Will Fuller's health and the Chiefs loving the matchup are also key storylines ahead of Sunday

Did O'Brien get two key decisions right and how much more Watt?

Texans Bill O'Brien
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

3 Headlines, 2 Question, and 1 Bet ahead of the Texans heading to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs.

Watson's best moment yet

He carried Bills defenders into the end zone. He took shot after shot and kept getting up. He sparked the offense and sent the Texans to the divisional round.

Deshaun Watson was amazing. He will need to continue to be amazing for the Texans to succeed.

It is another in the long list of amazing escapes the Houston Houdini has brought to the highlight reels in Houston.

Bill O'Brien loved the play Sunday but he had one he was more fond of from Watson's season.

"But I think that when you get kicked in the eye and you still are able to complete a touchdown pass, I'm not sure that you can surpass that. I just think that that play that he made on Sunday was an incredible play and he's an incredible player, but when he got kicked in the eye against Oakland and he grabbed his eye and he really didn't know what was going on with his eye and he kept the play alive to complete a pass, that was a pretty cool play."

I'm not breaking any news, but the Texans are always in the game with Deshaun Watson.

Slow starts not allowed

Bill O'Brien has been bad in the first half of playoff games as a head coach. Saturday was no exception. The Texans were shut out and the buzz was here we go again. Credit to O'Brien and company for figuring things out in the second half, but they can't start bad again. That margin for error is gone.

O'Brien said as much Monday.

"We've got to figure that out," he said. "This is not the type of game, on the road versus this type of team, that we can do that. We've got to try to do whatever we can to get off to a good start."

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs could be up huge on the Texans if the slow start continues. Mahomes won't gift the Texans a couple of possessions with poor play like Josh Allen did Saturday. The start must be better or it will doom the Texans.

Watt could play more Sunday

Bill O'Brien didn't rule out J.J. Watt playing more on Sunday against the Chiefs. O'Brien said there is a lot of communication that goes into a decision like that between himself, Watt, and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

Watt was situational in his usage until the fourth quarter and overtime when he played a ton. I would expect him to be used the same way against the Chiefs. Maybe a few more plays but he can't rebuild all the stamina in just one week.

The Chiefs boast of course a tackle who maybe took some liberties with an injured Watt a few years ago. A little revenge would be nice for Texans fans.

If you want to read more about Watt's return you can find it here.

Did O'Brien get key coaching moments right or wrong?

Bill O'Brien will be questioned heavily for his decisions Saturday.

First the sequence in the first quarter where O'Brien challenged a pass interference and decided to punt after initially having the kicking team out.

There's a couple of levels to this first call. He made the wrong decision challenging the play. That was not the right move. It wasn't worth it in the moment and potentially could have cost the Texans should they have needed the challenge later. I didn't like the challenge one bit.

O'Brien then decided to pass up on the potential career long field goal for his kicker for a punt. I liked that and the Texans ultimately forced a Bills punt.

In the fourth quarter, the second key coaching decision popped up. O'Brien tried to end the game by going for it. After the game he stood by the decision but said he would have liked another play there instead of the sneak. I agree with both those thoughts from O'Brien.

O'Brien trying to keep his defense, the lesser unit, off the field was smart. Now, could they have used a field goal and forced Buffalo to try to score the touchdown for the win instead of letting the field goal tie the game? I wouldn't have minded that at all. I didn't feel like Buffalo was capable of scoring six points there.

Can Will Fuller play Sunday?

Will Fuller worked out on the field Saturday, but he was far from full speed when I observed him. He didn't look hurt, but he didn't look healthy.

"We're going to continue to work with him throughout the week and see where he's at," Bill O'Brien said Monday. "I know he's progressing in the right direction and I know he's doing better, but I'm not sure that I'd be able to sit up here and tell you that, 'yeah, he's all the way back."

Fuller's usefulness to the offense is not understated. He absolutely helps the offense. It would be easy to say him coming back would help the Texans not start slow but I can't for sure say that. What it does hopefully guarantee if he returns is DeAndre Hopkins could be involved from the jump. It has taken far too long to get Hopkins involved some weeks.

I bet the Chiefs are thrilled to play the Texans again

Kansas City has to be thrilled to get another crack at Houston. The last game featured a banged up Patrick Mahomes and no Chris Jones for the Chiefs. The Chiefs defense has been ROLLING the past few weeks and they got an extra week to get healthy and get ready for their opponent.

The Texans defense was the worst defense left in the playoffs. Not just the AFC, the playoffs. They are the worst defense still in the playoffs. The Chiefs have an easier matchup than the Ravens for sure from the defense they are facing standpoint. Also, Patrick Mahomes vs Deshaun Watson should be glorious. Signal callers love to ball against other signal callers.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome