Examining Houston Texans keys to victory over Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Texans CJ Stroud, Will Anderson
The Texans host the Bucs on Sunday. Composite Getty Image.
Here's an early look at how Houston Texans rookies measure up

What: Texans vs. Buccaneers

When: 11/5 12pm CST kickoff

Where: Houston, TX NRG Stadium

TV/Radio: KHOU-TV, KILT-Radio

Betting Lines: Texans -3 (Even), O/U 40 (-110) *As of this writing

When the Texans play the Bucs Sunday at NRG, both teams will be fighting to stay in playoff contention. At 3-4 with 2-1 records in their divisions, a non-conference loss won't hurt much, but it certainly won't help. The Texans weren't seen as a playoff contender coming into the season by the overwhelming majority. The Bucs were picked by some to possibly win the NFC South, or make the playoffs as a wildcard. The Bucs enter this game on a three game losing streak after going 3-1 in their first four games. The Texans enter the game winning three of their last five after an 0-2 start.

When the Bucs have the ball: Baker Mayfield has been called a modern-day version of Brett Favre, in the sense of his play on the field. He's known as a gunslinger who believes in his arm talent a little too much at times. With Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at receiver, I'd be a gunslinger too! Evans has never NOT had a 1,000-yard season in the NFL. Godwin has been very productive in his career so far as well. While Baker is sporting a 2.5:1 TD to interception ratio this season, his career mark of 1.65:1 can't escape him. The pass rush will be the key again this game. Tampa does the bulk of their damage through the air. Pressuring Baker into incompletions and/or interceptions is one way to do it. It looks as if their tackle Tristan Wirfs will play this weekend. They can't ignore the run game though. Tampa doesn't have a double-digit ball carrier that averages more than four yards per carry. At 3.8 yards per carry, Baker is their leading guy in that category.

When the Texans have the ball: DOUBLE TEAM VITA VEA! At 6'4 and listed at 347lbs, Vea is a serious load. Primarily known as a run stuffer, Vea can push the pocket on passing downs. His 3.5 sacks leads their team. Going against him with Dameon Pierce being out isn't ideal. However, Devon Singletary has been seen as the better back for this run system. Factor in Robert Woods still being out and tight end Brevin Jordan missing the game as well, it doesn't bode well for the offense. This is when Tank Dell, Nico Collins, John Metchie III, and others have an opportunity to step it up. Missing one of his safety blankets after being frustrated will be tough on C.J. Stroud.

Outcome: When it comes down to it, this game will be decided by which defense is able to establish themselves. Both offenses are geared towards the pass game and use the run game to keep opponents honest. I can see Tampa's defensive line being the deciding factor. How the Texans' offensive line handles them will give us the winner. Stroud vs. Baker will be fun to watch. Stroud is more of a cerebral/accurate quarterback, while Baker is a gun slinging risk-taker. That being said: Texans 20, Bucs 19 with John Christian Kaʻiminoeauloamekaʻikeokekumupaʻa "Kaʻimi" Fairbairn kicking the game winner as time expires.

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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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