How Houston Texans can capitalize on 2 massive advantages over Panthers

How Houston Texans can capitalize on 2 massive advantages over Panthers

CJ Stroud has something extra to prove this week. Photo by Logan Riely/ Getty Images.

What: Texans @ Panthers

When: 10/29, 12pm CST kickoff

Where: Charlotte, NC Bank of America Stadium

TV/Radio: KRIV-TV, KILT-Radio

Betting Lines: Texans -3 (-120), O/U 43.5 (-110) *As of this writing

In what's being billed as the 1 vs 2 & 3 matchup of top picks from this past draft, the Texans travel to Charlotte to take on the Panthers. Quarterbacks Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud were the first two picks. Defensive end will Anderson Jr. was the third overall selection. All three players are heavy contributors to their teams. Stroud is a leading candidate for AFC Rookie of the Year. Anderson Jr can still make a case for AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year. Young missed a game with an injury but hasn't impressed much in the five he has played.

When the Panthers have the ball: This could be a get right game for the Texans defense. The Panthers are winless for two very specific reasons. One of those being they can't score. 19 points a game only works when your defense is the '85 Bears or the '00 Ravens maybe. They average 10 more yards rushing per game than the Texans, but also average about 50 yards less passing per game. The pass rush should be able to get to Young. He gets sacked three times a game on average. The Texans only have nine sacks on the season. It's a good time for old teammates to get reacquainted. Anderson Jr. was Young's teammate at Alabama. He along with Jonathan Grenard and company need to take advantage of a bad offensive line. While the Panthers aren't a run heavy team, they may turn it up a notch knowing Sheldon Rankins is out. Their best bet is to run the ball successfully, and hope play action gives them a pass threat.

When the Texans have the ball: Tank Dell being back in the fold is great news. Robert Woods being out is terrible. Not all is lost. This offense just beat the toughest defense they'll face all year. The Panthers may be without All Pro defensive end Brian Burns who is questionable with an elbow injury. That's great news for the pass heavy Texans. It's also great news for the run game facing a Panthers defense possibly down their best defender, but they also give up almost 150 yards a game on the ground. Giving up that many yards rushing is a reason why they allow a league worst 31 points a game. That's the second reason they're winless. They can't stop teams from scoring! I expect all the weapons and play calling creativity to be on full display in this game. Bobby Slowik is probably licking his chops doing the Birdman hand rub.

Outcome: Well, let's break this down as simply as possible. The Panthers can't score enough points and they give up way too many points. Meanwhile, the Texans can score if they protect their quarterback, and have a good enough defense to keep them in games. Outcome seems pretty straightforward to me. Add in the fact that Stroud probably has a chip on his shoulder by not going number one overall and facing the guy who did. Even if Burns does play, this Texans offensive line shut down the Steelers pass rush and pulled out a win over the tough Saints defense. They'll cover the -3, but I'm leaning on the under since the Panthers are apparently allergic to the end zone. Texans 24, Panthers 13

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*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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