COUNTDOWN TO THE SEASON

Cody Stoots: 11 observations from Texans-49ers preseason action

Deshaun Watson played one series. Houstontexans.com

1. Only a handful of what will likely be starters played for the Texans Saturday night. J.J. Watt, Tyrann Mathieu, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Johnathan Joseph and Benardrick McKinney were among the players held out. Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus also sat out for the defense and Keke Coutee is still out for the offense.

2. Deshaun Watson was in for one series leading the Texans on a scoring drive. His first pass was a quick decision to Bruce Ellington who took it 37 yards for a big gain. Later Watson was a bit behind Braxton Miller leading to Miller getting hit and an incompletion. There was a clear emphasis on quick stuff as Ellington caught another quick one. Ryan Griffin hauled in a big play as he came across the defense and Watson found him for 22 yards. A few more quick strikes had the Texans on third and goal from the one. 

3. With third and goal from the one, the Texans attempted to run a quick play to Bruce Ellington but Troymaine Pope appeared to run the wrong route disrupting the play and resulting in an incompletion. The Texans went for it on fourth down and Watson found Ellington just past the goal line to score the touchdown. Watson seemed to be behind his receivers on a couple of throws but it wasn't anything egregious. 

4. Duke Ejiofor showed up early and often for the Texans but in a different way from last week. He had two special teams tackles and sniffed out a reverse by Dante Pettis, son of Astros third base coach Gary Pettis, for a big tackle for a loss. The pass rushing wasn't as present as last week, however, but, he went against the 49ers first team for a good amount of reps. 

5. Kevin Johnson had a scary moment early in the game. Marquise Goodwin blew past him for a big gain on third down and as Johnson gave chase he stumbled smashing his head into the turf. He was on the ground for a long while and it appeared as though they would cart him out but he popped up and walked off under his own power. He did not return with a reported concussion. 

6. Aaron Colvin had a tough couple of reps tonight against the 49ers slot specialist. Second-year wide receiver Trent Taylor shook Colvin in the red zone for a touchdown beating him by a good margin. Taylor again beat Colvin for a first down on another drive hauling in a Jimmy Garoppolo dart. Colvin was an ace at the slot assignment for Jacksonville last year and has made a lot of good plays in practice. It was likely just a bad day but something to monitor next week against the Rams. 

7. Justin Reid had a bounce-back performance with still some room to grow. It appeared Reid, Zach Cunningham, and Aaron Colvin had a miscommunication allowing 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk to scamper almost untouched for a 24-yard pickup. Reid looked to get lost in the play but that was seemingly his only big mistake. Later, Reid diagnosed a play quickly and blasted the ball carrier stopping them short of a first down. He has flashed plenty of talent but will need to correct the small mistakes. He will be asked to play early in his career a good amount with Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu being the only safties ahead of him on the depth chart. 

8. Sammie Coates and Braxton Miller had a tough night in their competition to solidify a spot on the team. Coates had a couple of early snags linking up with Brandon Weeden. He also returned a kickoff. In the second quarter, his night ended as Weeden threw him a high pass that went through his hands and he was drilled by the 49ers defender. He wouldn't return due to a concussion. Miller didn't get a lot of opportunities in the game. He couldn't come up with an early Watson toss and with the offense struggling to get into a rhythm he didn't get much action his way. 

9. Rookie wide receiver Vyncint Smith caught the deciding score from Joe Webb on a 41-yard pass play that was reviewed and ruled a touchdown. Smith is an interesting candidate for the team as it is highly unlikely he can make the 53-man roster. He has skills and instincts that earned him the initial investment and with Sammie Coates in concussion protocol for an undetermined amount of time the rookie could see a few extra reps. He is certainly a candidate for the practice squad and could cement that status in the next two weeks of work and the game against the Rams. 

10. Texans rookie safety Justin Reid addressed the new tackling rules and the emphasis of those rules: "We got shown film right before the game started about things that happened in other games," he said. "It's a big emphasis." He said he pulled up a little on his big hit but he said you have to learn how to play around the rule. Showing the team examples is a nice touch. Any new rule is over-emphasized in the preseason but there will be plenty of controversy associated with this new rule in the preseason. 

11. "I'm not sure, he's at the hospital right now," said Bill O'Brien of Kevin Johnson after the win against the 49ers. "I think he's doing OK considering what happened. I think he's going to be OK." Johnson's health is paramount because the Texans aren't deep at cornerback. Johnson Bademosi isn't an every down player, though he had an interception against the 49ers. Dee Virgin hasn't impressed to a great degree and other players haven't shined. If Johnson is out for an extended time expect to see more than a few free agent names associated with the Texans. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent. 

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Houston's bats have a hot night

Astros clobber Rangers to win series opener

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

After dropping two of three in Seattle, the Astros entered the regular season's final series still waiting to clinch their playoff berth. Luckily their matchup favored them, with four games against the 19-37 Rangers, which they have done well against in recent years. Here are highlights from the opener:

Final Score: Astros 12, Rangers 4.

Record: 29-28, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Cristian Javier (5-2, 3.48 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Lance Lynn (6-3, 3.32 ERA).

Astros put up 10 on Lynn 

Houston had no trouble getting acquainted with the Rangers' new stadium, jumping out to an early lead in the top of the first inning. After a lengthy at-bat against Lance Lynn, Jose Altuve reached on a one-out single, then scored from first on a two-out RBI-triple by Alex Bregman. They'd double their lead in the next at-bat on an error, making it 2-0.

They extended that lead even more in the next inning, getting back-to-back singles to start the inning to set up a big three-run dinger by George Springer to straightaway center-field to make it 5-0. Bregman added two more RBI to his night in the top of the fifth, capitalizing on a leadoff single by Michael Brantley by hitting a two-run homer to make it a 7-0 lead. Altuve would push the total to double-digits in the top of the sixth, lifting a three-run home run of his own to make it a 10- lead.

Javier with a decent start, bullpen closes out the win

Meanwhile, Cristian Javier was doing well on the mound against the Rangers. He allowed just three baserunners through the first five innings, a double in the first, a hit batter in the second, and a single in the fifth. He would falter a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff single then a two-run homer, then later in the inning a sac fly, making it 10-3 before Houston would turn to their bullpen. Javier's final line: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 95 TP.

Luis Garcia would get the final out of the sixth then returned for the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff double that would score on a two-out RBI-double, making it a six-run game before Garcia finished the frame. Brooks Raley was the next reliever and notched two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth.

Josh Reddick gave Houston two more insurance runs, joining the home run barrage with a two-run homer in the top of the inning to make it 12-4 going to the bottom half. Brandon Bielak was given a low-leverage opportunity to throw in the bottom of the ninth. He erased a two-out double for a scoreless inning to wrap up the lopsided win, lowering Houston's magic number to 1.

Up Next: The second game of this four-game set between Houston and Texas will start Friday at 7:05 PM Central at Globe Life Field. The pitching battle will be Kyle Cody (1-1, 1.53 ERA) for the Rangers and Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.78 ERA) for the Astros.

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