Texans-Broncos observations

The good, bad and ugly from the Texans win over the Broncos

The good, bad and ugly from the Texans win over the Broncos
Demaryius Thomas had an impact in his debut. Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

With their five game win streak on the line, the Texans beat the Broncos 19-17. They were helped greatly at the end of the game yet again. Here’s how I saw it:

The Good

-Newly acquired receiver Demaryius Thomas got going early against his former team. On the first drive, he had two catches for 49 yards. The drive ended with a Jordan Thomas seven yard touchdown, the team’s first opening drive touchdown all season.

-Deshaun Watson looked really good today playing in the thin Denver air while still fighting through his lung/rib injury. He was 17 of 24 for 213 yards and two touchdowns. He chipped in 38 yards rushing as well.   

-Rookie safety Justin Reid came up with a fumble recovery in the second quarter that led to the team’s second touchdown. It’s his second straight game with a turnover. The rookie is paying dividends and making teams wonder how’d he slip to the third round.

The Bad

-Missed tackles continue to plague this defense. Tyrann Mathieu, Shareece Wright, and Natrell Jamerson all missed tackles that led to first downs. Kareem Jackson is the only sure tackler in the secondary. That’s a scary thought considering his slight frame and tendency to throw his body at guys when tackling.

- Injuries to the linebacking corps have depleted an already bad group in coverage as 58 of the 87 yards on the Broncos’ first touchdown drive came on two plays to their tight ends being covered or a blown coverage by Texan linebackers.

-Ka’imi Fairbairn missed his first extra point all season. This was another play/scoring chance that almost cost them the game. Let’s hope it’s not a sign of things to come. We’ve seen kickers miss easy kicks and get the yips.

The Ugly

-The failed fourth and one attempt in the second quarter while in field goal range took almost guaranteed points off the board. Scoring and play calling in the “red area” has been an issue all season.

-The 18 yard completion on fourth and eight at the end of the game nearly cost them. It put the Broncos in field goal range and could have spelled the end of the win streak.

-Mathieu got called for illegal use of the helmet right before halftime. The receiver started lowering his head as Mathieu went for the tackle. If they wanted to call contact to a defenseless receiver I wouldn’t have disagreed. The sheer absurdity and frequency of these calls is taking away from the game. Defenders are scared to make plays for fear of penalty. After the Hugo Cruz firing, refs are making preemptive calls. Something has to be done NOW!

Despite missing more scoring opportunities and continually shooting themselves in the foot, the Texans held on to their win streak by the thinnest of margins again. This team is well on their way to winning a bad division and making the playoffs. But they have got to fix the brain farts in key situations or else their playoff run will be short-lived. For now, fans should celebrate one of the longest win streaks after an 0-3 start in NFL history.

 

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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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