FALCON POINTS

The 5 most embarrassing losses of the Bill O'Brien era

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Sunday's loss to the Broncos was a complete embarrassment. During the Bill O'Brien era, there have been no shortage of losses like this. Narrowing it down to five was not easy. Let's take a look back at the Hall of Shame:

No. 5: Ravens 41, Texans 7, Nov. 17, 2019

The Texans went into Baltimore on a nice roll, hoping to get a huge win and get themselves in position for a first-round bye. From the first possession, when Deshaun Watson had a terrible turnover, the Texans looked like a bad high school team. They had no answer on defense for Lamar Jackson, and the offense was unable to do anything. The Ravens are the best team in the AFC, so the shame level on this one is not as bad, but the effort (or lack thereof) in such a big game makes this one an easy addition to the list.

The next week: The Texans bounced back and beat the Colts in a Thursday night game 20-17.

No. 4: Falcons 48, Texans 21, Oct. 4, 2015

This game was an embarrassment from the beginning. As in many of these losses, they gave up a touchdown on offense early, were down 28-0 at the half and 42-0 at one point before adding some pointless garbage time points, another common theme in the losses. For O'Brien, it proved his team "didn't quit." In real life, it was a complete dismantling and the late scores were meaningless stat padders.

The next week: The dropped a 27-20 home game against the Colts.

No. 3: Dolphins 44, Texans 26, Oct. 25, 2015

Another where you can ignore the final score. The Texans were down 41-0 at one point and were dominated by Lamar Miller. The worst part? In his quest to make the score look better, O'Brien left Arian Foster in the game late, and he suffered a season ending injury. It was a dumb move to mask how unprepared the Texans were. In all of these games, the Texans were not ready, got in huge early holes, had poor game plans, and looked like they did not belong on the field. This was one of the worst.

The next week: They beat the Titans and reeled off four straight wins.

No. 2: Broncos 38, Texans 24, Dec. 8, 2019

The Texans were down 31-3 at halftime and never had any chance. They added 21 garbage time points to make the score look better, but make no mistake, this was a complete dismantling. As in all the other games, they were clueless on both sides of the ball and looked completely overmatched by a team that was 4-8 coming in and was starting a rookie QB. For a team that had high aspirations, the loss was a complete joke and was the kind of game that makes you question whether or not they can even make the playoffs. Leaving Deshaun Watson in to make the score look better was typical O'Brien and completely ridiculous.

The next week: They play at Tennessee in a game that could knock them out of the division lead.

No. 1: Chiefs 30, Texans 0, Jan. 9, 2016

Hopes were high as the Texans had a home playoff game. The hopes ended on the opening kickoff as the Chiefs returned the initial kickoff for a touchdown. Quarterback Brian Hoyer threw four picks, and who can forget the brilliant idea to have J.J. Watt run the wildcat? The thing that stands out about this game and the Baltimore loss? No empty points at the end to make it look better. In fact, no points at all.

The next week: There wasn't one. They were ousted from the playoffs.

The common thread

In every case, the Texans entered with a bad game plan, got in massive holes, and never had any chance, and O'Brien had no answers. Good teams play bad games all the time, but how often do they look completely unprepared and never have an opportunity? In every one of these games, you knew they were beaten by the second quarter. O'Brien has too many of these clueless efforts on his resume. Will they bounce back next week? History says yes, but after Sunday, do you have any faith in that?

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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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