JOEL BLANK

A little luck and a lot of winning have the Texans looking good at the bye week

A little luck and a lot of winning have the Texans looking good at the bye week
Bill O'Brien suddenly does not look so bad. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

In the case of the Houston Texans, they’ve had plenty of lucky breaks on their way to six straight victories, but wins are wins and the more they stack up, the less people will remember how they happened. Think back to the coaching decisions that got the whole streak started.

First, there was the Colts game when coach Frank Reich inexplicably went for it on fourth down in overtime, didn't get it and gift wrapped the field position needed for Houston to kick a field goal for the win. In Week 5 it was the Cowboys and head coach Jason Garrett who didn't go for it on fourth and short and instead punted. That move gave Deshaun Watson the ball and plenty of time to matriculate down the field for yet another game winning Ka'imi Fairbairn boot. In Week 6 the Texans knocked out rookie QB Josh Allen late in the game, setting the stage for backup Nathan Peterman to deliver two interceptions, including the game winner to Jonathan Joseph, which he returned for the score.

As the streak continued, the red, white and blue entered Week 7 with a daunting task as they visited Jacksonville and a Jaguars team that was predicted by most to win the division as they were one game from the Super Bowl a season ago. The end result was another huge win for the road warriors from H-town and again it was compliments of the other teams' QB. This time it wasn't interceptions that helped decide the contest, it was two big fumbles by starting signal caller Blake Bortles that gave Houston the ball deep in enemy territory. That set up a Week 8 tilt with their former "franchise Quarterback" Brock Osweiler as the Texans hosted the Dolphins in a nationally televised edition of Thursday Night Football. This time the Texans defense came to play, as did Watson and the offense as the home team looked to be really putting it all together while taking advantage of an over matched and under performing Miami squad. Watson threw for 5 touchdowns and the team waltzed their way to their fifth straight win. The Thursday night contest also allowed Watson and company some much needed extra time to rehabilitate and heal before heading to Denver looking for six straight.

The tightly contested game came down to a 51 yard field goal attempt by Brandon McManus to win the game. The kick sailed wide right and the Texans were heading home with six in a row and a firm grasp on the AFC South lead. A far cry from the 0-3 start that had a ton of folks throwing in the towel and declaring the season over. They got a ton of help getting there but they also continued to focus on improving and fixing what they could control, while not spending too much time dwelling on what their opponents were doing to pave the way for the impressive streak. Looking at the team now, it doesn't look close to how bad they were after Week 3 and now looks more and more like a playoff bound roster that could make some noise in the postseason.

Think about all the position groups that were less than stellar as they got off to the slow start. Think about how many areas you could point a finger at and criticize as they were dismantled week, after week, after week. The offensive line was awful early on and had no continuity, chemistry or seemingly ability, accross the board. Watson was also struggling to recover from last year's season ending knee injury and that added to the woes of the make shift offensive line. The good news was that as the wins started stacking up, the line started to gel and Watson was getting healthier, at least his knee was. What you are seeing now is a unit that believes they can run block and pass block and keep their QB clean. They are playing with confidence and it's showing up as you see this team put up points and make big plays.

The same could be said for the secondary for Houston. The defensive backs were a step slow and got banged up right from the start of the regular season. Almost like addition by subtraction, the team started figuring it out as they replaced the injured Kevin Johnson, Aaron Colvin, Kayvon Webster and others. They moved Kareem Jackson back to corner from safety and he has looked like a rejuvenated, hard hitting, sure tackling, blanket of doom for receivers. Jonathan Joseph found the fountain of youth and has used the extra spring in his step to pounce on passes and make big plays and the combination of Tyrann Mathieu and Justin Reid have been outstanding on the back end. The defense is starting to live up to the lofty pre-season expectations and that has helped the overall level of play for Houston.

The running game still needs help and hasn't found its' stride all season, but the good news is they have time to keep working on it while they look forward to welcoming back D'Onta Foreman from the achilles injury that prematurely ended his rookie season a year ago. The team is getting better while getting healthy and that should set the table for good things ahead.

Finally, let's not forget about the head coach, Bill O'Brien. The fanbase wanted his head on a platter after the slow start. The media was left to explain why the team would not be letting him go, all based on his newly inked extension and not his performance captaining the Texans ship. The miscues were numerous and ran the gamut from time management, play calling, red flag challenges and many other gaffs. The great thing about winning is, it really does cure what ails you, in the case of B.O.B. You'd be hard pressed these days to hear fans calling for Bill's job and have been more and more happy with how he is leading his troops. He is far from perfect and still a large distance away from being considered a top tier NFL head coach, but whether you like it or not, he is a leading candidate for Coach of the Year. The Bye week is upon us so use this time to relax, take a deep breath and recharge your batteries as you prepare for the second half of the season. Your Texans may not be Super Bowl contenders with seven games to go but they sure are closer to those lofty goals and expectations than they were three weeks into the year. Let's hope the best is yet to come.  

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
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.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome