SHAKE IT UP!

Here's an easy fix to one of the most aggravating parts of watching Texans, NFL

Running the ball up the middle on first down is killing the Texans. Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images.

The returner catches the punt on his 25-yard line, evades the first tackler, breaks to the sideline, finds a wall of blockers and races 55 yards before being forced out of bounds. It’s a spectacular runback and sets his team up for a last-second field goal that will send the game into overtime. What a play!

Except for one thing. There’s a flag back on the returning team’s 30-yard line. The umpire clicks on his microphone and calls “illegal block on the receiving team.” It’s a 10-yard penalty, the offense now starts deep in its own territory, winds up throwing a desperation Hail Mary on 4th down that fails. Game over.

There used to be a comic strip in the Sunday paper called “They’ll Do It Every Time.” In the NFL, when a kick returner gains more than 20 yards, referees will call a penalty. At least it seems they’ll do it almost every time.

Special teams account for 17 percent of all penalties called in the NFL. That's an awful, and I do mean awful, percentage for players who aren't on the field that much.

It’s like the movie Jaws when the audience hears that scary “dun-dun-dun,” you know a shark attack is coming. In the NFL, when there’s an exciting kick return, fans start looking up-field for an inevitable yellow flag lying on the turf. Even the punt returner turns back as he crosses the goal line checking for a flag before he starts celebrating. Like in WWE wrestling when three heels are getting heat on a babyface, fans look to the entrance for John Cena to make the rescue.

The Texans are the sixth most-penalized team in the NFL with 95 total penalties. Illegal blocks during kick returns fall into the “others” category on the league's breakdown of penalties. The Texans have 24 of those, also Top 10.

There’s an obscure stat in the NFL called “lost yardage.” When a team returns a punt to the 50, but a penalty brings the ball back to the 20, that’s 30 yards of lost yardage. It adds up and it turns touchdowns into field goals and possibly wins into losses.

Illegal blocking penalties need to stop in the NFL. They drag down the game, waste time and steal excitement. Here’s one way to cut down on the problem: change the penalty from 10 yards to 30 yards, or half the distance to the goal line no matter where the block occurred. Make it hurt. That’ll put an end to illegal blocks on kick returns.

Do I have to come up with every good idea around here?

Here’s another play that’s ruining the fun of an NFL game: running the ball up the middle on first down. I’ll be watching a game on TV and turn to friends, “Here it comes, a run up the middle for two yards.” Sure enough, a handoff up the gut for two yards. So boring. The offense is immediately in a hole.

If I know it’s coming, doesn’t the other team’s defense? Obviously. That’s why the Texans are stuck with second down and 8 so often. The Texans are the third worst running team in the NFL.

Why up the middle? Offensive line blocking schemes are simpler and the shortest distance between two points, in this case the center snap and the goal line, is a straight line.

Fun stat: the two least successful plays in the NFL are running the ball up the middle on first down and passing on third down. Second down is the money play.

Solution to the tedium and predictability of the Texans running on first down? The same answer to all the Texans problems: Cal McNair fires Jack Easterby, hires a new head coach, apologizes to fans and sells the team.

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ROCKETS FALL TO WARRIORS

Critical takeaways from Rockets' 105-103 loss to Warriors

Rockets fall short against Warriors. Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

This wasn't the typical Houston Rockets-Golden St. Warriors game when Mike D' Antoni and Steve Kerr were having an offensive battle of wits. James Harden, who plays for the Brooklyn Nets, was nowhere in sight for the Rockets Friday night. Although the Rockets are in rebuild mode, it was still an interesting game. The intensity was high throughout the entire game. Emotions between Stephen Silas and Kerr were heavy, as they were yelling and jumping up-and-down along the sidelines.

A series of runs and back-and-forth scoring gave a slight reminder of the old rivalry between the Warriors and Rockets. Steph Curry was having a tough game, but with 5.1 seconds left, he was able to create great separation from a step back and drained an incredible midrange shot over Kevin Porter Jr. It was heartbreaking because Porter played great defense on Curry throughout the entire game, with Curry only making 6 out of 22 shots. Porter had a tremendous first-half defensively on Curry and recorded an 88.9 defensive rating. Porter had a good feel for guarding Curry, he didn't allow himself to switch away from him. He anticipated passing lanes and ripped Curry a couple of times.

Besides Porter playing great defense, the Rockets played good as a whole. They finished with 10 steals. Their main technique was to switch everything on defense, and Kenyon Martin Jr. and Christian Wood did a good job. It's never easy staying in front of Curry and Jordan Poole, but if they could hold their ground for five seconds, it became possible. Porter did a great job at times by communicating on defense, so he could tell Jalen Green and Eric Gordon when to switch.

And speaking of Green--- he had a strange night offensively. He went 0-11 from the field but made two great plays in the fourth quarter. Instead of Silas keeping Green on the bench because of his cold hand, he kept him in the game for learning purposes. Green made an outstanding play on Curry at the 2:52 mark in the 4th quarter. Before that, he missed a shot from three but fought hard for the rebound, then found a cutting Wood towards the rim. Green might of struggled, but the effort was there.

This was a tough loss for the Rockets, but they are steadily improving. The Rockets are 3-5 in their last five games.

Up next: The Rockets face the Spurs on Tuesday night.

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