KEYS TO THE GAME

How these 2 major factors could determine the Texans' success against Ravens

Texans Deshaun Watson
Protecting Deshaun Watson is critical. Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
Watson dazzles again in loss

The last time Houston played Baltimore, things got ugly for Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense. The Ravens defense sacked Watson 6 times and Houston fell behind 34-0 before eventually losing 41-7 in the worst showing by the Texans all regular season.

Protection, Protection, Protection

"Clearly, we don't want to give up any sacks," offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said. "That's one area where like we've talked about before, everyone's involved in that. So, we need to make sure that we're doing a better job of really understanding how important every single play is and going out there and executing to the best of our ability at every single play, every single snap. That's one thing we're stressing to our guys. We're excited to see them out there on Sunday and being able to hopefully put that into action."

Last week against the Chiefs, the Texans offensive line struggled to give Watson time to make plays downfield. Watson was sacked 4 times and it felt as if he was under duress the entire game. It will not get any easier on Sunday as the Ravens defense is one of the leagues best. Led by pass rushers Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, and Matthew Judon, the Baltimore defense blitzed the second most amount of times out of any NFL team in their season opening 38-6 win over Cleveland.

"(They have) great players, Calais Campbell's been in the league for a long time," left tackle Laremy Tunsil said. "He's a crafty vet. This is his thirteenth year I believe, and he's a Pro Bowl guy, so we've got to be on our A game. The same with Judon, he's been in the league for a while so he was just at the Pro Bowl last year. Two good players. The whole defense is actually a great defense, a lot of great players… Like I said, we've got to execute our game plan and see the results at the end of the game. That's all we can do."

Success on third down

Pass protection is a major emphasis by the coaching staff this week and if the protection is improved it should allow the Texans to have longer sustained drives and keep Lamar Jackson and the Ravens elite offense on the sidelines. In last year's game, the Texans were only 2-10 on 3rd downs, a stat that must improve for Houston to have a chance at pulling off the upset at home.

"Last year's game is last year's game. This is a new year, so we're not really focused on what happened in that," Watson said. "It got away. They did their job and did what they had to do at home. This year and the talent they got is very, very top-notch. One of the best defenses we're going to see throughout the year. They do a good job of creating different pressures up front, doing a different variety of blitzes, keeping you on your toes and p's and q's. We've just got to make sure that we're locked in and focus on our tasks, our game plan and take it one play at a time."

Jake Asman is a national host on SportsMap Radio. You can listen to The Jake Asman Show weekdays from 8 AM - 10 AM Central.

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Following Houston's 6-4 road trip, the Astros returned home to finish the first "half" of the season before the All Star break hosting Florida and Texas. Houston's road trip was filled with clutch performances in New York, dominance in taking 3 of 4 in Toronto, and a dose of close calls and tough realities with a short-handed team against Minnesota.

Now the Astros hope to take care of business against the lowly Marlins and division rival Rangers. The Texas series, in particular gives Houston the opportunity to reassert their hold on the #2 spot ahead of the Rangers who have won their last 5 games in a row (as of the time this was published). Both teams have won 7 of their last 10 games and hope to catch a free-falling Seattle team to overtake the division lead.

Dana Brown told the media last week he expects both Justin Verlander and Kyle Tucker to be reactivated following the All-Star break but Tucker's updates continue to be more promising than Verlander's and MUCH more promising than Lance McCullers. Astros manager informed the media this week that McCullers has been shut down from throwing after his arm did not respond well to his recent bullpen sessions and the team is formulating the plan for what's next for the embattled pitcher. McCullers hasn't pitched since the 2022 postseason and underwent season-ending flexor tendon surgery last June. McCullers is under contract with Houston until 2026.

An eventual return for Kyle Tucker would spur a juggling act from Joe Espada to find a proper balance of time for all his outfielders, none of which have separated themselves offensively. Chas McCormick had a great month of June recording an .804 OPS but that run looks more like an anomaly as his scuffles have continued over the past 2.5 weeks, recording just 4 hits over his last 32 plate appearances.

While Jake Meyers has wowed fans and teammates with his glove this season, his offense has hit a skid, hitting just .184 with a .565 OPS over the past month. After rookie Joey Loperfido's torrid debut, he too has struggled with the bat, hitting just .216 with .599 OPS over the same time period.

An unexpected bright spot has been the recent play of first baseman Jon Singleton. Over the last 4 weeks, "Big Jon" is batting .302 with an .802 OPS. It's worth mentioning that Singleton's season numbers are better than Florida's Josh Bell, who drew interest from Astros fans over the past several seasons as a potential answer at first base. Bell has 135 more ABs this season so its not quite an apples-to-apples comparison but there's no doubt Singleton's contributions were sorely needed following the release of Jose Abreu.

To watch part 1 of this week's episode of Stone Cold StrosStone Cold Stros, just click the video above or to listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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