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Texans Monday: 3 headlines, 2 questions, 1 bet

Texans Monday: 3 headlines, 2 questions, 1 bet
The Texans have not had a plan at tackle since trading Duane Brown. Tim Warner/Getty Images

It's Monday so as always I have three headlines, two questions, and one bet for you to get your week started. 

"It Starts With Me"

You guessed it, Bill O'Brien on the poor play points to himself. I'm not sure what else he can say at this point and if you put penalties and the lack of discipline that allows them it is on O'Brien. The shaky offense, it is on O'Brien. 

"We've been beating ourselves too much," O'Brien said. Most notably the difference is red zone failures. The Texans were amazing with Watson last year in the red area but this year has been atrocious. Too many negative plays turning touchdowns into field goals has doomed this team each week. The Texans are 28th in red zone scoring percentages when it comes to touchdowns. 

"We're Definitely Looking at That Position"

Bill O'Brien didn't mince words when he was asked about Julién Davenport's play. The head coach said Davenport is struggling and the team has to work with him to keep getting better but then added the above quote. 

Davenport finds himself under fire after another shaky performance on the right side of the offensive line. Five different times the flag was thrown with Davenport as the culprit. He has looked mismatched and out of sorts playing right tackle. He was playing there after Seantrell Henderson was lost for the season in the team's opener and Martinas Rankin came in to play left tackle. Rankin has not been without his warts either. There was one play yesterday he was flat deposited on his behind by the Giants defender. 

Kendall Lamm and Roderick Johnson are the team's backup tackles for now so it should be Davenport and Rankin unless something changes on the roster. 

The Texans Have Beaten Someone: Themselves

Tyrann Mathieu said it best. 

"We can watch the tape and say we’ve beaten ourselves three games in a row," he said. He's absolutely right about that. From penalties to a lack of cohesion the Texans have had very little spurts of play that compliments each other. The defense has been decent in the second half but bad in the first half. The offense, the opposite. Playing a complete game in the NFL is rare, each week there is an issue somewhere. The Texans haven't even played a complete half. Just everything is out of synch. 

Mathieu said leadership and practice are necessary to pull this team out the rut they're currently in. 

Keke, can you to play?

Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee is a fourth-round draft pick and has yet to appear in a game, be it preseason or regular season. He's been on the injury report with a hamstring injury and has yet to even be active for a regular season game. 

He said today the leg is way better and he's very confident in it and the treatment he has been going through to get back to playing. He said he expects to be rusty and the rustiness is more of the reason he hasn't been playing. He said he is "very close."

It's time to see what he's made of in the NFL. Bruce Ellington went down in the game Sunday early and the Texans lacked a slot presence from that moment on. Coutee was a dynamic playmaker at Texas Tech and had some solid practices in the preseason. Even if Ellington is back, which with a hamstring is tricky, Coutee should finally be active. 

Bill O'Brien has had some weird interactions with rookies in the past, especially at wideout with the likes of Jaelen Strong, but it is time to see if Coutee can help this team win football games. 

Who is going to play cornerback going forward and how well?

Aaron Colvin and Johnathan Joseph are the first two answers to this question. Colvin is a unique situation. He was an amazing slot corner for the Jaguars when A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey were patrolling the outside. He's been pretty good in the slot but has overall not been the standout many, myself included, expected he would be. He is best suited to play on the inside. That leaves the other outside spot vacant. There's really only two options for that spot and both present their own troubles. Shareece Wright is brand new to the team but was pressed into action this week. Kayvon Webster is still recovering from an Achilles injury that ended his season last year. Neither are spectacular options but they have at least been in the building and worked on the system. Whichever one gets the shot opposite Joseph the other, assuming Webster gets healthy soon, will have to hold his own to keep his snaps. Kevin Johnson isn't returning anytime soon so there's an opportunity for Wright and Webster and hopefully not the opportunity for opposing quarterbacks. 

I bet the Texans regret how things have played out at tackle the past few years

 In 2016 the Texans had a solid tackle combo with Duane Brown and Derek Newton. By the end of the season, Newton was hurt and Brown didn't like his pay or playing for the team. Newton never bounced back and was attempted to be replaced by Chris Clark, Breno Giacomini, Seantrell Henderson, and Davenport. While not great, Newton was serviceable and on his second contract. There have been attempts, a few tackles have ended up on the Texans radar but signed elsewhere, but no success in replacing Newton with a proven asset. As far as Brown, it seems Davenport was drafted with the idea of replacing Brown but when he sat out and was then traded Davenport, a project, wasn't ready. The Texans could argue trading Brown was necessary for the locker room and draft pick it recouped but I could argue he was necessary to winning and should've been paid. Now the total investment in the tackle spot for the Texans is a third-round pick, a fourth-round pick, a fifth-round pick on his second team (Roderick Johnson), and undrafted free agent Kendall Lamm. That has to be near the bottom of the league in terms of investment.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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