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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Cristian Javier has proven he's a quality starting pitcher. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The 2022 regular season is nearing its end and while for the Houston Astros the true test will begin in the postseason, now is a good time to look ahead at what the team’s starting rotation could look like in 2023.

The big question will be whether long-time ace Justin Verlander returns to the team. Heading into 2022, there was doubt whether he would even be with the Astros coming off Tommy John surgery. Verlander re-signed with Houston on a two-year deal with a player option for 2023.

His production in 2022 has been nothing short of sensational. Verlander has the most wins for the Astros with a week left in the season. He has a 1.82 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 5.2 wins above replacement. More importantly for both Verlander and the Astros, is that he has played in 26 games and counting this season.

Whether Verlander remains with the Astros will likely depend on whether Houston is willing to spend. It is highly likely Verlander opts out of his player option following the strong 2022 campaign he has put together and looks for a bigger payday. Houston has shown it is not afraid to let key players walk in the offseason, so let’s take a look at a potential rotation with and without Verlander.

If the 39-year-old, who will be 40 by the time the 2023 regular season starts, stays with the Astros, he will undoubtedly be either the No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher in the rotation along with Framber Valdez, who is right behind Verlander in wins this season at 16. If Verlander leaves, Valdez should be the new Astros ace at No. 1.

Behind those two should be pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who in seven games in 2022 has a 2.38 ERA and has cooled the concerns about his right flexor tendon strain being a long-term concern. He suffered the injury last postseason.

After those three, things begin to get interesting. Let’s say Houston opts to stay with a six-man rotation. The fourth starter could be Luis Garcia, who has a 3.90 ERA in 2022. The 25-year-old has shown he is more than a capable starter for the Astros.

The big question is if Hunter Brown can lock himself a spot in the rotation. Numbers wise, he makes a solid case to be more than Houston’s fifth starter as he has garnered 1.13 ERA through four appearances and two starts.

Brown’s starts have been against the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, so there is a bit of a caveat there, but the upside undoubtedly should put him in the conversation for a starting role in 2023.

If Verlander leaves Houston, it should be more of a guarantee that a spot in the rotation as a starter for Brown is locked. Another factor in whether Brown is a starter could be if the Astros keep Dusty Baker as manager. Baker has shown at times he is willing to side with veterans over younger talent.

Other factors in Brown’s role will also be Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier. Urquidy has a 3.88 ERA in 28 games, all of which have been starts. Javier has a 2.65 ERA in 29 appearances, 24 of which have been starts.

Javier’s role for the Astros the last couple of years has involved starting and coming out of the bullpen, but this season he has shown that he is a capable starter. Based on this season’s play, Javier should have the edge for a starting spot, which leaves the question, what should the Astros do with Urquidy?

If Verlander walks, and Houston opts to keep a six-man rotation, then he just slides in and becomes starter No. 6. If Verlander stays, then is he willing to accept a role out of the bullpen, or do the Astros continue to use Brown out of the bullpen? Over the course of the season, both Brown and Urquidy will undoubtedly have chances to start throughout 2023.

Because of the long grind of an MLB schedule, the Astros should not trade whoever doesn’t get a starting role if Verlander stays, but how likely is it that it is even a problem for Houston? Regardless of who leaves or stays, the Astros should also continue with a six-man rotation because over the course of 162 games, it is what is best for your starters.

If the Astros bring back general manager James Click, based on how the Astros have seen players like George Springer and Carlos Correa walk in the past under his leadership, it is likely Verlander leaves Houston, but at the same time, many didn’t believe he was going to be back at all for 2022.

One thing is for sure, the Astros have a great problem to have. So many starting pitcher candidates, many of whom can be under team control for several years. So even if Verlander walks, an unforeseen injury happens, or a player ends up being disgruntled, Houston has more than enough flexibility to remain among the American Leagues’s best.

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