Houston Texans: (Almost) Full Circle

9755214-tom-savage-nfl-jacksonville-jaguars-houston-texans-850x560

The Brock Osweiler experiment is officially over paused for the time being. After a promising pre-season and decent start, we’ve all held our breath, patiently waited (okay, maybe not) and hoped that Osweiler would grow and improve throughout the season. He offered sporatic glimmers of hope – the 4th Quarter of the first Colts game, the overall play in anti-Texans Mexico City, but his regression has superceded those tiny spurts of growth, and came to an ugly head with back-to-back interceptions against a last place in the AFC South Jacksonville Jaguars, with the season on the line.

Enter Tom Savage, the Texans only QB draft pick of the O’Brien era (taken in the 4th round, with a compensatory pick – 135th overall – in 2014). The perennial back-up who was too green for 2014, mistakenly placed on IR due to a 4-6 week injury in 2015, and who is a large question mark himself moving forward. He’s the QB that most people forget when scolding the Texans management for not drafting a QB in 2014 (or 2015, or 2016, even though the latter 2 years would cost too many draft picks). He’s the QB who, because he has not started yet, most people disregard as anything more than a back-up.

He’s also the QB who received a lot of buzz before the 2014 draft. He’s the QB who went from off-the -radar to hottest and highest-climbing QB in the 2014 draft. I also discussed him at length during the offseason here. His overall mechanics have been compared to Troy Aikman. His quick-release of the ball has been compared to Tom Brady. He’s got possibly the strongest arm coming out of the 2014 draft, and has had 3 years to improve his mechanics. So, why has it come down to the 16th week in his 3rd season as a Texan to give him his 1st start of his NFL career?

One of the reasons is that he was under-developed out of college, due to his murky path. He won the Rutgers starting job as a true freshman, and was named on the All American Freshman Team by the Football Writers Association of America. The following year, he was sidelined by a hand injury early on, and QB Chas Dodd took over starting duties for the remainder of the season based on his early success at the role. This prompted Savage to put in a transfer to the University of Arizona. Per NCAA rules, he was red-shirted for the 2011 season (his third year of college football).

His path then got a little bumpier. Arizona Head Coach Mike Stoops, whom Savage wished to play for, was fired mid-season, and Rich Rodriguez was named Head Coach for the 2012 season. Rodriguez’s game plan of a run-oriented spread offense was an offense Savage felt he did not belong in, and it was likely that Rodriguez would make his own starting QB selections counter to the previous coaching staff. Once again, Savage put in a transfer – this time to the University of Pittsburgh. He originally applied for a hardship waiver to head back to Rutgers, but this was denied.

After transferring to Pittsburgh, Savage was again red-shirted for a second consecutive season (now entering his 4th year in college football, but only having played barely a seasons-length of full games). Savage was finally named starter (and was able to hit the field in a game after 2 1/2 years) for Pittsburgh in 2013, and halfway through his final season in college, people began to take notice. 2013 was inarguably his best year, and he finished with 2,958 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, and a 138.2 rating. He then ascended into NFL draft status.

After having been out of play for 2 1/2 seasons, Savage found the stride that got him drafted on an NFL team. However, sitting those 2 1/2 season made him lack experience necessary to be considered as more than a development project instead of immediate starter. His jumping around to 3 different colleges put his work ethic into question. However, his mechanics could not be completely ignored. So, the Texans drafted him in 2014, and he’s been in development mode since. Had he not been designated for IR in 2015, we’d likely know what we have in Savage.

Now that we’ve shown his path thus far, one could also ask why he wasn’t considered for the starting position over Osweiler in 2016? This is easier to walk through. Osweiler had decent starting experience under his belt, and should have been able to hit the ground running for 2016. The Texans wanted a QB that could take them to a good playoff run, and a former backup with no starting experience was too risky for that move. It wasn’t because Savage wasn’t good enough. He simply had no experience in the NFL, and the best bet was to get experience.

By the way, as much as we love to hate it, the Osweiler signing wasn’t a bad gamble. He is set to be paid 2nd tier QB pay for the next 2 years, and that is it. He was, believe it or not, the best FA QB available, and the Texans would have had to give up too much in a draft to get a top prospect. Let’s not forget how QB-starved the NFL has been in recent years. Management did what they could and made a smart choice, but it didn’t pay off. This happens. It particularly stings the Texans because of the consistent QB struggles, but sometimes players simply don’t work out.

Fast-forward to present day, and the Texans have a new named starter, and some renewed hope in getting to the postseason.

Now, fans, I know we’re all frustrated but let me make one thing perfectly clear: Savage is green. He’s getting his 1st start on Saturday vs the Bengals. He will make mistakes. He will hopefully learn from them, but he still has a road to development as a starting QB. So please don’t boo him if he does something wrong. In fact, let’s stop the whole booing our hometeam nonsense. I don’t know what you think that accomplishes, I guarantee it doesn’t help the game, players, or circumstances. It’s unsportsmanlike, pathetic, and embarrassing to see our home crowd booing our home team.

So stop it. Right now.

As we head into the final 2 games of the season, let’s stand behind our team and support them. 12th man isn’t a myth; it’s a part of the game. In times like this where our team is struggling, and needs that extra support, let’s give them that, instead of booing them. Cheer for Savage. Be aware this is his 1st career start. Understand that, in the next 2 games, he will make mistakes. NO. BOOING. And let’s sit back, buckle up, and prepare for the final stretch. And let’s make sure we take the time to cheer on our rivals down in Jacksonville. Just for a day.

Houston Cougar Football: No Loyalty

1024x1024

Warning: This is not the article you think it is, or want to read, but it’s the article you need right now.

Take a good look at this picture. This was taken during the 2nd home game ever to be played at TDECU stadium on September 6, 2014. Granted, this was the 2nd home game after a disappointing inaugural TDECU stadium loss, under HC Tony Levine. I understand. I feel you. The Levine years were lackluster after Sumlin. Oh, let’s be honest – after Case Keenum. Let’s be honest – Sumlin was always propelled by a QB someone else picked.

But this picture –  I want it seared in every UH alumni and fan’s mind over the next few months. This picture represents a primary issue for Cougar football. Not the one and only – that whole non-power conference thing is hard to shake – but it does make an uncomfortable statement about this college football organization. We don’t show up unless we’re promised wins. And I’m sorry, but that’s not gonna cut it.

We do have a loyalty problem, but it starts at home.

We shouldn’t, either. The last 3 seasons have given UH fans and alumni a record of 18-3 at home. This season capped off a 15 home game winning streak that began in 2014. If you’re headed to a game at TDECU on any given Saturday (or Thursday, from time to time), you’re likely to celebrate a victory. But, that hasn’t filled seats. It has allowed for an inaugural season average attendance of less than 30K in a 40K capacity stadium.

Upon being hired for 2015, Coach Herman threw out the challenge for the city to start showing up for the team. In his 1st year, that average attendance record slightly increased to almost 34K (primarily boosted at the end of the season), but Herman was still begging for fans to show up in November. This season opened up with sellout games, and an average attendance record boost to almost 39K, but after the Navy loss, empty seats were abundant.

Fans, alumni, Houston – we can’t keep doing this. It’s an insult to the school, players, and city. It’s an insult to the students who voted for a student fee in overwhelming numbers to help fund the new stadium. It’s an insult to donors like the Yokubaitis family, who pledged $10 million for the project. It’s an insult to the school’s largest cheerleader and donor the school’s ever had in Tilman Fertitta who is putting his name behind this school’s athletic program’s future.

Yeah, I know. Remember Hofheinz. But also remember that donors get things done. Credit should be given where it is due, and both Chancellor Dr. Rhenu Khator and Chairman Tilman Fertitta have worked tirelessly to bring the school not only into the 21st century in general, but to establish upgrades in athletic facilities required to even be able to compete and draw a spotlight from the NCAA. And their work has only begun.

Have faith in this board of regents who has brought along the likes of Sumlin and, even better, the most coveted HC in college football today – Mr. Tom Herman. They’ve done it before and they’ll do it again. We’re not going to see another Levine era open up because of Herman’s departure. Cougar football was still being built, and that’s why they stuck with Levine. Where we’re at now is an on-the-cusp team that will attract talent.

For those of you upset or blindsided by Herman’s departure – we should have seen this coming. As soon as the doors closed on the possible Big 12 expansion, we should have known Herman’s days were numbered. It’s not his fault, either. He outgrew the team as soon as those doors were closed. Sad, but true. If you wanna be mad, I don’t blame you, but be mad at the system. Don’t be mad at Herman.

If you wanna preach loyalty, then let’s see it. In fact, I wanna see caps and shirts next time I’m out milling around in Houston. I wanna see fans stop in and get a shirt, or a sticker, or a pennant from the book store. Or even Academy. I wanna see fans step up and put their money where their mouth is. Let’s keep attending games. Let’s keep standing behind our players. Hell, let’s start Cougar football traditions.

Let’s just start supporting our team. HTownTakeover doesn’t have to end today. Let’s keep it going. Every game, every season, win or lose. Keep looking at that half empty stadium, and declare that era to be done. That’s the loyalty we need. So let’s do it. Go Coogs!

 

Andrew Luck: Can we say it now?

r134348_576x324_16-9

I’m not usually one to kick a player while he is down (unless he’s a Cowboys player and isn’t down because of injury). I also feel that some of Andrew Luck’s bad luck this and last year has a shared responsibility (GM and HC). This year, one can comfortably say that Andrew Luck isn’t great because his team isn’t great. He’s come back from 2015 showing he can play on par with his previous non-injury seasons. But, coming into his 5th year in the NFL, and into his big contract (being the highest paid QB in NFL history, with a 6 year, $140 million contract with an $87 million injury guarantee/$47 million guaranteed at signing, which levels out to $23.3 million a year average), Andrew Luck still has a lot to prove in the NFL.

Coming back from his terrible start and later injury-laden season, Luck has shown some improvement – albeit simply getting back to his previous play. 2015 worked a number on Luck, even before he was sidelined with a shoulder injury, and then later with a lacerated kidney (knocking him out for the rest of the season). In his first 3 starts, he threw for 7 interceptions – putting him on pace for a record incerception count. After a shoulder/rib injury sidelined him for 2 games (where the Colts actually went on a 2 game winning streak), he began to show some signs of improvement (can the “he was still injured” talk. He was cleared for play, and no results came from investigating his non-status on the Colts injury reports), but still fell short of an improved year.

The question is can Andrew Luck improve from what his 4 (and coming into 5) year stint has shown? Basically, he’s played the same with little to no improvement. In his 5th year, he’s beginning to learn how to slide. He’s still not learning to back off the linebacker mentality and takes hits he shouldn’t. He makes bad throwing decisions that has led to his interception count to be one of the highest counts in the league for a starter. There is a learning process, of course, when it comes into reading the field and making better decisions. Experience leads the way here. However, Luck is coming into his 5th year and he’s barely showing any progress here. The season is still early, though, so perhaps his banged up 2015 have taught him to take fewer chances.

One argument here is Andrew Luck has been carrying the team for the past 4 years and counting. During that same tenure, he was playing with a top 10 offense for 2 years (#3 in 2014), and a top 10 defense for 2 years (and coming into year #3). Unfortunately, they all happened in different years, with 2013 being the most balanced team (#15 in offense and #13 in defense). So, Luck’s had weapons. It hasn’t been JUST him the whole time. Truth be told, if anything carried the Colts through the Luck era, it has been the consistent mediocrity coming out of the AFC South. I’ll say it – it’s the same advantage that the Texans have had in the past few years of playoff appearances (especially in 2015). Outside of the overwhelming domination of the AFC South, the Colts are 22-21 under Luck.

So stop with that talk. If Colts were in another division, Luck would not likely have a single playoff win under his belt.

Only time will tell if Luck has learned from the past 4 years in the NFL to improve on his decision-making on the field. This is where his weakness lies. You can’t argue his talent. He’s got the arm and accuracy. He’s mobile. He is a prototypical NFL QB in terms of build and talent. What he lacks is decision making skills. This is what turns a good QB into a top 5 or elite QB. Currently, Luck sits at good. He is better than average, has the natural ability to succeed in the league, and could quite possibly take any well-rounded team far into the playoffs – even all the way to the championship. What gets him to the next level is all on him, though. Not the coach. Not the team. Not even the owner. What gets him there, and what will hold him back, is him. Until that happens, we can say it: he’s overrated.

Houston Astros: the wrap-up

635795191723366199-usp-mlb-houston-astros-at-arizona-diamondbacks-76456186

Raise your hand if you spent the entire 2015-1016 off-season riding the high of meaningful baseball in October, for the first time in 10 years, in Houston. Yes, it was all of us. The Astros jumped ahead of schedule in 2015, gave an impressive showing in the postseason, and had the city chomping at the bit for a legitimate Pennant run in 2016. The front office made some moves in the off-season that seemed to trend towards tweaking the roster just enough to fix a few roadblock issues from 2015 – among those were Doug Fister for the starting rotation, and Ken Giles as the up-and-coming closer. Chris Carter was traded, and one of two promising rookies would be sent to 1st base for their debut.

Contracts were also extended to a vets, including Colby Rasmus and Tony Sipp. Both Rasmus and Sipp shined in 2015 during some rather rough patches for the rest of the team, and the hope was that they’d hold their numbers through 2016, and possibly improve upon them. Additionally, the decision was made for Gattis to eventually take back-up catching duties, which led to Hank Conger being traded off, and Erik Kratz (remember this guy?) temporarily brought in to cover while Gattis transitioned. The moves, outside of the Giles contract, were somewhat conservative, but they seemed to be the right moves to strengthen the roster overall.

Then 2016 happened. Specifically, April 2016 happened. The Astros went .292, 7-17 to start the season. We were discouraged, but didn’t outright panic because 5 more months of baseball was coming. Surely they could get back on track and still make a showing. If they pulled together and fixed the hemorrhages. Among these nasty leaks were starting rotation, bullpen, defense, and total offense (including stranding runners and bad base-running). In April, the only thing that did not completely stall was the at-bats – but you wouldn’t know because runs and RISP stranded were basically equal, which meant the line up was out of whack and not reflective of the batting.

The 1st half or May showed similar results, but a few changes that helped. The lineup was finally adjusted to reflect hitting patterns, and the Astros started winning. Even though they came back hot at the end of May, throughout June, and headed into the All-Star break, the slow start of the season was simply too much to overcome. Even though the Astros pulled within 2.5 games of the AL West lead, their inability to shake the mental block that has formed against the Rangers kept them from being a real contender for that spot. In fact, the combined April/Rangers losses for the season was 29 – that’s 18% of the total games played and almost 40% of their total losses.

Let that one sit for a minute.

Those were the two fatal blows dealt for the 2016 season. The slow start and the Rangers record. You can argue a number of things – lack of trades at the deadline, injury, poor AB production, poor pitching performances, young roster – it doesn’t matter. It comes down to 29 losses that stalled the Astros run for 2016. The Rangers spent money, both in the offseason and at the trade deadline, to make a legitimate run. The Astros didn’t. That still didn’t make the difference, however. The path to the playoffs went straight through South Oklahoma, and the Astros couldn’t get past that wall. The most inexplicable thing about this is that the Rangers didn’t even have their best games vs the Astros.

The Astros just sucked worse against the Rangers.

Neither one of these fatal blows were because of lack of trades. In fact, I’m happy the Astros didn’t bet the farm for a maybe. That’s what it was this year at the deadline – a maybe. There were already too many holes to be filled to make a meaningful trade, and then the injury bug hit. McCullers went out. Valbuena was lost. Rasmus struggled. Gonzalez spent some time on the bench. Gregerson went out. And then Keuchel. These were some pretty big injuries to deal with, along with a few Correa and Bregman misses. However, this didn’t sink the Astros. It just didn’t help. Overall, the Astros had the fewest number of injuries in the entire league. Check it out.

ct3ew9dwiaeg5jm

The impact of these injuries hit a little hard, but it was nothing that any other playoff team (outside of the Dodgers and Cubs – perhaps) didn’t roll through. It did expose the ultimate lack of depth and experience with the club, but that is what will happen with a young team. It’s part of the process, and either you have a coaching staff that can shore things up and move forward, or you don’t. The Astros don’t. Some of that has been discussed here, but both Luhnow and Hinch deserve some credit for mishandling their roster both throughout the season and especially during these injuries that hit. We’ll discuss that a bit later, though.

We can also take a look at a primary recipe for success or failure when it comes to a young roster. Since depth was one of the issues shown after the 2nd half injury, the need for the right investment in veteran players has been shown. This was a weak link for the Astros, who went with players such as Rasmus, Gomez, and Valbuena, as well as pitchers like Fiers, Feldman, Fields, Sipp, and Gregerson to get them through. There’s no star in that line up (although Valbuena did start to heat up before injury, his fielding and ABs left a lot to be desired in the first half). There’s no strong veteran leadership on the team, outside of Altuve – but as great as he is, he can only do so much.

In hindsight, the front office was a little too conservative moving into the 2016 season, fresh off the 1st postseason run since the 2005 season. Perhaps you can count this for a little inexperience all-around, with Crane being a relatively new franchise owner, Luhnow’s first stint as a GM, and, well – Hinch has been around the block. The team’s young age factors into this greatly, which is why strength is needed in veteran contracts – it gives the team a few years of overall experience, as well as depth in core positions. This season certainly doesn’t spell out disaster in the long run. It points to a learning experience for the whole club, and a great opportunity to improve on mistakes.

Dear Tom Herman, Please see this through

59c30990eb1170cf9fdae4cacb4867f5-980x480.jpg

The University of Houston Cougar football program has long been the stepping stone for coaches eager to show their coaching IQ and prowess by reshaping the program and spitting out wins that errantly bring Cougar football into the limelight. Soon after a few winning seasons and promising recruiting classes (along with promises made to new recruits about what is in store for them and their future at U of H under the program being built), and long before that fiery path cools, another power conference football program swoops in and steals that coach away.

This hasn’t always been the plight of Cougar football, but it’s the modern-day rollercoaster that most U of H alumni recalls.

We have a few strong seasons, get our hopes up, channel our excitement over the mumbles and rumors of power conference invites, and then some bigger, more powerful and wealthy football program comes crashing in like the koolaid man and extinguishes all the hype. The brilliant coach jumps ship, the program halts, and what’s left of the scorched earth policy that has become the rule of the Cougar football program is a trail of broken dreams. One may thing this is a quite dramatic display for a football program, but it’s a fact of life for today’s Cougar alumni.

And we’re getting pretty weary.

Many of us look fondly to the Yeoman and Pardee eras (in clips, articles, and youtube footage, because a growing portion of us were mere children (or worse – not even born)) and wonder, with each short era, if this one is going to be the one that takes us back. Ironically, it was the Pardee era that also broke the ground on the present landscape of the football program. In fact, since Pardee was plucked from the program in 89, U of H hasn’t seen a winning coach stick with the program for longer than four years. Art Briles set that record back in 2007, before taking off to Baylor before the season’s end.

The Art Briles decision still hurts, 9 years later.

In the interim, the program has been given a patchwork of interim coaches that can’t keep the promises of the previous program, and it leaves jilted players and fans. The players, after dedicating themselves, are left in jeopardy, not knowing if the next man up is going to have the same plan for them. Usually, the program sinks back into mediocrity after getting a taste of that cusp. Recruitment stalls, and alumni hold their breath to see if their cable provider is even going to broadcast the games in between super star head coaching recruitment.

I really don’t want to sign up for DirecTV, Mr. Herman.

Kevin Sumlin soon came knocking on the door, rescuing the team once again (during the Keenum era), and brought the program again to the brink of breaking through. Big East called, and we accepted. And then the football Big East dissolved, U of H became the charter school for the AAC, and was pitted back to the depths of achieving a perfect season in order to be nationally recognized. Once again, the head coach couldn’t be bothered to stick around for the Bowl game (literally, as he left the team without a head coach on the sideline to interview with A&M), and the program was left to die.

But you, Mr. Tom Herman, you came in to the picture last year and breathed new life into Houston and the U of H Cougar football program. You ignited the city with a fervor that hasn’t been seen since the 80’s, and continue to do so this year. We all waited with bated breath, to see if you’d take the bait and stay a while after last year’s exceptional season, and you did! Big 12 came calling, and you set out to break ground on the single-greatest recruiting class  the program has ever seen. It’s all coming together, it’s finally happening – we all thought. And still think.

But now both UT and LSU are trying to blow out our candles again.

I get it – we all do. The allure of either program is quite obvious, and the bidding war would almost be comical to watch if it weren’t such a bitter pill to swallow. And we wouldn’t tarnish your name, because either would be a well-deserved promotion for a talented head coach in the NCAA. You have more than earned that opportunity during your short tenure at U of H. But you’ve brought something magical to this school and this city. You’ve brought hope back to alumni all over the country. Your work here has channeled excitement and electricity that most of us can only be told about.

In essence, you’ve really created something special here at U of H, and we’d all really, really, really love for you to stick around to see it through. Cougar football is on the cusp again, and this time we want to break through. We’re hungry for it. Starving, even. Whatever it is, we’ll do it. We’re packing the stadium again. We’re getting involved. You’re actually forcing news coverage that has typically been dominated by UT, A&M, Baylor and a plethora of bigger, out of state schools. Even better, you’ve given a class of players the ability to reach beyond the college football syndicate.

We love the energy you’ve brought back into town. We cherish it. We want to see it endure. And we all know that it means a tenure longer than 2 years. You can build this program into a consistent winner. You can let it break through to one of the big power conferences (even if it’s not Big 12, the right suitor will come along soon enough) and give this city a long-lasting gift. This happens if you stay. If you see it through, and help us grow to that next level. We want to believe, Mr. Herman. We believe in you, so please, believe in us. Help us get there. Stay here.

Houston Texans: Buckle up

alex-smith

One quarter of the season has been played, with the Texans sitting atop the AFC South and a 2 game cushion, at 3-1. Not a bad start, with a brand-spanking-new offense and some key injuries on both sides of the ball. The offensive line is still shaky, with Duane Brown hinted at coming back this week, after his season-ending injury last season, and the defense lost their top player, JJ Watt, for the season. O’Brien has taken play-calling duties over for Godsey, who couldn’t figure out a way to use the running game’s biggest weapon, Lamar Miller, in 3 games.

The team is finally showing some flashes of greatness, stalled by some bad decision turnovers from Osweiler. Hopkins hasn’t yet been utilized to his 2015 playtime, with most of the turnovers coming off of forced passes to him. The stumbles and stalls haven’t stopped the Texans from picking up a winning record so far, and gaining that 2-game cushion on the rest of the flailing AFC South (including what shouldn’t have been such a nail-biting game against the Tennessee Titans last Sunday). Each game brings a few signs of improvement (we’re not going to talk about that one game).

The Texans have a powerhouse defense that can keep the offense in the game. Even with the loss of JJ Watt, the Texans have bounced back with other key players like Mercilus, Clowney, Cushing, and Simon, with Wilfork putting in a heck of a season so far. The CB depth is enough to keep the passing game in check (although there are still some tackling issues being settled). The offense, however, doesn’t create a march down the field with the same ease, and has had some pretty rough turnovers in the interim. And special teams is finally figuring out that you get 25 yards on a return by taking a knee.

If you’re like me, you’ve been scratching your head at the ST kickoff return game plan in the first few games of the season, considering the new touchback rule that adds 5 yards to the line of scrimmage. In at least 1 game when we’ve seen turnovers after a returning from the endzone, you’d think the Texans ST coach is crazy. They’re not alone, though. Despite the rule’s intentions of lessening the chance of injury in those rough, full velocity return tackles, returns have actually increased throughout the league. That hasn’t worked well for the Texans, though, and it looks like they’re finally getting wise to this.

But the meat of the schedule is about to start, and we’re left to wonder if they’re ready for it. The Texans are next facing the undefeated and rather mesmerizing Minnesota Vikings, who lost both Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson within a few short weeks. Despite losing their 2 top offensive weapons, they’ve managed to go 4-0 with Sam Bradford, now seemingly healthy and playing with a vengeance, without even a hiccup. Led by a top defense, the Vikings have capitalized on creating turnovers and then scoring on them, but can just as readily march down the field for a touchdown.

With Osweiler as a continuing work in progress (and I hate to break it to you, but this work in progress looks like it will be continuing throughout the season), are the Texans going to play conservatively to lessen the chance for turnovers, or keep forcing him into making better pressure decisions? I’d bet on a little bit of both. Duane Brown’s impending return will be a great help with keeping Osweiler out of such pressure situations, as it will open up the possibility of shuffling the line around to bolster it on both ends. This will open up the running game down the middle a bit more too.

That’s not likely to all click in place this Sunday, so I’d expect to see more conservative calls on offense to keep from giving the Vikings an opportunity to do what they do best – force a turnover and turn it into points. That may also mean that Hopkins will see a few more games without a target – which may work out best for him and the team in the long run. One of the keys to this offense is having limitless targets on field, and it seems to be working so far. That lingering if/when will Osweiler clean up his throws and make better decisions will decide what level the team will eventually play at this season.

Moving forward? Remain cautiously optimistic. Osweiler’s struggles with decision making under pressure are not an anomaly from a newer QB. I don’t care when he was drafted, he’s not even had a full season starting under his belt. That matters, because you don’t pick up experience to improve on the bench. He’s also got a brand new offense to work the kinks out with, as well. So, be prepared for this to be a season-long test. It should be, when you’re giving a new QB the opportunity to be the franchise QB. We’re well past the days of next QB up. It’s new territory, guys, and the rules are different.

And, at the end of the season if he doesn’t pan out, it’s really not as bad of a deal as you think. Osweiler is guaranteed for 2 seasons at 18 million per season. That’s the average pay for a starting QB in their second contract in the NFL. And if he still continues to have some of the problems under pressure, then the concentration in the free agency and draft for 2017 will beQB and o-line. He’s our guy for at least this season and next, so let’s get used to that. For the time being, recognize he’s in his 2nd year (and 1st full season) as a starter, and give him the room to improve.

Minnesota may not be a win, but it won’t mean the season is over. This won’t be an easy win for either team, and it won’t be another blow out embarassment for the Texans. I’ll put my predictions that far. What we’ll see from the Texans, hopefully, is an extension of the improvement on the running game seen last week, with some quick, up-tempo short passes to move the ball down the field. If Duane Brown returns, that puts a little more strength on the o-line (especially if Clark can slide down to RT for a few plays). I’d really like to see some movement on the o-line with Brown’s return.

Defense needs to keep being defense. They’ll have a tough time getting to Bradford, but should have some success shutting off the running game. Time to start forcing some turnovers, as well. The Vikings haven’t faced a defense like the Texans just yet, so that should shake up Bradford and co, and make them reach outside of the comfort zone. This will be another game where the defense will be counted on to carry the load, but I’ve got the confidence they can step up and do this. Secondary will have to make some leaps in this game as well, because Bradford can use his arm effectively.

And the Fuller on ST was a nice trick, but I wouldn’t use it for this game.

I predict the Texans will come out of this with their second loss, but still sitting on top of the AFC South in 1st place (and it’s quite possible to keep that same 2 game cushion). This is an early test for the readiness of the team, and it’s fine if they don’t pass. There’s still a lot of season left to improve on offense (which is the game changer), and like I said, it will take the season to vastly improve. The next few games should show whether or not Osweiler begins to make better decisions under pressure, and I’d expect him to. But if he does, and starts throwing it away, don’t scold him for that.

Sometimes, that’s all you’ve got.

In the long run, if the Texans can manage to dominate the AFC South (and currently signs point to that being quite possible) then they have some wiggle room to improve the offense overall. They’re actually quite fortunate with that this season. It’s the same circumstance that has put the Andrew Luck Colts in the playoffs practically every year, but the key difference is that the Texans have actually build a team. This next game may not be pretty, and the season may not be pretty, but it’s a season going on a learning curve that will eventually pan out.

Houston Astros: Dave Hudgens needs a new job

MLB: Houston Astros at Arizona Diamondbacks

The Astros hitting coach, Dave Hudgens, needs a new job.

Before we get out the pitchforks and place the blame solely on any shoulders, however, let’s take a look at what a hitting coach realistically does, and how this job affects the team. Typically, the hitting coach’s involvement is analyzing player at-bats in the game versus batting practice. He sees the technique used, and works with the player if there are huge discrepancies between practice and games. He also works with players to tweak performance, in the event that a player’s hitting technique declines over time. This position certainly cannot be blamed for the season – the season play was indeed a team and staff effort – but there are some numbers that I find pretty discouraging, as far as how a hitting coach can and can affect a game or player, and with Hudgens’ own track record as a hitting coach. Let’s take a look.

Dave Hudgens was hired in the 2014-2015 offseason, after being fired from the Mets organization toward the beginning of the 2014 season; his 4th year as hitting coach for the Mets. One could say his firing was a simply casualty in the organizational shake-up for the Mets that continued into last year. Many people do. However, there exists some decent evidence that the Hudgens hitting philosophy and approach (as quoted in a now-defunct chron.com article as being rather relaxed, with the simple goal to get on base no matter what) did not cut it for the Mets organization. Here’s 3 years of batting stats for the Mets (collectively) with Hudgens as hitting coach:

Batting Average

2011 – .264 (Ranked 2nd)

2012 – .249 (Ranked 10th)

2013 – .237 (Ranked 14th)

On-Base Percentage

2011 – .335 (Ranked 2nd)

2012 – .316 (Ranked 11th)

2013 – .306 (Ranked 14th)

Strikeouts

2011 – 1,085 (Ranked 13th)

2012 – 1,250 (Ranked 7th)

2013 – 1,384 (Ranked 1st)

Not great. In fact, there’s a steady decline in offense performance by the total team. Does this reflect as a negative pattern for Hudgens, or is it simply the outcome of a Mets organization that didn’t expand their purse strings in order to pick up quality players? Obviously, a hitting coach can only do so much as far as improving a team’s at-bat. Once a player gets up to the MLB, they are pretty set in player style and ability. So, we can’t expect miracles. However, as discussed above, the main goal of the hitting coach is to keep that consistency the player has shown, whether it be analyzing swinging technique, or offering tweaks when necessary.

In Hudgen’s final year as a hiting coach with the Mets, one stat was fairly noticeable – a much lower production in at-bats at home versus away. Hudgens took this split difference to the team about a week before he was fired, the stat was simply washed away as a player problem – with the home field stadium getting to the heads of the players. A mental block when playing at home. This makes some sense – there’s extra pressure to perform at home versus away, when the team is directly and primarily playing for their fan base. This could also be a fluky situation that bears no responsibility from the hitting coach. Unless there’s a pattern that begins to emerge. Let’s look at some team stats for the Astros with Hudgens as hitting coach:

Batting Average

2015 – .249 (Ranked 23rd)

2016 – .246 (Ranked 24th)

On-Base Percentage

2015 – ..315 (Ranked 16th)

2016 – .319 (Ranked 19th)

Strikeouts

2015 – 1,406 (Ranked 2nd)

2016 – 1,438 (Ranked 4th)

I’m adding one more stat, to make sense of some of these numbers

Walks

2015 – 3.02 per game (Ranked 11th)

2016 – 3.42 per game (Ranked 7th)

Of course these 2016 stats will change slighty, given there are 2 more games left in the season, but not much. What we can see is, overall, a dip in batting average, a slight rise in on-base percentage (walks being added to show one reason for that slight rise), and higher strike-out rate from Hudgens year 1 vs year 2 with the Astros. That’s only 2 years worth of stats, but it does show a similar pattern to the decline at-bat for the Mets. Also somewhat alarming to what could be a pattern developing is the Astros dip in performance at home for 2016 versus away. In 2015, the Astros had a BA/OBP of .247/.310 away vs .253/.321 at home. For 2016, the split was .255/.327 away vs .238/.311 at home. So, either the Astros have developed the same mental block of playing at home as the Mets did during Hudgens’ tenure, or Hudgens isn’t a great fit for the young, growing team.

I tend to think it is the latter, and we’ll take a look at 2 players that went into a serious decline with the Astros in 2016 to break this down. I think we all know at least one of the players we will be discussing here, and nobody really wants to bring it up – but, this player’s performance is key to uncovering what may be a big issue with Hudgens as hitting coach. The other is a player who has seen a steep decline at bat during Hudgens’ tenure as the Astros hitting coach, as well. Both are stars in the centerfield, and have struggled at bat with the Astros. So, without further adeiu, let’s take a look at the yearly stats of Carlos Gomez and Jake Marisnick, prior to working with Hudgens, during his tenure with the team and, for Gomez, after being picked up by another team.

Marisnick is finishing up his 3rd year with the Astros, and 4th year in the MLB. He’s a great asset in centerfield, with his speed and depth, but has stalled out at bat. His at-bat performance in 2015 was a primary reason, actually, for bringing in Golden Glove CF and slugger Carlos Gomez. We know how that turned out, though. But let’s specifically examine Marisnick’s at-bat stats over the 3 years he’s been with the club:

Batting Average (career: .223)

2014 – .272

2015 – .236

2016 – .204

On-Base Percentage (career: .267)

2014 – .299

2015 – .281

2016 – .253

Strikeouts

2014 – 48 (out of 51 games, .94 per game)

2015 – 105 (out of 133 games, .78 per game)

2016 – 81 (out of 116 games, .69 per game)

Marisnick’s BA and OBP both declined steadily since 2014, but hey – fewer strikeouts! Fewer strikeouts is a good thing, as it means he’s taking pitches and waiting for more pitches in the zone. However, this isn’t improving his performance at bat – at all. Here are a few more numbers to show just how much he’s declined since his 1st year with the Astros:

Hits

2014 – 47 (out of 51 games, .92 per game)

2015 – 80 (out of 133 games, .60 per game)

2016 – 57 (out of 116 games, .49 per game)

Runs Batted In (RBI)

2014 – 19 (out of 51 games, .37 per game)

2015 – 36 (out of 133 games, .27 per game)

2016 – 20 (out of 116 games, .17 per game)

Pretty terrible decline overall, especially considering Marisnick only in his 4th year in the MLB. One could argue that he’s an on-the-fence player who may not belong in the major league (if you take out his OF performance, that is), and that he had a breakout year when he came on with the Astros. This is a possibility. Or, perhaps he needs some more hands-on coaching.

Now, let’s look at Carlos Gomez. This, perhaps, is the most damning evidence that there’s some deficiency in Hudgens’ philosophy of – well, the trend seems to be get on base no matter what, especially if that means taking pitches and being walked. There has been a pretty distinct overall surge in walks for the team, and I’m not sure this is the best philosophy for a young growing team. But, I digress. Gomez stats (we’ll look at the same 3 year average, with direct splits between teams played for):

Batting Average (career: .257)

2014 – .284

2015 MIL – .262

2015 HOU – .242

2016 HOU – .210

2016 TEX – .289

On-Base Percentage (career: .312)

2014 – .356

2015 MIL – .328

2015 HOU – .288

2016 HOU – .272

2016 TEX – .367

Strikeouts

2014 – 141 (out of 148 games, .95 per game)

2015 MIL – 70 (out of 74 games, .95 per game)

2015 HOU – 31 (out of 41 games, .76 per game)

2016 HOU – 100 (out of 85 games, 1.18 per game)

2016 TEX – 35 (out of 32 games, 1.09 per game)

And further…

Hits

2014 – 163 (out of 148 games, 1.10 per game)

2015 MIL – 75 (out of 74 games), 1.01 per game)

2015 HOU – 36 (out of 41 games, .88 per game)

2016 HOU – 62 (out of 85 games, .73 per game)

2016 TEX – 33 (out of 32 games, 1.03 per game)

Runs Batted In (RBI)

2014 – 73 (out of 148 games, .49 per game)

2015 MIL – 43 (out of 74 games, .58 per game)

2015 HOU – 13 (out of 41 games, .32 per game)

2016 HOU – 29 (out of 85 games, .34 per game)

2016 TEX – 16 (out of 32 games, .50 per game)

Aaaaaaannnnndd 31 HRs for MIL in 2014-2015 (.14 per game), 9 HRs for HOU in 2015-2016 (.07 per game), and 8 HRs for TEX in 2016 (.23 per game). Gomez virtually falling off the radar during his short stint on the Astros roster is pretty telling. We can bring up that he had some injury issues during this time (he did – with a stint on the DL for a knee injury in 2015, as well as a stint on the DL for something (although it seemed like more of a timeout) in 2016. But, the sharp jump in performance since finding a new team in 2016 can’t be ignored.

While 2 players can’t tell the whole story (since perhaps Marisnick had his peak, and Gomez simply struggled with injury), we can also look at Chris Carter’s stats – which made a measurable dip in 2015 before being sent off to MIL to resume his high strike out/high HR performance. Feel free to take a look at his 2014-2016 stats here to see for yourself. It’s rather telling. And honestly, if you have taken a look at Gomez as a Ranger, his AB presence is night and day (and you can check out his full AB history, and the dynamics and tweaks made to boost his overall slugging performance here).

Perhaps we can still say that coaching staff doesn’t make or break the team, but there seems to be no denial that the hitting coach (specifically) can either help boost or stall a team. For the Astros, the stats point to him simply not being the right fit for the young, growing team (and his history as a hitting coach and slight patterns emerging point to the possibility that he’s not right for the MLB, period). What if we did have someone who took the time to work on Gomez and his swing this year, and he ended up hitting for the Astros like he now is hitting for the Rangers (killing it, by the way)? Would that make a 4-5 game difference and put the team into the playoffs? Probably. Would that have made a difference in a few of the 27 games lost by 1 run or extra innings? You betcha.

With the Astros 2016 season winding down with no playoff spot, and a slightly worse record than 2015 (even if they win the last 2 games, they’ll still be a game under last season’s record), it’s quite possible that there will be some changes to the coaching staff, along with the necessary changes on the roster. All the coaching positions (as well as management) need to be scrutinized at this point, and Hudgens seems like the weakest link on the coaching staff. There may be more (and we’ll get into that in the next week), but the team’s overall offensive decline cannot be ignored – especially the stalled out veteran player whose hitting technique suddenly improved with a 258 mile northern migration. What also cannot be ignored is the emerging pattern in Hudgens as a hitting coach with 2 different teams, with both teams suffering a decline AB during his tenure.

 

 

Houston Texans: How Belichick emasculated O’Brien

0518145001451334142_filepicker

It began Monday morning, but we didn’t realize it. Reports that Garoppolo would sit the game out, 3rd string rookie Jacoby Brissett would start his 1st NFL game. Back up to Brissett would be WR, once QB in college Julian Edelman. He didn’t even bother the insurance of a FA QB signing in the interim. For once, Bill Belichick did not hide his game plan for the short week and Thursday night game, and this game plan told the story of what we saw unfold last night.

On Monday Belichick’s actions said, without saying a word, we don’t need to prepare for the Texans; the Texans need to prepare for us. It was a call to the Texans, and a challenge to Bill O’Brien. It was cocky, insulting, and downright genius. And it got in their heads. Belichick, with that small, yet bold, move, won the game before it even started.  And none of us realized it until the Texans hit the field and started crumbling before our (and the nation’s) eyes.

In those three days – that short week to prepare for the Patriots game Thursday night, it’s hard to really see exactly what the Texans did to prepare. Granted, they were at the slight disadvantage, having to face a rookie QB with half a game’s worth of NFL film on him. To the Texans advantage, however, they were facing a rookie QB in the 1st start of his professional career, so simplified play-calling to this rookie QB’s strengths would likely be the game plan.

Through most of the 1st half, this is exactly what we saw from the Patriots on offense. Conservative plays, ball protection, and limited drives. Enough to manage the game, protect the young QB, and eliminate turnovers. Enough to take Texans strongest weapon – the front 7, out of the game. On defense, all they had to do was cover receivers. That’s it. The Texans o-line destroyed everything else, as well as Godsey’s terrible usage of Lamar Miller. Their game plan was simple, and almost relaxed.

After that relatively simple prepwork, all the Patriots had to do was to sit back and watch the Texans defeat themselves; overcompensating for how little Belichick and the Patriots took this match up seriously. Because that’s pretty much how predictable the Texans play-calling has already become this season. And defeat themselves they did. The bonus for the Patriots was the lousy Texans special team play, which allowed the Patriots to not only defeat the Texans, but humiliate them on National TV.

The good news out of this is that the Texans have a good core of veteran players that don’t give up, and can lead their team. This is 1 game, and 1 loss. The better news is that this core group usually comes back steaming mad and ready for revenge when they have a terrible game like this (see Falcons and Dolphins games in 2015). The best news is that the team has upgraded their talent since 2015, and the team and staff have a long week to start working to fix these issues.

The bad news is that our special teams unit has not improved over last year. Tyler Ervin has shown, in his special team appearances, that he may not be ready for the pros just yet. Charles James II has no margin for error moving forward. The whole unit needs to make some drastic improvements, and rely on conservative play in the interim. THIS MEANS TAKING THE DAMN KNEE IN THE ENDZONE. That’s 25 yards, every time. Take it. Please. We all beg you.

In the interim, Godsey’s got to take some time making plays that utilize Lamar Miller’s strengths, as it is clear that one of Miller’s strengths is NOT running up the middle. This should be obvious by watching him with the Dolphins, as well as recognizing his build. He’s got speed, use it. And use Jay Prosch on 3rd and short. That’s why he’s on the roster. The stalled running game needs to be worked out immediately – like in this long week ahead in preparation for the Titans.

Onward and upward.

Houston Astros: Limping towards the finish line

Correa nets 22nd Homerun of the Season

Okay, before we talk about the latest Astros struggles, let’s just do this and get it out of our systems.

SCREW YOU, JIM JOYCE!

Okay. I feel better, how about you? No? Well, a collective anger isn’t going to change yesterday’s game, so it’s best to move on and focus on the remaining 22 we have in the season. We can be mad at Jim Joyce, who obviously learned physics differently than the rest of us, or his officiating crew who not only couldn’t see a ball hit the dirt then shoot up toward the area of the checked-swing bat then magically do a 100 degree change in trajectory and bounce off into foul territory, but couldn’t hear the distinct noise of a leather ball hitting wood and not dirt, or a leather glove.

Or we could be mad at arbitrary replay rules that don’t allow such blown calls to be reviewed, regardless of how clear they are, while having the ability to replay base running  ad nauseum or, even more comparatively, turn a homerun into a foul ball. I know the argument toward reviewing plays like this could lead to the want and need to scrutinize every ball that crosses the plate, but that is a hyperbolic retort if that is being used. In calls like this that lead to runs scored, review should be allowed. That’s precisely how the rule should be changed, too. Questionable calls involving runs scored, and leave it there.

Or course this will likely upset MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who is already looking for ways to keep the average baseball game from hitting 3 hours (hint: 1 less commercial per break will solve this, Manfred. Seriously – I don’t think any of us need any advertisement reminder from the MLB or our respective teams during the game we are actually watcing. We’re pretty self-aware of our role as fans, in that regard. Considering we’re watching the damn game). All I can say is to this is, well, deal with it. The integrity of the game shouldn’t be cheated based on time constraints.

. . .

Anyway – now that we’ve gotten that out of our systems (kind of, not really), let’s move on to the latest injury report from the roster. Carlos Correa was sent back home to Houston a few days back with an inflammation in his shoulder. He is currently day-to-day, as with his previous ankle sprain, but will be held out of the lineup for a third consecutive game vs the Chicago Cubs tonight at Minute Maid Park. This is slightly worrisome, but with Alex Bregman heating up at bat, and Yulieski Gurriel coming into his own and effectively covering 3rd base, this isn’t as bad as the starting rotation struggle.

Starting ace Dallas Keuchel is still out of the rotation with shoulder inflammation, Lance McCullers is just beginning to start throwing from his DL stint, Collin McHugh continues to be unpredictable McHugh, Mike Fiers has somewhat straightened up enough to start winning games again and staying out on the mound for more than 3 innings, and Fister is sliding downhill fast. Then we have the 2 rookies, Joe Musgrove and David Paulino, who both would clearly benefit more this season from developing in the bullpen with a few stints in the starting rotation, instead of being thrust in, due to injury.

And then the real tragedy is PCL Pitcher of the year and latest call-up to the roster, RHP Brady Rodgers, who has been a disaster in his first 2 games in the MLB, with a total of 9 hits, 10 runs scored in 1.2 innings (5 runs in each game played), and an embarrassing ERA of 54.00. I’m sure he’ll eventually even out, but he’s not someone that the Astros need in the bullpen for the final 22 games of the season. The Astros are already carrying 18 pitchers on the active roster (including 7 SR and 11 BP), which is at least 2 more than the average. Rodgers is a waste on the roster in September, plain and simple.

What I’d rather see, instead of carrying dead weight in an already robust bullpen, is a final shot for AAA Fresno 1st Baseman Jon Singleton.

Before you react, hear me out. You may think I am clearly insane for suggesting the call up of a once highly-touted but recently fallen from grace (but still has potential) 1st baseman that was beat out by 2 other 1st basemen who have stunk in the MLB this season. After all, he’s been less than impressive overall this season with the Fresno Grizzlies, but his averages have been pretty great (especially his slugging and on base percentage) facing RHPs. He can handle the fielding at 1st base (which was never the issue), and can be used in a pinch hitting situation.

He wouldn’t be a savior by any means, and he’d be getting this last-ditch effort in the MLB for the Astros no doubt, but he’s being paid and he would be a fresh player for a week or two.  He’d be a good strategy substitution in late innings with weaker bullpens, and with RHPs who struggle with lefties at bat. Whether we trust Hinch to be able to pull off those strategic moves is another conversation, but we’d at least be giving him the ammunition needed going into the final few weeks of the season. If we’re going to carry some relative dead weight on the roster, we may as well exercise all our options.

I’d honestly rather see Devenski bumped up to the starting rotation in place of Musgrove, but it seems that Hinch has got him firmly stenciled in as the mid-long relief once Musgrove, Paulino (although it’s too soon to tell), McHugh, Fiers, or even Fister putter out in the 3rd-5th innings. It could be a gamble to take a solid long reliever out of the BP (and is also why the Astros are carrying extra weight in the BP), but it’s an equal gamble to leave him there so he can minimize runs in a game already lost. That doesn’t sound like it is going to happen, so I defer to the why the hell not option, above.

Whatever is done in these last few games, one thing seems certain. The club’s going to have to find out a way to win 16 of the last 22 games. That gives the team 90 wins and a shot at the WC (taking the averages of both the Orioles and the Tigers). That means 6 more losses where the Astros will face 3 playoff contenders in 12 games. In order to get there, the Astros have to play perfect baseball. They have to get by the next 6 games against the NL 1st place Cubs and the AL 1st place Rangers with at minimum 1 win per club, and pull off series wins in the remaining games against the Mariners, Athletics and Angels.

Your move, Hinch. Make it count.

Houston Texans:The time is now

920x920-1

The 2016 NFL season is here, and with that brings a new and (hopefully) improved Houston Texans squad.

In the off-season, Head Coach Bill O’Brien heavily bulked up the offense during the 2016 NFL Draft, drafting and subsequently signing 4 out of 6 offensive positions (primarily WR/RB, and a necessary C to replace defector dearly departed Ben Jones) to add speed and versatility to a Texans offense that has struggled for years. The primary struggles were an ineffective QB, combined with a nearly non-existent passing game, and littered with constant running game injury. To summarize, the Texans offense has been largely one-dimensional, over-utilizing either/or since 2013.

In the pre-season, fans were dazzled (at times) with a promising starting QB with Brock Osweiler, a prolific WR corps, as well as some surprising TE production on offense, but very little showing for the running game.  Special teams came out and showed some notable structure and improvement, with a huge nod to new ST coach Larry Izzo. We also saw some intermittent struggles with the once-again heavily limping offensive line, as well as some customary missed blocked and tackles in the defense secondary. Most of this tightened up with each preseason game, and necessary cuts were made all around.

This had both fans and beat writers at odds with the new squad, wondering if we are going to face another year with a largely one-dimensional offense. Passing plays and attempts were made nearly 2-1 versus running, which made the RB corps seems slightly anemic. However, we can calm those fears by simply looking at all the roster moves in the off-season. The first, and biggest, news is signing Lamar Miller in the free agency. He’s an outstanding all around RB, who was brought in to replace Arian Foster. He wasn’t utilized much in the preseason because his history in the NFL speaks for itself.

This left primarily seasoned RBs and a single drafted rookie RB to compete for the 53. Among those were seasoned vets Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes, who essentially had to maintain their performance from previous years, 2nd season players Kenny Hilliard and Akeem Hunt, who had to show necessary improvements to justify a spot on the squad, and newly drafted rookie Tyler Ervin, who was specifically brought in for his speed and depth on both offense and special teams. What this translates to is 2 players trying out, and 1 player justifying why he was drafted.

On the other end, the Texans brought in 2 WRs in the draft, signed an additional 4 undrafted free agents, with 5 WRs already signed to compete for 5 spots on the roster, or a place on the practice squad. Additionally, an undrafted free agent TE was brought in, and specific priority was given to the TE corps which has been perpetually anemic since the loss of Owen Daniels in 2013 to see if O’Brien’s eventual goal to heavily utilize TEs could start coming to fruition. This still has yet to be seen, but undrafted FA Stephen Anderson has already made a name for himself among the Texans TEs.

Will this be enough to give the Texans a legitimate run this season? Only time and the upcoming season will tell. One notable deficiency and area of concern heading into the season is the offensive line. 2nd round draft pick C Nick Martin, who was penciled in as starter as soon as his draft number was called, suffered a season-ending ankle injury and underwent surgery to repair a high ankle sprain was a big blow to the line.  Additionally, T Duane Brown and Derek Newton’s injuries brought on a patchwork o-line in the preseason that struggled to hold a pocket for Osweiler at times.

The good news (I guess) is that Derek Newton is slated to start in the season opener, and Duane Brown has been put on the active roster, meaning that while there has been no timetable set for return, it’s likely that Brown will return within the first 3-4 games since the front office didn’t find it necessary to put him on the PUP list (which would mean 6 weeks, at minimum). Other good news is the return of DE JJ Watt. While it’s unknown how limited Watt will be, he is slated to start in the season opener as well, after an offseason in which basically Watt’s entire lower half was reconstructed.

With the free agency signings, draft picks, current news with injury, along with the preseason performance of a newly-enhanced offense, the Vegas odds for the Texans to reach the Super Bowl have jumped from 40-1 in April to 16-1 in September.  This was the biggest offseason jump for any team considered to be a legitimate contender moving into the 2016-17 season. That’s promising. Looking at the season opener with a Chicago Bears squad that didn’t do much to bolster their roster in the offseason, analysts have pretty much unanimously given favor to the Texans.

My opinion is we should go with that, cast all doubt and worry aside, and let the team prove the hype. Osweiler has something to prove, and he showed us this in the preseason. Hopkins, Fuller, and Braxton Miller are ready to show the kind of versatile threat we want them to be. Lamar Miller is itching to have his breakout season.Special teams is streamlined and disciplined, and ready to be a productive side on the field, and the whole of the defense is ready to rank back up as a top 3 defense. I think they will. So, sit back, buckle up, and let’s all get ready for some football!