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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The losing streak continues

Mariners get walk-off win over short-staffed Astros

Alex De Goti had an impressive debut. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

After a brutal homestand capped off by losing five players to the IL for health and safety protocols, the once 5-1 Astros brought their now 6-6 record to T-Mobile park in Seattle to try and right the ship. They'd have to do it with new and young players in the lineup using the "next man up" mentality to get some wins against the first-place Mariners.

Though the young bats would work themselves into a lead most of the night, Houston's bullpen wouldn't be able to hold the Mariners down, with Seattle ultimately walking things off in the ninth.

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 5

Astros' Record: 6-7, fourth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Anthony Misiewicz (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (0-1)

After a quiet start, Houston gets three in the fifth

After cruising through the Astros through the first four innings, allowing only a walk over that span, Houston was able to put up a big inning against Yusei Kikuchi in the top of the fifth. Carlos Correa notched the first hit of the night, followed by a walk by Taylor Jones to put two on base.



That brought Alex De Goti, making his major-league debut, to the plate and, in his second career at-bat, would get his first hit and RBI, bringing in Correa from second on a single. A second run would come on the same play on a throwing error, then Chaz McCormick made it a three-run inning with an RBI-double, putting Houston out front 3-0.

Urquidy comes an out shy of a quality start

Meanwhile, Jose Urquidy was doing well through five innings. On track for a much-needed quality start, the Mariners would tag him in the bottom of the sixth, getting three-straight hits to bring in two runs to lead off the frame and leaving a runner on second base with no outs.

Urquidy would rebound to get the next two batters on strikeouts, but at 90 pitches and with a left-handed hitter up next, Dusty Baker would bring in lefty Brooks Raley to try and get out of the inning with the one-run lead intact. Raley would do his job, putting Uruidy's line final: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 90 P.

Teams trade two-run seventh innings

The young bats for Houston struck again in the top of the seventh, with Jones and De Goti leading it off with back-to-back singles before Jason Castro would load the bases with a walk. With two outs, Aledmys Diaz would push the lead back to three with a two-RBI single, making it 5-2.

With Raley out after facing his one batter, next out of Houston's bullpen was Bryan Abreu to help maintain Houston's lead. Instead, he would give up two runs on two hits and a walk while getting just two outs before Baker moved on to Blake Taylor, who would get the last out of the seventh with Houston hanging on to a one-run lead at 5-4.

Mariners get the walk-off win

Taylor remained in the game in the bottom of the eighth, and after getting an out, would allow a game-tying solo home run to Evan White before injuring himself trying to field an infield single. Ryne Stanek entered and finished off the eighth, sending the tie game to the ninth.

After Houston came up empty in the top half, Stanek remained in the game in the bottom of the ninth, attempting to force extras. Back-to-back walks ended Stanek's night, with the Astros hoping Ryan Pressly could bail them out. He couldn't, though, giving up the walk-off hit as the Mariners would take the opener, 6-5.

Up Next: Game two of this three-game set will start an hour earlier on Saturday, with first pitch at 8:10 PM Central. Zack Greinke (1-1, 4.08 ERA) will try to rebound from a poor start his last time out for the Astros, while the Mariners will hand the ball to Chris Flexen (1-0, 4.50 ERA).

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