KEYS TO THE GAME

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

Protecting Deshaun Watson is critical. Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

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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Houston gets the best of the Dodgers

Astros behind McCullers Jr. get shutout win in hostile Dodger Stadium

Yordan Alvarez added some big insurance runs against the Dodgers on Tuesday night. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Having dropped two of three in San Francisco against the league record-leading Giants over the weekend, the Astros exited an off day on Monday and entered a hostile environment at Dodger Stadium in the first of a two-game series on Tuesday night. With some timely hits and an excellent start from their starter, Houston would grab the win.

Final Score: Astros 3, Dodgers 0

Astros' Record: 65-42, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (9-2)

Losing Pitcher: Walker Buehler (11-2)

Houston scores first as McCullers Jr. out-duels Buehler

After nearly turning the game's very first pitch around for a home run but instead going foul, Jose Altuve still started the game with a single in the top of the first. A double play would erase him, though, as the game remained scoreless into the top of the third. Martin Maldonado led that inning off with a double, moved to third on a wild pitch by Walker Buehler, then scored on an RBI double by Michael Brantley, putting Houston ahead 1-0.

Houston threatened again in the top of the fourth, getting two on with two outs, bringing up Martin Maldonado with an empty base, which the Dodgers would use by intentionally walking him to get to Lance McCullers Jr., who grounded out to strand all three runners. He made up for it on the mound, though, out-dueling Buehler, who finished six innings while allowing a run by getting into the seventh scoreless. He would get two outs into that frame while giving up a single and a walk, leaving two on base for Blake Taylor, who came in to get the third out. McCullers Jr.'s final line: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, 110 P.

Alvarez adds insurance as Astros take the opener in LA

Clinging to the one-run lead in the top of the eighth, Carlos Correa worked a one-out walk to bring Yordan Alvarez to the plate, who demolished a 415-foot two-run homer to add two big insurance runs, extending the lead to 3-0. Kendall Graveman took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the eighth and, despite allowing a leadoff single and hitting a batter, was able to finish a scoreless inning.

With Ryan Pressly on the paternity list, Houston handed the ball to Ryne Stanek to close things out in the bottom of the ninth. He would get the job done, earning the save by retiring the Dodgers in order, giving the Astros the win at the dismay of the fans in Los Angeles.

Up Next: This short series's second and final game will begin thirty minutes earlier on Wednesday at 8:40 PM Central. For the Dodgers, they will get the debut of Max Scherzer (8-4, 2.76 ERA), while Jake Odorizzi (4-5, 4.30 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros.

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