Texans 24, Titans 21

Texans vs Titans 1: Good, bad and ugly

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In the first of a two out of three stretch for these two teams to decide the potential AFC South winner, the Texans were victorious over the red hot Titans. Here are my observations:

The Good

-Deshaun Watson and his receivers showed what they can do against a good defense. DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills all played valuable parts in the pass game. While Hopkins and Fuller did most of the heavy lifting, Stills was the one that caught the two touchdown passes. When all are healthy, this offense is fun to watch.

-Carlos Hyde has been a godsend for this offense at times this season. He's the perfect back for this system: big, strong, enough speed to make outside runs, and durable. With his 10 yard touchdown run in the 3rd quarter, he got to 1,008 yards on the season. He's earned himself another contract, but will the Texans be the ones who give it to him?

-Whitney Mercilus made an appearence today! He managed to catch an interception off a bobbled pass when the Titans had the ball first and goal on the five yard line. Not only did he make the heads up play, he returned it 86 yards to the Titan 12 yard line. This led to a Watson to Stills touchdown hookup.

The Bad

-In the first half the Titans averaged 5.9 yards per play (7.5 per pass and 4.3 per run). Had they not come up with that tipped pick and a blocked field goal, the defense would've looked much worse to start the game. They followed that up by giving up a 15 play 76 yard touchdown drive that took up 9:26 of the 3rd quarter on Titans' opening possession of the second half.

-With 3:39 left in the game on third and goal from the six, the Titans out of timeouts, and the team up 21-14, Bill O'Brien decided to call a pass play. Watson couldn't find anyone open and ended up throwing the ball away and stopping the clock. Anybody with half a brain knew what was coming with Duke Johnson in the game instead of Hyde. That should've been a run to keep the clock going. Luckily Ka'imi Fairbairn made the kick to give them a 24-14 lead. Another example of poor play-calling and clock management by O'Brien.

-Tony Romo botched Charles Omenihu's name three different ways during the Titans' goal line push towqards their first touchdown. As good as Romo is, and considering he's working with the pro of all pros Jim Nantz (who ended up correcting him), this shouldn't happen. I know for a fact there are pronunciations of names on media guides readily available. This is a nitpick/pet peeve of mine because I can't stand when it happens to me.

The Ugly

-Texans have only scored three points on their opening possessions this year. It continued in this game as they were within field goal range when Watson threw a pick thinking Duke Johnson was open in the end zone. Titans' defense was disguised as man, then switched to cover two after the snap and baited Watson into the poor throw.

-Speaking of poor throws, Watson threw another pick, this time it was off a tipped pass when he tried to gun it in there on the five yard line with goal to go. There was far too much traffic in the middle of the field for Watson to attempt that pass. Making the right throw is part of his maturation process, but plays like this take points off the board. Doing it twice in one game can prove fatal to your chances at winning.

-Lack of a pass rush is frustrating. Ryan Tannehill had time to pack a picnic lunch, lay out a blanket, eat a sandwich, feed his wife grapes, and still had time left over to complete passes. There was even time for him in the pocket even when the Texans' blitzed. It took 51 minutes before they recorded a sack of Tannehill!

Coming off the heels of what could be argued as the worst loss of the O'Brien era, or Texans history, the Texans faced on of the hottest teams in the league. They managed to keep their L-W-W pattern alive despite almost tripping themselves. On of the better moves O'Brien made was pulling Chris Clark and inserting Roderick Johnson at right tackle early on in the game. He also made several questionable calls as well. This game wasn't as close as the score indicated in my opinion. The Titans got two turnovers from the Texans in scoring position and a couple big plays that lead to scores. If the Texans can stop shooting themselves, they might actually have a shot at making a run in the playoffs. The Bucs and their vertical passing attack present more of a test for their beleaguered secondary and invisible pass rush.

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Mattress Mack and the Astros host Pearland Little League at Wednesday night's game. Photo by LittleLeague.org

Sure, it’s impressive that the Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting Aug. 17 in South Williamsport, PA.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a 5-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70-mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record was Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. Born in the U.S.A. came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing. The executive asked why not? Well, you might want to listen to the words. Born in the U.S.A. is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly Yankee Doodle Dandy. You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year). The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is considered a slur for Asians).

Later I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA. I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

Play Centerfield by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

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