Texans improve to 1-4

Deep dive: Here's how the Texans picked up their first victory of the season vs. Jags

The Texans got their first win of the season on Sunday. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

For the first time this season, the results of the game brought joy to the Houston Texans' locker-room. In his first victory as interim head coach, the team presented Romeo Crennel with the game ball following the Texans' 30-14 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday afternoon, inside the NRG Stadium in Houston.

As a result of capturing their first win, Crennel celebrated with several old school dance moves, according to cornerback Bradley Roby. Before moving on to a potential Week 6 game against the Tennessee Titans, here is a deep dive into the Texans' first victory of the season this past Sunday.

"Man, he did like five dances," Roby said. "He did the Soulja Boy, he did the Macarena, he started doing the disco. I didn't know what he was doing. It was funny though. NFL games are hard to win, so just playing in the league so long, you've got to enjoy each one."

Brandin Cooks and Deshaun Watson brought Houston's offense life

During the first game of the post-Bill O'Brien era — for once — the Texans' offense did not look conservative nor predictable. The results ended in Houston recording a season-best 486 total yards with 357 coming in the passing game. Deshaun Watson had a connection with each of his receivers, but none more so than Brandin Cooks.

After he failed to record a catch during last week's loss against the Vikings, Cooks had his best game as a member of the Texans. He notched a season-best 161 yards on eight receptions, showing promise as the incumbent to DeAndre Hopkins as Watson's top receiver.

The growing chemistry between the quarterback-to-receiver duo was on display during Cooks' only touchdown of the game. While standing on 4th-and-4 late in the fourth quarter, Watson threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Cooks to seal the win for Houston.

The play on fourth-down exemplified the risk Crennel and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly are willing to take — something O'Brien has shied away from several times throughout his tenure in Houston.

In addition to Cooks, Will Fuller made four catches for 58 yards, while Darren Fells had two receptions for 57 yards. Both players scored once on a touchdown pass from Watson.

"That was a great move on his part to get the touchdown, all I was trying to do was get the first down because it was a two-score game," Crennel said. "Even though it would have put points on the board, potentially it might not have made a difference if they had gone down and scored. And so I wanted to try to get that done and kind of put it out of reach and make it much tougher for them to have a chance to come back."

The Texans finally recorded a turnover, but more importantly stopped the run

Fair or unfair, the most decrepit part of the Texans' defense was their inability to stop the run. Coming into Sunday's game, Houston had allowed a league-worst 181.1 rushing yards on the ground. Over the past three games, the Texans gave up an average of 87.3 rushing yards in the fourth quarter alone.

While James Robinson does not provide the same threat as Mark Ingram, James Conner or Dalvin Cook, the rookie running back was no daunting task to defend. Robinson received Offensive Rookie of the Month honors for September — after recording 285 yards (4.8 AVG) on 60 carries, to go along with three touchdowns through his first four games.

As they held the Jaguars to 75 total yards on the ground, the Texans only gave up 48 yards on 13 carries to Robinson. The amount of pressure coming from Houston's front seven on each rushing attempt led to a costly fumble by Robinson — which was recovered by J.J. Watt.

The pressure the Texans displayed against the Jaguars not only stopped the run, but made it a tumultuous day for Jacksonville quarterback, Gardner Minshew. Houston tallied five quarterback hits, three sacks and forced Minshew into his second fumble of the season.

"All week long we harped on the fundamentals, we harped on everybody doing their job, getting back to the basics, and I thought we did that well," Watt said. "Obviously, that in conjunction with stopping them early in the game, offense putting up points and then putting them in situations where they had to throw the ball late in the game makes a massive difference. We're very pleased with the way we played on defense today. We have to continue to do that and improve and get ourselves even better."

Finally, some luck fell into the Texans' favor

The Texans had a great game on both sides of the ball, but it was far from perfect. Houston had a few causes for concern despite the win, but more so with their secondary. The Texans' defensive backs gave up several big plays down the field, which included a 51-yard completion from Minshew to Chris Conley that resulted in a touchdown four plays later.

The substantial drives where Jacksonville recorded 15 or more yards through the air is what kept the Jaguars in the game until late in the fourth quarter. Had Jacksonville converted on two missed field goals and a Robinson fumble, this game could have easily gone in the Jaguars favor.

Thankfully, for the first time this season, Lady Luck saw fit to shine her light among the franchise of the Houston Texans.

"I think that our guys played extremely hard, and we weren't able to take advantage of a certain sequence of the two turnovers," Jacksonville's head coach Doug Marrone said after the loss. " We weren't able to get the momentum back on our side or turn them into points or touchdowns. So there were opportunities out there that we didn't take advantage of and that's why we came out with the loss."

Up next, the Texans will look to make it two wins in a row Sunday against the 3-0 Tennessee Titans. The Titans are expected to play their Week 4 match against the Bills on Tuesday due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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