Texans post-bye schedule might not be so soft after all

Texans post-bye schedule might not be so soft after all
Keke Coutee could make an impact if healthy. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

With the Texans getting back to work I figured the three headlines should be a look at the progress the next three opponents made. It looks a little bit more difficult than this time last week. 

Washington Controls NFC East

Despite being outgained 501-286 Washington defeated the Buccaneers 16-3. Tampa Bay owns the dubious honor of having the most yards ever when only scoring three points. I can't say it was because Washington was really good though. Three of the four Buccaneers turnovers were deep in Washington territory with the other one leading to an easy field goal for the Redkskins. They're now 6-3 and own a sizable lead in the NFC East. 

Washington has been dealing with a ton of injuries and the weak Tampa Bay defense didn't do a lot to challenge an offensive line that has plenty of backups now starting. Alex Smith was only sacked three times but managed just 178 yards passing. Adrian Peterson and the other backs got going along with Smith to rush for over 100 yards. This offense isn't dangerous by any means. They average 20 points a game and have scored over 24 points just once. Washington hasn't scored more than 20 in a month. 

This is a game if the Texans offense gels coming out of the bye, they should handle Washington easily. They're not capable of coming back from a big deficit and aren't talented enough to win a shootout. If the Texans play their typical close game and make it ugly Washington has more than enough on defense to win the game. The Redskins are in the middle of one of the more unique runs in NFL history. There has yet to be a lead change in any of Washington's games.

Titans and Vrabel down Patriots

Tennessee worked the New England Patriots on their way to a 34-10 shellacking of the defending AFC champions. Tom Brady never got going. James White was bottled up. Rob Gronkowski was hurt. The Titans leaned on former Patriots back Dion Lewis early and he and a seemingly healthy Marcus Mariota helped the Titans score on their first three drives. Running back Derrick Henry and wideout Corey Davis each had huge days against an unusually leaky Patriots defense. It was one of the most shocking results of the NFL season. 

The Titans are much better than the version the Texans saw, and lost to, early in the season. They're healthier on the offensive line and Mariota has put together three impressive games managing the offense and leaning on a suddenly solid rushing attack. Mike Vrabel is feeling himself and coaching up a team short on talent and becoming a headache. He called a trick play the Patriots failed to execute and joked after the game he wanted to see if they could do it better than New England. 

When Tennessee heads to Houston it will be Monday Night Football. Tennessee is undefeated in the AFC South but will take on the Colts next week before the contest with the Texans. That matchup is a toss-up with the Colts dismantling of the Jaguars on Sunday. The Monday Night Football game could very well be a determining factor in who wins the AFC South. 

That's why he was picked first

Three touchdown passes and a 151.3 quarterback rating by Baker Mayfield helped the Browns break the Falcons win streak. While Mayfield was feeling it through the air nobody was feeling it quite like Nick Chubb. He rushed for 176 yards in the victory with a 92-yard scamper really putting things out of reach for Atlanta. Cleveland forced a fumble coming out of halftime and quickly turned it into points. 

This Cleveland team is now one win away from matching the win total of the three previous seasons combined. They have plenty of talented players on defense and now their offense seems to be grooving with Hue Jackson and Todd Haley being shown the door. This is something to monitor for Texans fans in the coming weeks. Cleveland has a bye and road trip to their fellow Ohio mates Cincinnati before they come to Texas. It seems likely Baker Mayfield's swagger will be alive and well as he returns to his home state in three weeks. 

Did the bye week get the Texans healthy?

There are plenty of eyes on the injury report this week as the Texans finished up the Denver game with lots of key players ailing heading into their break. Cornerback Aaron Colvin had returned to practice after an ankle injury in week four sidelined him. Practicing before the bye should mean he is set to return either for this game or almost certainly the Tennessee game. Johnathan Joseph was a limited participant before he missed the Denver game and seemed optimistic he would be ready after the break. Andre Hal was close to getting back after playing in his lone game before a shoulder injury sidelined him. I would expect those three defensive backs to play in Washington and Tennessee at the very latest. 

Zach Cunningham was out with a knee injury and didn't practice at all before the game in Denver. His injury is a bit more of a question so his status will need to be monitored this week ahead of Washington, though they could use him. Keke Coutee is the player which interests me the most coming back from the bye week. Coutee could really help open up this offense and take some of the pressure off Demaryius Thomas as he still picks up the intricacies of the offense. Coutee's been dealing with a hamstring injury that has only had him play in four games including preseason. He was present for the first four games of the Texans current winning streak. It would be close to a month since he last played if Coutee plays this weekend. 

O'Brien's post-bye balling

Bill O'Brien in his career has a 16-17 record after his team's bye week. On the surface, that isn't great. But let's take a closer look. Last season was a disaster after the break in the schedule. Deshaun Watson led the Texans to a near-win in Seattle in the last ever game played by the Seahawks Legion of Boom. Then, disaster struck. Watson tore his ACL, Tom Savage took over, and the team went into the tank winning just one game the rest of the year. Now, let's take out last year's 1-9 record after the bye. 

O'Brien coached three different starting quarterbacks (Ryan Mallett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Case Keenum) to a 5-2 record in 2014, his first year on the job. O'Brien again coached three different starting quarterbacks (T.J. Yates, Brian Hoyer, and Brandon Weeden) to a winning record, this time a 6-2 mark. 2016 wasn't as impressive with just a 4-4 mark. A three-game losing streak happened after a win over the Jaguars but O'Brien steered them out of a tailspin. The Texans won three of their final four games, including two AFC South games to earn the tiebreaker win over Tennessee before the season finale. 

It's trending the wrong way, sure, but if O'Brien captures some of his early success after the bye, the Texans will be sitting pretty heading into the playoffs. 

I bet the Texans get Keke Coutee back this weekend and it leads to a noticeable change in the offense. Coutee has been impressive in short stints and he has had a few near huge plays this season. He was so close to being a regular contributor before the injury robbed him of the chance. He's the only true slot presence on the team. With the rushing attack seeming to be back on track, and Thomas hopefully better in tune with the offense, Coutee is poised to really show what he's capable of in the NFL. 

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Welcome back, Justin! Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander will make his season debut Friday night at the Washington Nationals.

Houston manager Joe Espada made the announcement Wednesday.

“Getting him back is huge because it brings a level of confidence to our team, a boost of confidence that we’re going to get someone who’s been an MVP, a Cy Young (winner) on the mound,” Espada said. “It's (good) for the morale and to get stuff started and moving in the right direction.”

The three-time Cy Young Award winner opened the season on the injured list with inflammation in his right shoulder. He made two rehabilitation starts, the first for Triple-A Sugar Land on April 7 before Saturday’s start for Double-A Corpus Christi.

Espada wouldn't say how many pitches the 41-year-old would be limited to but said they'll keep an eye on his workload.

“We've got to be careful how hard we push him early,” Espada said. “I know he’s going to want to go and stay out there and give us an opportunity to win, but we've got to be cautious of how hard we push him early in the season.”

Verlander wasn’t thrilled with the results in his rehabilitation starts, but he said Monday that those games were valuable in getting him prepared to come off the IL.

He allowed seven hits and six runs — five earned — in four innings against Frisco on Saturday. He struck out three, walked one and threw 51 of 77 pitches for strikes.

Verlander allowed six earned runs and struck out six while pitching into the fourth inning for Sugar Land on April 7.

The Astros have gotten off to a tough start with Verlander and fellow starters Framber Valdez and José Urquidy on the injured list. They enter Wednesday's games last in the AL West with a 6-13 record.

Espada hopes Verlander can be the boost the team needs to get on track.

“It’s good to get him back in the rotation,” Espada said. “With what he means to this club just to get him back on track, getting some innings from him (to) build our rotation with the pieces that we need to move forward is exciting.”

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