to come vs. Alabama, at Georgia, and at LSU, the Ags would have to pull off at least one upset to finish better than 7-5. 75 million dollars to lure Jimbo Fisher were not spent to yield any 7-5 seasons.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Major Applewhite would have coached the Cougars to a 1-3 start much more economically for UH than Dana Holgorsen has. 2. The Tulane Green Wave wearing powder blue uniforms is just as dopey as the St. John's Red Storm and Duke Blue Devils wearing black. 3. Names that Houstonians should rule out for daughters: Bronze-Imelda Silver-Allison Gold-Alicia

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