TEXANS OBSERVATIONS

The good, bad and ugly from the Texans 20-13 win over Buffalo

The good, bad and ugly from the Texans 20-13 win over Buffalo
Jonathan Joseph had the game-winning pick 6. Zach Tarrant/Houstontexans.com

The Texans like things the hard way. I’m talking about making three lefts instead of making one right hard. I’m talking trying to assemble anything from Ikea without instructions in the dark after taking six shots hard. The 20-13 win over the Bills was about as dirty as a win could feel. Here’s how I saw things:

The Good

-JJ Watt got his seventh sack of the season today. He’s rounding into form. However, my concern is that these sacks are coming against subpar offensive lineman.

-Alfred Blue has been the team’s most consistent runner outside Deshaun Watson. He averaged 4.5 yards a carry today on only six carries. His decisiveness, vision, power, and pass blocking makes me wonder why he hasn’t gotten more playing time.

-Jonathan Joseph picked off Nathan Peterman and took it to the house to put the Texans up 20-13 with 1:23 left in the game. The old man showed it’s all about the preparation. He read the comeback route and knew Peterman was going to it. That was a pick six from the moment I saw him break on the ball.

The Bad

-Negative plays in scoring range continue to plague this team. Early in the second quarter saw DeAndre Hopkins (yes, you read that right) throw incomplete on first down, Lamar Miller lose five yards on a second down run, then Hopkins gain 12 on 3rd & 15 and settling for a field goal. Bill O’Brien’s play calling may not be the best, but neither is the team’s execution.

-Speaking of O’Brien, he chose not to use any of the three timeouts after the Bills got a turnover with 39 seconds before the half. What made the decision even more baffling was LeSean McCoy losing five yards on first down. That could’ve gotten the Texans an extra possession before the half. Maybe that’s not his job and I’m assuming it is.

-Shareece Wright got beat badly on a 16-yard touchdown by Zay Jones to put the Bills up 13-10 early in the fourth quarter. It was a double move that Wright bit on and made Jones/Peterman look like an All Pro receiver/quarterback combo. It’s the kind of play that highlights the depth woes at corner.   

The Ugly

-Jadeveon Clowney tackled Chris Ivory by one of his dreadlocks and it came out! I was nervous about it being called a horse collar penalty. The sheer pain of being pulled down by your hair and having it come out makes my skin crawl. And this is coming from a bald guy.

-Watson looked really timid in the pocket today. Sure his protection is not the best, but he was indecisive and got himself hit several times. He was also sacked seven times for 35 lost yards. Some of those sacks were the line’s fault, but a handful was his fault. He should have run with the ball a few times, but decided to look for the big play down the field instead.

-One of Watson’s picks came when they were in scoring range, up 10-0 right before halftime. He scrambled outside the pocket after breaking away from a sack and launched a ball into the end zone where the safety was waiting on it like a fair catch punt. Had he simply thrown the ball away or run then slid, the score could’ve been 13-0 heading into the half and the momentum would have shifted more in their favor. Instead, it gave the Bills hope.

Watson continues to get hit. The run game hasn’t looked the same for the third game in a row. Cornerback depth, as well as offensive line play, will be an Achilles heel for this team until next season. Despite all of this, the team is on a three game win streak and find themselves possibly back in the playoff hunt. With the Jags banged up and the Titans not proving to be anything special, the division isn’t out of reach. But the way this team has played, I wouldn’t get my hopes up just yet.

 

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against the A's. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

The Astros need to whip up on the Oakland A’s this weekend in California as they did in sweeping four from them last week at Minute Maid Park. That was the start of a homestand which ended up with seven wins in 10 games. That goes down as a successful homestand, especially since it felt like the Astros’ prior winning homestand came while Donald Trump was President (it actually started in late July). Still, 7-3 doesn’t feel like a smashing success with it ending by dropping two of three games to the lowly Los Angeles Angels.

It is not exactly with bated breath that anyone should be waiting on Jose Abreu’s return to the lineup, but it’s coming. It should not be on this road trip. After the three games with the A’s the Astros move up the coast for a big four game set with American League West leading Seattle. The M's start all right-handed pitchers. That is no time to sit Jon Singleton to see if Abreu has managed to pump a few drops of gas into his tank while spending the better part of this month at the Astros’ minor league complex. It’s not as if Singleton has been stellar since Abreu’s departure, but by comparison, he’s been Lou Gehrig-esque. The series with the Mariners isn’t make or break but the Astros are strongly advised to get at least a split. That it should be Framber Valdez starting the opener Monday night doesn’t breed tremendous confidence, coming off his meltdown outing against the Angels. Another start, another opportunity.

The Mariners are at the Nationals this weekend, starting it a mere four and a half games ahead of the Astros. In four of the five other divisions the Astros' 22-28 record would have them at least 10 games off the lead.

One step forward, two steps back

Speaking of washed-up first basemen, Joey Votto should be a future Hall of Famer. The 40-year-old Canadian is trying to make it back to the big leagues via the minor leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays. Votto was an absolutely tremendous player with the Cincinnati Reds. As the Beastie Boys said, “Ch-check it out.” Over Jeff Bagwell’s first ten seasons with the Astros he hit .305 with a .417 on-base percentage and .552 slugging percentage, yielding a phenomenal .970 OPS. Over Votto’s first ten full seasons with the Reds: .313/.429/.540 for an exactly phenomenal .970 OPS. Where am I going with this? Read on!

Votto had phenomenal strike zone and bat control. He turned 30 during the 2013 season. That year Votto had 581 at bats. He popped out to an infielder once the entire season. Alex Bregman turned 30 the third day of this season. Bregman popped out to the shortstop four times in the Angels series. So much for Bregman’s “knob past the ball” epiphany that saw him hit three home runs over two games last week. Going into the weekend Bregman has one hit in his last 23 at bats. His season stats continue to be pitiful: a .209 batting average and .607 OPS. Bregman has only struck out once in the 23 at bats of his latest deep freeze. It’s that so much of his contract is feeble. There is a lot of season left for Bregman to build up to decent numbers, but one-third of the regular season will be complete after the Astros play the Mariners Monday night.

While Bregman’s season to date has basically been one long slump, Jose Altuve is in a funk of his own. Since blasting a homer Monday, Altuve is hitless in 12 at bats. Mini-slumps happen to everybody but Altuve’s woes trace back farther. Over his last 15 games, Altuve is batting .175. He last had more than one hit in a game May 5. He’s also drawn just two walks over those 15 games. It’s tough to ever sit Altuve, but he’s probably playing a little too much. Altuve turned 34 earlier this month. He has started 48 of the Astros 50 games at second base. Mauricio Dubon should be getting a start per week at second (and probably another at third given Bregman’s level of play). Over a full season not playing the field once per week still means 135 starts. Altuve should mix in some more at designated hitter (he has just one DH game so far this season). Wear and tear is a real thing, players don’t grow less susceptible to it as they get to their mid-30s.

King Tuck

On the flip side, Kyle Tucker! So far this season, he’s making himself as much money as Bregman is costing himself. Only Shohei Ohtani (1.069) starts the weekend action with an OPS higher than Tucker’s 1.060. The law of averages dictates that Tucker won’t finish as high as 1.060, but if he does, it would be the greatest full-length season offensive performance in Astros’ history. Jeff Bagwell posted an absurd 1.201 OPS in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. Yordan Alvarez came in at 1.067 in his 87 games played rookie season of 2019. Lance Berkman’s 2001 was a monster. Enron Field was more hitter-friendly then than Minute Maid Park is now, but Berkman’s numbers were “Oh My Gosh!” spectacular. .331 batting average, 55 doubles (second in franchise history to Craig Biggio's 56 in 1999), 34 homers, .430 on-base percentage, .620 slugging percentage, and 1.051 OPS. And that was just Berkman’s second full season in the majors. Lance finished fifth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting. Giant-headed Barry Bonds won MVP with his 73 home runs among other sicko stats.

* 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.

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