3 headlines, 2 questions, 1 bet

Plenty to fix as loss resets Texans

Jadeveon Clowney was in the spotlight. Zach Tarrant/Houstontexans.com

The win streak is over but there is still plenty to play for in Houston. The Texans try to restart the streak and I have three headlines, two questions, and one bet for you on this Monday.

"Our first down offense was terrible"

Bill O'Brien isn't wrong about that.

"Our first down offense was terrible," he said Sunday. "I mean, it was awful. We lost yards on first down, I mean, probably between eight to 10 times today."

The Texans saw 34 first downs in this game. They lost yards on seven of those plays and had one pre-snap penalty on first down. They gained no yards on five of those plays. They gained between 1-3 yards five times as well. So, half the Texans first downs went for less than three yards and 12 went for no gain or negative yards. That, is indeed, terrible.

The Colts had one hell of a plan to stop the run on first down and executed it well. The Texans had some success late in the game with rushing the ball, but by then the clock is working against them to a large degree. Credit to the Colts, they made the Texans offensive line struggle in both facets of the game. It was a game film the Texans will want to burn, especially when they had so much success against Cleveland and even the success earlier in the year against Indianapolis.

This just isn't an offense explosive enough to handle playing behind the chains consistently.

Clowney's Bad Penalty, Good Game

People are going to be upset, rightfully so, about the penalty late by Jadeveon Clowney which allowed the Colts to run the clock out and secure their win. It wasn't likely the Texans would stop the Colts, Indianapolis seemed to have the answers on Sunday, but they didn't get the chance. It is a bad moment for a player who can't win in the court of public opinion with Texans fans.

Bill O'Brien wasn't pinning it all on Clowney.

"JD's a very aggressive player," he said. "He's made a lot of plays for us, we're not going to – we didn't lose the game because of that."

Clowney had a good game though. Make no mistake about it. He was the only player credited with multiple hurries (according to Pro Football Focus) and had many near sacks and tackles for a loss. He drew the running back's attention on Watt's sack and he destroyed an escape lane for Luck on Covington's sack. The way the Texans use Clowney will never earn him eye-popping numbers. He destroys rushing attacks and makes the job of other pass rushers easier.

He's always going to be highly criticized. He's a former No. 1 overall pick who was billed as a pass rushing monster and just doesn't light up the box scores with sacks. Until he puts those up, fans will zero in on the mistakes and what isn't there. It will be an interesting stretch for Clowney and the Texans with free agency looming for him.

Luck the Class of the Division, Again

The Texans very well may never have the best quarterback in the division. Ever. The Colts had Peyton Manning for years and then ended up with Andrew Luck. Despite the emergence of Deshaun Watson, he has a tall mountain to climb to claim the crown of best in the AFC South.

Luck, is again, a superstar at the quarterback position. He's healthy. He's going to finish with career highs, or close to it, in almost every signifigance passing category. I'm also not convinced their team is even that good. Their running back situation is average at best. T.Y. Hilton is the only premier wideout for them. Eric Ebron is a great player with Luck and the Colts. Their offensive line has been very solid this season. The defense hasn't done them a ton of favors but at-times, are good enough. With Luck already paid, and huge cap space this offseason, the Colts will be a tough out in the AFC going forward.

What the hell is going on with Aaron Colvin?

Aaron Colvin signed a four year $34 million deal this offseason with the Texans with $18 million guaranteed. On Sunday, back from injury, he played 10 snaps on special teams. If he is healthy enough to play special teams he is healthy enough to help on defense. The Texans invested in him, one of the bigger free agent contracts in recent memory, and it simply hasn't worked out. Before the injury, Colvin hadn't been good. It isn't like the Texans were perfect in the secondary against the Colts. Surely something Colvin brings to the table could have helped. It is a strange situation and should be worth monitoring. Colvin had plenty to prove getting out of the shadow of the cornerbacks in Jacksonville so I can't imagine he's taking the special teams relegation well.

What are the chances the Texans lose the three seed in the AFC?

Low, but it isn't impossible. The Steelers loss to the Raiders helps a ton in establishing a lead and keeping it. Pittsburgh and Baltimore both have seven wins. The Steelers have games with the Patriots and Saints left while the Ravens take on the Chargers as their lone playoff-bound opponent. Stranger things have happened but with the Jets and Jaguars as two of the remaining opponents for the Texans, it seems likely the Texans could lock up the three seed and avoid the drop to four. Catching the Patriots gets tougher as the Texans will need to play one weekend where they win and New England loses.

I bet Texans handle their business with authority Saturday against the Jets. The Jets are going to fire their head coach at the end of the season. They may fire their general manager as well. They are poorly coached and make far too many mistakes to hang around with a good team. Sam Darnold has been a nice rookie, but he's just that, a rookie. I am not saying I feel like I need the Texans to blow out the Jets to make a statement, but a sound win would go a long way. Something similar to the Cleveland win or event the Miami win would inspire a lot of people who were skeptical of the win streak.

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This year's club is leaning on their pitching. Composite photo by Brandon Strange.

The end of the regular season is here and the 2022 MLB playoffs are about to take off. For the Houston Astros, another strong 100+ win season has them sitting atop the American League, meaning the road to the World Series in the AL will have to go through Houston.

The Astros are no strangers to postseason success. They have made the AL Championship Series for the last five straight years and the World Series in three out of the five seasons. But as Houston embarks on its 2022 postseason run, how does this year’s team compare with the other three World Series teams?

Houston’s 2017 roster will forever be known in the city and across the country for different reasons. That is the only team in franchise history to culminate a year with the Commissioner's Trophy.

That year’s iteration of the Astros entered the postseason with second baseman Jose Altuve leading the team with a .346 batting average, center fielder George Springer leading the way with 34 home runs and utility man Marwin Gonzalez leading with 90 runs batted in.

All three players made critical plays during Houston’s World Series run. Altuve ended Houston’s postseason run leading the team with a .310 batting average, 14 RBI and seven home runs.

On the pitching side of things, Houston had acquired ace Justin Verlander at the last second, and his impact was already being felt on the team. In five appearances with Houston entering the postseason, he had secured five wins with a 1.06 ERA.

Dallas Keuchel was the team’s No. 2 pitcher, and the Astros also relied on Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers Jr., Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock and Chris Devenski. The Astros aimed for pitcher Ken Giles to be the closer, a role he struggled in during the playoffs.

The postseason run saw Verlander star in the role Houston acquired him for. He went 4-1 as the team’s starter in the postseason and even helped close out the Boston Red Sox in a rare relief appearance out of the bullpen.

Fast-forward to 2019 and the team looked a bit different heading into the playoffs. Verlander was still the team’s ace, but Houston also touted Gerrit Cole and had acquired Zack Greinke in an in-season deal. Verlander struggled in the 2019 run. The Astros won only one game in his six postseason starts, including losing both of his starts in the World Series, and Verlander had a 4.33 ERA.

Jose Urquidy saw himself gain a starting role as the postseason went along, and even started a crucial Game 4 in the World Series. Houston aimed for Roberto Osuna to be the team’s closer. Pitchers Will Harris, Ryan Pressly, Peacock and Devenski played significant roles during the run.

The highlight of Houston’s 2019 postseason was Altuve’s home run off Aroldis Chapman that sent the Astros to the World Series. Altuve once again led the team in the postseason with a .329 batting average and five home runs. Yuli Gurriel led the team in playoffs with 13 RBI.

In 2021, McCullers and Greinke were back playing key roles in Houston’s pitching staff, but McCullers’ run was cut short after just one series against the Chicago White Sox. The injury forced pitchers Luis Garcia and Framber Valdez to become two faces that rose for the Astros. Urquidy was still an important part of Houston’s rotation.

Ryne Stanek, Phil Maton, Yimi Garcia, Kendall Graveman, Pressly, Brooks Raley and Cristian Javier all played significant roles in Houston’s 2021 run. Brantley led the team with a .319 batting average, Altuve led the way with five home runs and it was Kyle Tucker with the most RBI, driving in 15.

The 2022 Astros have seen the resurgence of Verlander, who will get his first taste of postseason action since the 2019 run. He leads the Astros with 17 wins and a 1.80 ERA. Valdez has become Houston’s No. 2 starter, and Houston gained McCullers in late August after he had missed most of the season with the same forearm injury that plagued him in the 2021 run. He has a 2.27 ERA and four wins in eight starts.

Houston has a lot of depth in the pitching rotation. Garcia has put together a strong 2022 season, helping the Astros get 15 wins in his 18 starts with a 3.72 ERA. Urquidy has 13 wins in 28 starts with a 3.94 ERA. Javier has shown he is more than capable of being a starter in the postseason, accumulating 11 wins with a 2.54 ERA.

On offense, Yordan Alvarez leads the way with a .301 batting average and 37 home runs. Altuve is second with a .296 batting average and 18 home runs. Tucker leads the team with 104 RBI. Alvarez is second with 96.

When comparing the teams, it is clear the 2022 Houston Astros have a distinct pitching advantage over its previous counterparts. Houston has six starting caliber pitchers, five of which have won double-digit games and all six have an ERA below 4.0 ahead of the 2022 postseason run. That is something not even the 2019 roster could boast.

Houston’s offense in 2022 is where the team takes a back seat. The 2022 roster will likely be the only team that does not have multiple players with a batting average above .300. Only Alvarez passes that threshold in 2022. The 2021, 2019 and 2017 rosters each had multiple batters pass that watermark.

It is worth noting, however, that the 2017 Astros had zero players that accumulated more than 100 RBI during the regular season. Each roster in 2019, 2021 and 2022 has multiple hitters with 90 or more RBI and at least one hitter with over 100.

The 2022 Astros will also be looking to break a pattern of the team being unable to advance to the World Series in an even year, and during the recent run, when the ALCS is televised by TBS. While this has nothing to do with the actual product, it is an interesting trend.

At the end of the day, if Houston’s 2022 pitching staff can continue its stellar work into the postseason, the offense should be able to produce enough runs to make a deep postseason run. For general manager James Click and manager Dusty Baker, it may just be championship or bust for both to stay with the organization past 2022.

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