O'Brien's clock issues rear their ugly head again

Wasted time on clock while Stills wastes none

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

3 Headlines, 2 Questions, and 1 Bet on the Texans after their first victory of 2019.

Tighten it up on time

After the game Sunday Bill O'Brien didn't initially address the issues at the end of the half.

"Again, we had a couple of plays there that we wanted to call," he said. "We called all three or four of them, I think, and we felt like we were in good shape there to have a chance to score a touchdown there on the catch by Kenny (Stills) down at the 2-yard line. He was a little short of where we thought maybe he would be. We had another good play there, good little red area play, just didn't get the right coverage there and made a decision to kick the field goal."

Later after he was pressed further he declined the notion they should have used timeouts to preserve time on the drive but did indicate he believed they could tighten up getting into plays.

Monday he explained they they have to work on all their tempos and that they all go at different speeds.

Here are the plays and times after the two-minute warning.

01:55 - Jordan Akins is tackled after picking up a first down. Watson got under center at 01:26 left on the clock.

01:20 - Carlos Hyde is whistled down after a five yard gain.

00:51 - Watson takes a snap and is incomplete downfield to Keke Coutee

00:40 - DeAndre Hopkins is whistled down after a first down catch. The Texans snap the ball at the 00:22 mark and Watson scrambles for a short gain where they use their first timeout at 00:16.

As you can see here with two timeouts leftover when they headed to halftime the Texans burned quite a bit of clock. Two segments of almost 30 seconds and another 20 seconds later. Ultimately when they only get one play in the red zone, and it isn't the look they expected or wanted and it doesn't go for points, they cost themselves by not using timeouts.

This is again an issue with O'Brien and his ability to manage the clock. He lets time tick off here for little gain. Yes, they might like the personnel on the field and a timeout gives Jacksonville a chance to matchup with the Texans but it also gives the Texans more opportunity to score a touchdown rather than a field goal.

Cunningham shines

Zach Cunningham played his tail off against the Jaguars. He was the most impressive defender outside of Whitney Mercilus and there is a solid argument he was more effective. He totaled nine tackles and got home on a sack of Gardner Minshew.

O'Brien praised Cunningham's performance.

"He played a great football game," O'Brien said. "He was all over the place.

Debuts in the books at three key spots

First round pick Tytus Howard, wideout Keke Coutee, and Roderick Johnson made their season debuts.

Coutee had little impact from a stat sheet catching two of his four targets for just seven yards. O'Brien called him rusty and he is still working back from a preseason injury that caused him to miss time. Kenny Stills has been a useful player and allowed the Texans to play around with the alignment of Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins.

Howard and Johnson were new starters on the offensive line and played decent. Howard was called for a tripping penalty that O'Brien said he agreed with that wiped out a big play. The right side allowed two of the sacks with Johnson whiffing on a block of Myles Jack. The other sack allowed was when a defensive back split Johnson and Fulton for a clear shot at Deshaun Watson.

Overall there are higher expectations for Coutee going forward than what we saw Sunday. If he can knock the rust off in a hurry the Texans wideouts will be nasty.

Howard and Johnson need to continue to grow in their roles. Johnson wasn't an absolutely clear upgrade over Seantrell Henderson but Howard is better than any other option at left guard right now.

Where's the yellow?

One minute in on the above video you can hear J.J. Watt's frustration with the way he has been officiated this season. He will likely get fined, and he was ok with it he said, but there certainly could be more laundry on the field when looking at Watt's play.

Watt has had a slow start by every metric. He has two assists on tackles and a quarterback hit to go along with a fumble recovery. He hasn't had an easy go of things with his matchup the past two weeks. Ryan Ramczyk is one of the best right tackles in football and Jawaan Taylor was a highly-touted rookie. Watt saw more help thrown his way this week than last.

Penalties or not, Watt is off to the worst two-game start of his career. There are only two instances in his career where his two-game total production has come close to the level it has to start 2019. In 2015 he had a two-game stretch where he totaled four tackles, three QB hits, and a pass deflection. In 2017 he had a two-game run where he had just two tackles and a pass deflection but the second game was where he broke his leg and his season ended.

He has value outside of the stat sheet but soon the Texans will need something close to the typical level of Watt's production.

Stills more to offer?

The Texans newest wideout only had two catches on three targets yesterday officially but he is picking things up fast. He also had a big gain and nice play wiped away by Tytus Howard's tripping penalty.

When asked how Stills has adapted so fast O'Brien said Stills is one of the hardest workers he has seen. He said Stills gets there early and stays late to pick up what he has missed.

He's fit seamlessly and he has one of the biggest catches of the Texans run with Deshaun Watson at quarterback with his New Orleans snag from week one. I am excited to see if he can continue to be used more and get deeper into the offense.

I bet the next six weeks determine the season

The Los Angeles Chargers are next up for the Texans and after their disappointing performance on Sunday against the Lions they don't look near as daunting as they once did. They're hurt, missing starters at left tackle and sfaety, and just didn't do enough against a mediocre Lions team. That is one week after the Colts cost themselves victory over the Chargers.

After the Chargers the reeling Panthers come to town. Carolina might be 0-3 coming to NRG stadium as they have a road matchup in Arizona.

October will truly determine the Texans season.

vs Falcons

at Chiefs

at Colts

vs Raiders

The Falcons are fresh off a Sunday night success against Philadelphia. The Chiefs are one of the best teams in football. The Colts have played two playoff hopefuls tough and the Raiders aren't pushovers. This next six-game stretch could determine how much the final eight matters. 4-2 would be an incredible spot to be in for the Texans but even 3-3 over the next six should have them in striking distance of the AFC South. Can't get too far ahead though, the Chargers in Los Angeles loom this weekend.

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What do the numbers say about him? Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Carlos Correa endeared himself in the heart of Astros fans during his 2020 postseason run. He talked the talk off the field, and he walked the walk on the field. Correa slashed .362/.455/.766 in the postseason, hitting more home runs in 13 postseason games than he did in 58 regular season games. His performance has sparked discussions about whether or not the Astros should seek an extension with him this offseason.

Aside from the gaudy postseason numbers, he asserted himself as a team leader. The images and stories of Correa talking to Framber Valdez on the mound, telling Dusty Baker he was going to hit the walk off, and saying this is the most fun he's ever had playing baseball are fresh in everyone's minds.

However, that's just thirteen games out of a 667 game career (counting the postseason). The postseason games are the most important, and Correa seems to show up when the lights shine brightest, but the Astros have to assemble a team good enough to play under the bright lights for Correa to get that moment to shine. What do the numbers say about him?

Hard Hit % - 41.8%

Barrel % - 5.9%

K% - 21.8%

BB% - 7.3%

Chase % - 31.8%

(Numbers from 2020)

By the numbers, Correa didn't have the greatest regular season in 2020. He slashed .264/.326/.383 with a 97 wRC+, meaning he was 3% worse in run production that the average hitter. He was tied for 14th amongst qualified shortstops with Nick Ahmed of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Francisco Lindor (100 wRC+) was one spot ahead of Correa, while Orlando Arcia (96 wRC+) was one spot behind. His Hard Hit % was in the 65th percentile in MLB, and his Barrel % was in the 34th percentile.

His expected numbers suggest that the dip in performance wasn't a matter of bad luck. His .256 xBA is slightly worse than his actual batting average. His .406 xSLG is slightly better than his actual .SLG, but not by much. Correa had a wOBA of .305 and a nearly identical xwOBA of .306. Lastly, his .324 BABIP was actually a .021 point jump over last year, and it's a touch above his career mark of .316.

Correa likely struggled during the regular season because of a downturn in production to the opposite field. Correa pulled the ball 49% of the time in 2020. That was 16th amongst qualified hitters, and it's a complete outlier for him in his career. It was 14.4% higher than 2019, and it was 15.6% higher than his career average. In 2019, Correa had a 9% HR% on batted balls to the opposite field. He had an average exit velocity of 87.7 MPH with an average launch angle of 27°. His batting average was .368 with a xBA of .349 to that part of the field. In 2020, Correa had a 0% HR% to the opposite field (meaning he didn't hit one). He had an average exit velocity of 86.8 MPH with an average launch angle of 30°. His batting average was .382, but his xBA was .259. Keep in mind, Correa missed most of the 2019 season with injury, so the sample sizes aren't all that different (57 AB's in 2019 versus 34 AB's in 2020).

It's a similar story for the straightaway portion of the field. In 2019, Correa had an 11% HR%, 90.4 MPH avg. exit velocity, 8° avg. launch angle, .370 BA, and .424 xBA between the gaps. In 2020, Correa had a 5% HR%, 88.5 MPH avg. exit velocity, 4° avg. launch angle, .349 BA, and .362 xBA.

That all changed in the postseason.

Here is an overlay of Correa's spray charts from postseason games in which he hit home runs. Five of his six postseason homers were to center field, and three of the five to center field were on the opposite field side of second base.

Correa also made some physical changes at the plate over the course of the season, particularly late in the season, which means that the uptick in offensive performance is related to a physical change, not just some sort of ability to turn it on in the postseason. Correa mentioned that he and Alex Cintron compared video to his rookie season to look at hand positioning, and Correa started to mimic that. Then, there's the already-famed story of Correa and Cintron running to the cages mid-game to open up his shoulders and be less closed off. All of those changes are clearly visible on video.

On the left is Correa early in the 2020 season when the Astros were in San Diego playing the Padres. In the middle is Correa's first career home run in 2015. On the right is Correa's walk-off homer against Tampa Bay. There are four clear and obvious changes. First, he's holding the bat nearly straight up, which he wasn't doing at the beginning of the season. It supports Correa's claim that he and Cintron were looking at video from 2015 and trying to mirror that swing again. Then, there's the change with Correa's shoulders. In the first photo, if it weren't so grainy, you could read "C-O-R-R-E" in Correa. Same deal with the second photo, except it's even more clear. In the third photo, you can only read "C-O" which also supports the story of that mid-game adjustment with Cintron. Third, Correa has a lot less forward body lean with his torso. Correa hasn't spoken as to why he made that change, but it is probably tied to shoulder and bat orientation and helps him feel more comfortable. Lastly, Correa opened his stance, which is almost always going to help with vision.

The changes all probably help Correa feel more free when he swings. His postseason swing was much more North-and-South than East-and-West. His hands are able to work freely underneath his shoulders, and he has to do a lot less work to clear space for his hands to work. It's encouraging that the uptick in performance is clearly tied to physical work in the cage.

Correa did bring solid defense to the table as well. He's a finalist for the AL Gold Glove Award at SS along with Niko Goodrum of the Detroit Tigers and J.P. Crawford of the Seattle Mariners. Correa will likely win the award. However, the defensive metrics are mixed on his performance.

Errors don't count as an advanced statistic, but they still bring value to the table. There's a direct correlation between making errors and giving up free bases. Now, just because a player doesn't make many errors doesn't mean he's an elite defender, but it's hard to be an elite defender if you make lots of errors. Correa takes care of the baseball, as his one error was tied for the least amongst shortstops. Correa also performed glowingly by DRS (Defensive Runs Saved). His DRS of 8 was second amongst shortstops, second behind only Dansby Swanson. However, UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) had Correa at -0.7, which is below average. His OAA (Outs Above Average) of 0 roughly agrees with his UZR rating. Essentially, the numbers say Correa makes the routine plays about as well as anybody, but he isn't particularly rangy. His arm is also impressive and brings a lot to the table. Correa isn't a bad defensive shortstop by any means, he's above average, but this is probably the only Gold Glove he'll ever be nominated for, much less win.

When Correa is healthy and on his game, he is one of the most electric players in baseball. The problem is he hasn't been healthy and on his game nearly enough in his career. Over his five full major league seasons, Correa has missed 203 out of 708 games. He's been unavailable, mostly due to injury, in 30% of games over that time. That's quite a bit. The three injuries that have caused him to miss the most time are all back and torso related. The fact that the back issues have recurred is alarming, and it's something to monitor. It is really hard to be a good baseball player with a bad back. Credit to Correa, he stayed healthy for all of 2020, but it was only a 60 game season, which means there were fewer opportunities for injury. If he has another healthy season in 2021, it'll be enough to put the injury prone label to rest, but he hasn't done it yet.

And again, there's the issue of his performance being up-and-down over the years. In 2018, Correa missed 52 games due to injury, and had a wRC+ of 100, meaning he was exactly league average. That means he's been only league average or worse in two of his six big league seasons. Correa played extremely well in 2019, racking up 3.2 WAR and 143 wRC+, but he only played 75 games.

Between COVID, injury history, and streaky performance, there's too much uncertainty to give Correa a long term deal right now. However, his peaks, leadership ability, and apparent willingness to stay in Houston certainly make him a candidate for one. 2021 will be a "prove it" year for Correa, and it will go a long way in ranking him amongst the crop of shortstops hitting the free agent market after next year. Is Correa at the top of that market with Francisco Lindor, or is he at the bottom of that market with Javy Baez?

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