By NEAL FARMER
It appears there will not be an eclipse at quarterback for the Texans. At least not any time soon. People already have pushed Tom Savage off the field and sought out Deshaun Watson as the heir apparent. (All right, I did it, too.)
But Savage is not going quietly into the good night. Or softly into today’s over-hyped penumbra.
Savage was 8-for-8 against New England on Saturday. He was 8-of-9 against Carolina the week before. Watson had nifty runs, where he almost broke the ankles of defenders. But the quarterbacks in the NFL are passers first, with only a few, rare exceptions (Fran Tarkington, Roger Staubach, John Elway, Randall Cunningham, Cam Newton).
It appears coach Bill O’Brien wasn’t just blowing smoke up our butts about how well Savage has played in the preseason practices in West Virginia.
Now, there is a two-pronged question now about the quarterback position for the Texans – 1) Will the fans be adamant about bringing in Watson, the chosen one, and make Savage’s life miserable? 2) Will Houston’s offensive line be so bad that it won’t matter, because both will be injured and both will get to play? Is that good news for third-stringer Brandon Weeden?
To give you some perspective, the first two offensive series in the first practice game against Carolina last week, the Texans were stopped cold. That was the Houston first team offense against the Panthers first team defense. It was sickening that the Texans O-line was so awful. The offense only gained confidence after the Carolina first teamers were replaced by those who were fighting for their jobs.
However, against New England, the Patriots kept their defensive front intact for most of the first three quarters. And Houston outscored the Patriots (I don’t think you really “win” a preseason game).
So what does that tell us? I’m not sure, because it is the preseason. But I still do not have good feelings about how well the O-line is playing. (Duane, Duane, come back, Duane. Come back.) I was frightfully concerned after the first game, and confused about how well the O-line did in the second game. Houston’s offense apparently has made strides in one week, although I have to admit that I am not sold on the quality of the Texans O-line. The situation likely will be compounded because I think Savage tends to hold on to the ball too long before getting rid of it.
Some of it could be help from the wide receivers. Houston has its top two WRs out, and played nine receivers against New England. But the passing game was good against New England. And what about rookie RB D’Onta Foreman? He looked great. A running back who is hot can take a lot of pressure off of a quarterback.
Hopefully, as the season wears on, if Watson does eclipse Savage as the starter, it won’t just because Savage was a shadow of himself and the way he has played so far in the preseason.
ASTROS APPEAR TO HAVE RIGHTED THE PITCHING SHIP – Winning baseball playoff games is simple, but never easy: Playoff wins all start with the pitching.
True, Houston is not scoring a lot of runs lately; Hitting comes and goes. But you have to have a solid pitching foundation. And Houston’s pitching appears to be coming back.
Look at the recent games. Dallas Keuchel went seven innings in his last outing on Friday in a 3-1 win for his second good start in a row. He allowed no runs on Friday, and got his 11th victory. Sixteen of the 24 outs for Keuchel were ground outs. Since Houston did not get a starting pitcher at the trade deadline, Keuchel returning to his previous form of April-May was a must.
Keuchel had been out for eight weeks with a neck injury. But the optimist says that he is well-rested for the playoff run.
Then Collin McHugh threw well in a 3-0 shutout over the A’s on Saturday. He scattered six hits over six innings and struck out three while walking one. True, he was aided when Houston made six double-plays behind him. But only eight of 23 batters he faced reached base. He missed the first half of the season with an elbow impingement. The positive is that – stop me if you have heard this before – he is well-rested for a playoff run.
Then on Sunday, Brad Peacock, who has been a pleasant surprise, was hurt by his infield when they threw the ball around for two errors on the same play to allow two runs to score. Houston lost 3-2 to the A’s in a game it could have won without the errors. He had the worst start of the weekend – which was ironic, since he has been good all year – by lasting only 5 1/3 innings, and allowing the three runs.
Anything can happen in baseball at any time. But with this recent return of pitching prowess – remember, the bats will eventually wake up – the Astros are a slam dunk for the playoffs. And then it’s anybody’s guess what will happen after that.
SCOUTS FIRED BY ASTROS – One of the best ways I learned baseball was to sit with Major League Baseball scouts at college games when I was a sports writer at the Chronicle and ask questions. They took no prisoners and harassed me – good naturedly – when I didn’t know something. It was a tough room. But they also told me what they thought, and even pointed out when someone else disagreed with them and why. I learned quite a bit about pitching, managing and playing the game the right way. As long as I didn’t quote them. They were lifers who protected the game.
So, it bothered me to see the Astros fire at least eight scouts last week, according to an ESPN report and the Houston Chronicle. There are some great scouts in all organizations, so Houston might be in the running to get some of those people. But will they want to work for Houston after firing so many people at once?
Houston was blessed because most who follow baseball for a living feel that the Astros had either the top minor-league system or was among the best. This decision to fire them will not bear fruit for years. But I am leery about why this happened and why the decision was made.
The Astros are known for following metrics. But sometimes you have to follow a gut feeling about a prospect. And Houston had people making great decisions in place before this move.
TEXANS RELEASE VIDEO FROM NEW ENGLAND GAME – I missed some of the Texans preseason game against the Patriots because the Astros are in the playoff hunt and I watched baseball first. I wasn’t in the mood to be a flipper for a preseason game. If you did the same, here are some highlights of the football game that you may have missed: http://www.houstontexans.com/tv-media/videos/Deshaun-Watson-runs-in-a-2-yard-touchdown/4e8470ae-eef3-468b-ae8b-81b2f1fbed32
THE LAST 20 HEISMAN WINNERS RANKED BY THEIR PLAY IN THE PROS – Yes, Johnny Football is in there, too. http://newarena.com/nfl/ranking-the-last-20-heisman-winners-based-on-their-nfl-careers/?amxt=hexagram_organic_2&utm_campaign=fb_bh_rd_dt_past20_heismans&utm_source=fb_ae&utm_medium=fbdt-hexagram_organic_2&utm_term=NCAAF6
ASTROS-DODGERS?: Someone who doesn’t live in Houston thinks the Astros playing the Dodgers in the World Series would be good hardball theater.
LATE-BREAKING ON VERLANDER: Does Justin Verlander’s great outing on Sunday against the Dodgers mean he is bound for Houston? http://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/82052/verlanders-domination-of-the-dodgers-looked-like-an-astros-audition
ASTROS REMEMBER 1997: All weekend, the Astros had a tribute to the 1997 team that won its division.
CLASSICAL NOTES: Gabriel’s Oboe, from the movie, “The Mission.” By Ennio Marriconi, an Italian who is still alive, this is one masterpiece that I think you will enjoy, if you are in the mood for soft, moving music that speaks to your soul. Marriconi also is the one who wrote the music for the spaghetti westerns in the 1960s and 1970s, including “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY: I try not to break the rules, but merely to test their elasticity. — Bill Veeck, former owner of the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox
HOTTIE OF THE DAY
Would she be a package deal with Verlander?