THE RUNDOWN

Redemption Tour continues: David Johnson will be tested against the Ravens

Redemption Tour continues: David Johnson will be tested against the Ravens
Photo via: The Houston Texans.
Building Block: How David Johnson's performance was a silver lining for the Texans

HOUSTON — The Houston Texans stood on the 19-yard line on 2nd-and-1 when Deshaun Watson completed an inside handoff to running back David Johnson. Offensive tackles Zach Fulton and Tytus Howard opened a right-side gap that led to a 19-yard touchdown run for the one-time pro-bowler (2016).

An energetic Johnson celebrated with Kenny Stills and the rest of his new teammates. His first touchdown of the season put the Texans ahead 7-0 over the Kansas City Chiefs late in the first quarter.

The first stop on the Johnson Redemption Tour ended with a total of 109 yards — 77 yards coming on the ground for 11 carries in his Texans debut — but it wasn't enough. Houston would find themselves on the wrong side of a scoreboard that read 34-20 inside Arrowhead Stadium late Thursday night.

Johnson's first game was not perfect nor an unforgettable performance. But it severed as a building block in a game that featured Houston's ineptitude to stop Chiefs' rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the lack of production coming from their receiving corps. It's the foundation of what will be an integral part of the Texans' offensive schemes this season.

"I felt great being out there, and our line did a great job blocking for me," Johnson said in a post-practice interview via Zoom on Monday. "I think to myself I still had a couple more yards I left on the field and I've just got to improve on that aspect. And then just in the passing game, a couple routes I wish I could've got back where Deshaun [Watson] was looking for me and I just ran the wrong route. So, continue to correct those mistakes and building from that."

It is no secret that the Texans will rely heavily upon their running game in 2020. Houston ran the ball 22 times against the Chiefs, in comparison to the 20 passing plays called. The former Arizona Cardinal contributed for 50 percent of the Texans running plays, with Watson (27 yards on six carries) and Duke Johnson (14 yards on five carries) splitting the latter.

This trio of runners will usually lead the Texans in rushing yards over the next 15 weeks, with The Johnson Brothers leading the way. However, what's supposed to be a two-man tandem may end up featuring David as a solo act coming out of the backfield this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

In hindsight, it may seem like the Texans will struggle to run the ball against Baltimore. In 2019, the Ravens only gave up a total of 1,494 rushing yards (93.4 YDS) — finishing the year with the fifth-best defense at stopping the run. But their defensive performance could be misleading when breaking down their opponents from the previous season.

Out of the 18 games — including the playoffs — the Ravens only played against two premiere running backs and came up short in each contest.

Nick Chubb recorded 165 yards and three touchdowns, as the Browns handed Baltimore their worst defeat of the regular season in a 40-25 loss on their home field. Despite being favorites to represent the AFC in Miami this past February, the Ravens' postseason run ended earlier than expected in a loss to the Tennessee Titans. Derrick Henry's stat line in the AFC Division Round victory: 195 yards (6.5 AVG) on just 30 carries.

Albeit they came out on the winning side this time around, the Ravens gave up 138 yards on the ground in their Week 1 victory over Cleveland on Sunday. Chubb and his new backfield mate Kareem Hunt registered a combined 111 rushing yards on eight carries.

"I think the league definitely front-loaded the schedules and we have a pretty tough schedule," Johnson said. "Going against the defending champions and then against the Ravens whose always been up there with Lamar (Jackson) in the playoffs and stuff. I think it's going to be a good measurement for our team. "The last game was my first real game, no preseason, so I still have a lot to improve on."

Houston only experienced a small dose of what a rejuvenated Johnson can bring to the gridiron. According to Johnson himself, there is a lot he can build on heading into his second game with the Texans with more responsibility than in his debut.

Duke sustained an ankle sprain during the second half of Houston's season opener and is considered day-to-day, according to head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien on Monday. After sitting out of practice, Duke is unlikely to play Sunday in their home opener against the Ravens.

O'Brien says he "feels good about their depth" in an event Duke is not available. Although true with the talents of Buddy Howell and Scottie Phillips, Duke's potential absence will open the door for David to receive more touches heading into Week 2 — as the Johnson Redemption Tour makes its next stop inside NRG Stadium in Houston.

Coty M. Davis is a reporter for ESPN 97.5 Houston/SportsMap covering the Houston Texans. He is also the co-host of Locked On Texans, apart of the Locked On Podcast Network. Follow Coty on Twitter @CotyDavis_24.

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against the A's. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

The Astros need to whip up on the Oakland A’s this weekend in California as they did in sweeping four from them last week at Minute Maid Park. That was the start of a homestand which ended up with seven wins in 10 games. That goes down as a successful homestand, especially since it felt like the Astros’ prior winning homestand came while Donald Trump was President (it actually started in late July). Still, 7-3 doesn’t feel like a smashing success with it ending by dropping two of three games to the lowly Los Angeles Angels.

It is not exactly with bated breath that anyone should be waiting on Jose Abreu’s return to the lineup, but it’s coming. It should not be on this road trip. After the three games with the A’s the Astros move up the coast for a big four game set with American League West leading Seattle. The M's start all right-handed pitchers. That is no time to sit Jon Singleton to see if Abreu has managed to pump a few drops of gas into his tank while spending the better part of this month at the Astros’ minor league complex. It’s not as if Singleton has been stellar since Abreu’s departure, but by comparison, he’s been Lou Gehrig-esque. The series with the Mariners isn’t make or break but the Astros are strongly advised to get at least a split. That it should be Framber Valdez starting the opener Monday night doesn’t breed tremendous confidence, coming off his meltdown outing against the Angels. Another start, another opportunity.

The Mariners are at the Nationals this weekend, starting it a mere four and a half games ahead of the Astros. In four of the five other divisions the Astros' 22-28 record would have them at least 10 games off the lead.

One step forward, two steps back

Speaking of washed-up first basemen, Joey Votto should be a future Hall of Famer. The 40-year-old Canadian is trying to make it back to the big leagues via the minor leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays. Votto was an absolutely tremendous player with the Cincinnati Reds. As the Beastie Boys said, “Ch-check it out.” Over Jeff Bagwell’s first ten seasons with the Astros he hit .305 with a .417 on-base percentage and .552 slugging percentage, yielding a phenomenal .970 OPS. Over Votto’s first ten full seasons with the Reds: .313/.429/.540 for an exactly phenomenal .970 OPS. Where am I going with this? Read on!

Votto had phenomenal strike zone and bat control. He turned 30 during the 2013 season. That year Votto had 581 at bats. He popped out to an infielder once the entire season. Alex Bregman turned 30 the third day of this season. Bregman popped out to the shortstop four times in the Angels series. So much for Bregman’s “knob past the ball” epiphany that saw him hit three home runs over two games last week. Going into the weekend Bregman has one hit in his last 23 at bats. His season stats continue to be pitiful: a .209 batting average and .607 OPS. Bregman has only struck out once in the 23 at bats of his latest deep freeze. It’s that so much of his contract is feeble. There is a lot of season left for Bregman to build up to decent numbers, but one-third of the regular season will be complete after the Astros play the Mariners Monday night.

While Bregman’s season to date has basically been one long slump, Jose Altuve is in a funk of his own. Since blasting a homer Monday, Altuve is hitless in 12 at bats. Mini-slumps happen to everybody but Altuve’s woes trace back farther. Over his last 15 games, Altuve is batting .175. He last had more than one hit in a game May 5. He’s also drawn just two walks over those 15 games. It’s tough to ever sit Altuve, but he’s probably playing a little too much. Altuve turned 34 earlier this month. He has started 48 of the Astros 50 games at second base. Mauricio Dubon should be getting a start per week at second (and probably another at third given Bregman’s level of play). Over a full season not playing the field once per week still means 135 starts. Altuve should mix in some more at designated hitter (he has just one DH game so far this season). Wear and tear is a real thing, players don’t grow less susceptible to it as they get to their mid-30s.

King Tuck

On the flip side, Kyle Tucker! So far this season, he’s making himself as much money as Bregman is costing himself. Only Shohei Ohtani (1.069) starts the weekend action with an OPS higher than Tucker’s 1.060. The law of averages dictates that Tucker won’t finish as high as 1.060, but if he does, it would be the greatest full-length season offensive performance in Astros’ history. Jeff Bagwell posted an absurd 1.201 OPS in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. Yordan Alvarez came in at 1.067 in his 87 games played rookie season of 2019. Lance Berkman’s 2001 was a monster. Enron Field was more hitter-friendly then than Minute Maid Park is now, but Berkman’s numbers were “Oh My Gosh!” spectacular. .331 batting average, 55 doubles (second in franchise history to Craig Biggio's 56 in 1999), 34 homers, .430 on-base percentage, .620 slugging percentage, and 1.051 OPS. And that was just Berkman’s second full season in the majors. Lance finished fifth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting. Giant-headed Barry Bonds won MVP with his 73 home runs among other sicko stats.

* 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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