STOOTS ON TEXANS

11 observations from Texans training camp: Rookie RB showing flashes

Texans training camp observations from 8/10. Still footage by Cody Stoots.

The Houston Texans inched closer to their preseason debut. Here are 11 observations from a hotly contested practice.

1. Derek Stingley did it again. The rookie continues to get more and more work. It had been rare to see Stingley win a big rep against Brandin Cooks, but that changed Wednesday. Cooks planted and turned for a comeback route as Davis Mills was letting the ball go. Stingley planted himself, and I didn’t think he would make it to the ball. Well, not only did he make it, but he also had an interception bounce off his hands. The defense had a little buzz to it after the play from the rookie. It was an example of the eye-popping potential and continued growth for Stingley.

2. A few plays later, Stingley showed his agility and closing speed on a play where he ended up defending Nico Collins. It was a different task for Stingley, but he recognized where the ball was headed and went to close on Collins. Collins dropped the pass, but even had he caught it, Stingley was there to keep it a short gain.

3. Jalen Pitre was named a starter on the team’s unofficial initial depth chart. He’s earned it. Pitre flashes constantly and some of the early hiccups from camp are no longer present. Pitre skied over Brandin Cooks, didn’t interfere, and knocked a ball away. He’s going to be a must-watch in the preseason games.

4. Dameon Pierce has a nice burst and he’s stocky, but on Wednesday I saw some patience and vision from him. The rookie running back darted through a slow-developing hole for a big gain. Pierce catches the ball a fair amount as well, despite the fact his college games didn’t feature that a ton when you watched him play at Florida.

5. I was concerned about Dameon Pierce’s pass blocking, and I still want to see what it looks like at full speed. Wednesday showed he has a decent idea of what to accomplish. Pierce chipped a rusher that was about to beat the offensive tackle, allowing Davis Mills to complete a huge play to Brandin Cooks.

6. Davis Mills and Brandin Cooks finally hooked up on a long pass and made it look easy. It was in stride, on target, and went for a gain of over 30 yards. Mills had to step up a little to make the throw. It was a tight pocket, and he dropped it right into the bread basket of Cooks. It elicited the biggest cheer of the day from the fans in attendance.

7. Towards the end of practice, it was Davis Mills and Brandin Cooks again. The situational football was in full effect as the offense was drilling a 4th and 10 from the 20-yard-line setup. Mills had to buy a little time, and the offensive line held up well, but he saw Cooks coming open and fired to the back corner of the end zone. Two feet for Brandin Cooks and a touchdown. The defense was exasperated. They’d done almost all they could to contain Cooks.

8. It wasn’t the best day overall from the offense. In part, the defense had some nice plays. There was a little sloppiness from the offense overall. Some were almost connections. I will say though, that one bad play doesn’t feel like it dooms the offense anymore. There is hope if there is ever a negative play or an incomplete pass. It didn’t feel that way last season.

9. Maliek Collins might be a problem this year. For opposing teams, I mean, not the Texans. Collins had a couple of bad penalties last year and came up close on a few plays. He again had a nice play that would have resulted in a sack. It’s fun to see his potential show in camp, I am excited to see him and All-Pro guard, Quenton Nelson, in week one of the season.

10. Kevin Pierre-Lewis is healthy and ready to contribute. He was step for step on a Brandin Cooks wheel route that ended up being an incomplete pass. With some injuries in the linebacker group, the veteran has a chance to start or at least play a lot.

11. The preseason game is on Saturday against the Saints. Here are four players on offense and four players on defense I will be watching very closely. On offense guard Max Scharping, running back Dameon Pierce, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, and wide receiver Chad Beebe is who I will be looking for the most. On defense edge rusher Rasheem Green, defensive tackle Kurt Hinish, linebacker Neville Hewitt, and any rookie who plays.

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These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.

Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?

Affecting the NL playoffs

It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.

Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.

As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.

They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.

It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.

Affecting the AL playoffs

There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.

Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.

So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.

This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.

Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.

So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.

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