Texans 37, Colts 34

Stars come out of hiding in Texans 37-34 OT win over Colts

Stars come out of hiding in Texans 37-34 OT win over Colts
J.J. Watt had another big game. Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

With a lot of pressure on Houston to finally get a win this season, the defense was the star in today’s 37-34 win in overtime against the Indianapolis Colts. What looked like a big win for the Texans came crashing down in the second half as they surrendered an 18-point lead and allowed the game to go to overtime. They couldn’t hold against the powerful arm of Andrew Luck and a big lead dwindled to nothing before the game’s end.

The teams traded field goals in overtime, but it was Houston getting a key defensive stop to give them one more chance at victory. Jadeveon Clowney’s sack of Andrew Luck to make it 3rd and 21 on the Colts side of the field was the big play they have been waiting for from the fifth-year player. But it was just a part of what they had done all day against the Colts.

The Texans defense helped build a big lead in the first half with constant pressure on Andrew Luck and multiple forced turnovers to keep them in a positive game script. It allowed the offense to work methodically down the field. It looked like this would be a signature win for Houston’s young season.

J.J. Watt continued his return from injuries with another dominant performance up front. He finished the day with two sacks, two forced fumbles, and a tackle for loss. He was active all day, much like he was in the years he won defensive player of the year. But he wasn’t the biggest star on the defense today. That honor belongs to Jadeveon Clowney.

Clowney finished the day with two sacks, four tackles for loss, and a touchdown on a fumble recovery. It was that touchdown that helped Houston draw even with the Colts early, tying the game at 7 points after Houston’s first offensive drive stalled. From there the Texans took control and built a 21-10 halftime lead, getting it as high as 28-10 before the Colts made their comeback.

The Texans secondary was a major weakness that Luck exploited early and often. The Colts threw for 464 yards, four touchdowns and gained 23 first downs through the air. The defensive front held their own but in the second half the Indianapolis offense found their groove and converted 3 of their 4 drives for touchdowns, eventually tying the score with 45 seconds left in the game.

Offensively, the play from Deshaun Watson looked like it was designed. He threw the ball on only 52% of the plays while Houston led for 45:42 of the game. He finished the day 29 of 42 for 375 yards, 2 passing touchdowns and 1 interception with another 41 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He accomplished that despite being sacked 7 times and being forced out of the pocket a lot more than desired. The yardage totals were good but winning the time of possession (Houston 40:04 to Indy 29:56) was big for Houston’s chances at victory.   

Once again, his wide receivers had big performances. DeAndre Hopkins hauled in 10 receptions for 169 yards and a touchdown. Will Fuller was on pace for another big day until he exited in the first half with an injury, but not before grabbing his third touchdown of the season. Rookie fourth round selection Keke Coutee, who made his debut today, filled in well. He caught 11 passes for 109 yards and was a go to target for short routes underneath.

Houston had another solid day rushing the ball, finishing with a team total of 119 yards and the one touchdown by Watson. Lamar Miller led the way with 15 carries for 49 yards and Alfred Blue for 12 carries for 31 yards of his own. The importance was that Houston was able to move the ball well most of game. The offense was 50% on third down and even converted a 4th-and-7 at one point.

It was a solid effort for Houston and thankfully they came out with a win.

 

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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.

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