DEATH BLOW FOR TEXANS

Here's why the loss of Bradley Roby couldn't have come at a worse time for Texans

The Texans have no answers for top tier receivers. Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Late Monday afternoon, the NFL distributed a six-game suspension for Houston Texans receiver Will Fuller — who violated the league's drug policy. Nearly four hours later, the NFL suspended Texans cornerback Bradley Roby for the same purpose. The news of both Fuller's and Roby's suspensions could not have come at a worse time.

After winning back-to-back games following their Thanksgiving victory over the Detroit Lions, the Texans were on the verge of turning their disastrous season around. Entering Sunday's game against the Colts at 4-7 could have given the Texans little hope to qualify for the playoffs with a victory inside NRG Stadium.

But instead of becoming the second team in league history to reach the playoffs after an 0-4 start, the suspensions place the Texans with a daunting task of replacing the talents of Fuller and Roby. Despite losing their No. 1 receiver for the rest of the season, Houston is in a substantial position to overcome Fuller's absence.

Brandin Cooks has been just as important to the Texans' receiving corps, and the additions of Keke Coutee and Isaiah Coulter could be enough to fill in Fuller's void. Unfortunately, Roby's void appears to be an unenviable feat.

"Anytime you have someone on your team make a misstep — that's disappointing," Romeo Crennel said. "Particularly when they are team contributors, so, what we'll have to do now is everybody as a group will have to play to belt straps, and put our best foot forward and get ready for the game on Sunday."

The 28-year-old Texas native has been Houston's best defensive back all season. In 337 coverage snaps, Roby has only allowed 23 receptions with a PFF grade of 71.6 overall — the highest among all Texan corners.

Prior to his PED suspension, the Texans received a small dose of life without Roby's on-field contributions. In the two games he missed, Houston's secondary gave up an average of 285.5 yards against the Packers and Jaguars. Both franchises' top receiver had a field day in Roby's absence — which included a career performance from Davante Adams (196 Yds., 13 Rec., 2 TD) during the Texans' 35-20 loss to the Packers.

Texans killer T.Y. Hilton comes to NRG this Sunday

Houston's most challenging task could take place against Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton. Even when the Texans had an adequate secondary, Houston still struggled to contain the four-time pro-bowler.

In 17 career games against the Texans — including the postseason — Hilton has recorded 90 catches for 1,530 yards and 10 touchdowns. Albeit this season demonstrated that injuries and age hindered his production, Hilton could still have a massive game without a solid corner shadowing his every move.

During Wednesday's media availability, interim head coach Romeo Crennel gave no indication who will be assigned Hilton ahead of their match against the Colts. Keion Crossen and rookie John Reid have received a bulk of their playing time on special teams, while Eric Murray has to be used to cover the likes of the Colts' other receiver, Zach Pascal.

As Houston's most experience corner, Vernon Hargreaves III could potentially take over as Houston's primary defensive back, but there is a significant drop-off when compared to Roby. Among the remaining qualified candidates, Hargreaves has possessed the team's lowest PFF grade of 41.7 overall — while allowing 40 receptions on the season in 376 coverage snaps.

"When you lose production like that, it hurts," Crennel said. There's nothing we can do about it now, but it hurts not having them. But like I told them this morning 'we have enough in the room that we can win games, and everybody has to tighten their belt strap up and put that best foot forward and have great energy and effort and drive to win this game on Sunday.'"

All season long, Houston's inability to stop the run was the highlight of what has been a dreadful defensive year. However, without Roby, Houston's diminish secondary could make the final five weeks of the season miserable. In addition to facing Hilton twice over the next three games, the Texans will have to assign someone to cover the talents of Allen Robinson, Tee Higgins, and A.J. Brown to close out the season.

Coty M. Davis is a reporter for ESPN 97.5 Houston/SportsMap covering the Houston Texans. He is also the co-host of Locked On Texans, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network. Follow Coty on Twitter @CotyDavis_24.

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Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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