Rough day for Texans

The good, bad and ugly from Sunday's loss to the 49ers

T.J. Yates looked solid. Houstontexans.com

The Texans fell to the 2-10, Jimmy Garoppolo-led San Francisco 49ers 26-16 today. This was a winnable game against a “better than their record says” team. There were spots in which the Texans seemed like they were going to take control. However, they lost in the most 2017 Texans way possible: the late-game turnover.

The Good

-Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn got the scoring started with a career long 53-yarder. This was a good sight to see considering his case of the yips as of late. It also showed head coach Bill O’Brien’s confidence in his rookie kicker. Never in doubt with the length, it was right down the middle, almost half way up the uprights.

-DeAndre Hopkins was yet again the best option the Texans had offensively. Hopkins had 11 catches for 149 yards, and two touchdowns. His 149 yards accounted for a whopping 62.6% of the team’s 238 passing yards (67% if you take away yards lost via sacks, more on that later).

-Quarterback T.J. Yates came in, after Tom Savage suffered a concussion, and played as well as a backup quarterback could. Signed on November 3 after Deshaun Watson tore his ACL, Yates was brought back in his third run with the Texans. He went 14/26 for 176 yards and two touchdowns to Hopkins.

The Bad

-Cornerback Kevin Johnson gets called for as many pass interference, defensive holding, and illegal contact flags as opposing defensive backs do against Hopkins. As long as I’ve held off calling him a bust, it’s high time. If he’s not hurt, he’s getting flagged. He shows flashes of being worthy of a first round pick, but far too often shows why Marcus Peters or Byron Jones would’ve been better off being selected at 16th overall.

-When averaging 3.9 yards per carry is an improvement over the last three weeks, your run game is pitiful. The offensive line should take the brunt of the burden, but Lamar Miller should wear a scarlet letter for his part as well. Far too often he’s seen running agility ladder drills in the backfield instead of hitting the hole. I bet he’s really good at the run in place up downs, but his Vision rating on Madden should be a 56.

-Having to manufacture a pass rush by blitzing is showing its wear. Most times, it doesn’t have the success intended. Jadeveon Clowney has to rush from certain spots, angles, and against a favorable matchup in order for the pass rush to have any success. This isn’t a knock on Clowney. This is a testament to the injuries of J.J. Watt, and more specifically, Whitney Mercilus. The backups have been, well, backups. I’ve always maintained that the Mercilus injury was the bigger loss. But it’s more evident now.

The Ugly

-For as good of a year Hopkins is having, his fumble in the 4th quarter of the game sealed the Texans’ fate. Down 23-16 at that point, they had a shot to tie the game with just under six minutes left. The 49ers not only recovered the fumble, but added an insurance field goal to put them up by 10 with under four minutes left.

-Fairbairn may have set his career long to open the scoring, but he also missed another extra point, as well as a 52 yarder when the team was down 26-16 and attempting a miraculous comeback. The extra point was wide left, while the 52-yard field goal hit the left upright. Maybe it’s time to call in a shrink to help him get rid of the yips. I nominate Jobu.

-Savage’s concussion was bad enough. What made it ugly was the fact that he was examined, cleared, brought back in to play, then pulled from the rest of the game for Yates. The league says they’re committed to player safety, but scenes like this play out almost every week. There’s no way in hell a player should ever re-enter a game if he’s believed to be concussed unless he’s cleared by team and independent doctors. Things like this cause investigations into team practices, but the independent doctor had to have cleared him as well.

This loss drops the team to 4-9 on the season and guarantees O’Brien’s first losing season as Texans head coach. Fred Faour penned an interesting argument as to why he believes O’Brien is deserving of an coming back next year heading into his last season under contract. I firmly believe Fred is right. O’Brien has dealt with injuries, a quarterback carousel (partly his own fault), and an owner saying dumb things this year. Despite it all, the team was only “blown out” of two games this year, and have had a chance to win seven of their nine losses with one possession. Maintaining some semblance of order and competitiveness in a s---storm says something. While many may not like him, his attitude, or his lack of on-field results, he’s done enough to warrant a one-year  “prove-it” year next year when the cupboard is fully stocked.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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