TEXANS 20, JAGUARS 7

Texans climb atop division with 20-7 win over Jaguars

Texans climb atop division with 20-7 win over Jaguars
The Texans came out on top in Jacksonville. Zach Tarrant/Houstontexans.com

The Texans came out with a powerful pass rush and capitalized on turnovers to claim first place in the AFC South by beating the Jaguars on the road in Jacksonville 20-7. Turnovers forced by the Texans defense led to 10 points and the pass rush set the tone early for a Jaguars offense that was under siege all day.

The Houston defense finished the day with nine quarterback hits and four sacks. They recovered two fumbles by Blake Bortles and safety Tyrann Mathieu intercepted Cody Kessler. Jacksonville was held to 70 yards rushing and 189 yards passing. The Houston defense forced a 47% conversion rate on third down.

Jacksonville’s starting quarterback Bortles looked terrible in the game before being replaced by Kessler after fumbling to end their first drive of the second half, his second turnover of the game. Houston would capitalize with a touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins and a dominant 20-0 lead.

Kessler looked better than Bortles, leading one drive 47 yards for their lone touchdown of the day. But he was not good enough to avoid four sacks for minus 28 yards from the Houston defense. Jadeveon Clowney led the way with two, and Whitney Mercilus and Tyrann Mathieu getting one apiece.

The key to Houston’s offensive success was the run game led by Lamar Miller. All day he looked like a different running back. He was running ahead and finding holes to the tune of 4.5 yards per carry average. He finished the game totaling 100 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown. Alfred Blue was great on his eight carries for 28 yards to keep the ball moving forward. They picked up another 13 yards from Watson on their way to 141 total yards rushing.

Watson’s passing game was flustered by the Jacksonville pass rush, especially the speed rush of Yannick Ngakoue against left tackle Julie’n Davenport. But he did well with no turnovers and a touchdown pass with only one sack. His numbers don’t jump off the page like previous weeks (12 of 24 for 139 yards) but the Texans had a lot of short fields to work with. They scored touchdowns on both possessions inside the red zone, something they have been criticized about heavily this season.

Defense won the game again this week, but because Houston didn’t turn the ball over and Watson only took one sack, the offense stayed in motion and put up points on the board. The Texans still hurt themselves with six penalties for 35 yards, most of them pre-snap penalties; but it looks like the offense might be getting closer to what it can be at its best.

 

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against Seattle. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros were a season low 12 games under .500 (12-24) on May 8th but were able to turn things around and entered the All-Star break with a respectable 50-46 record.

The turnaround can be attributed to better performances on the field by a multitude of players, but there are still things that could be improved to ensure a successful second half of the season.

As it currently stands, Houston is only one game behind the Seattle Mariners in the American League West division race, and the Astros should have key players returning from injury to further bolster their playoff ambitions.

The return of the King

Kyle Tucker has been on the injured list with a shin contusion for six weeks now, and looks to return in the near future.

The Astros have done surprisingly well without their three-time All-Star outfielder thanks to contributions from guys like Joey Loperfido, Jake Meyers and Marcio Dubon in the outfield. Plus, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Yanier Diaz and Jeremy Pena carrying the offense while King Tuck is away.

Before getting hurt, the 27-year-old was hitting .266/.395/.584 through 60 games. Houston already has one of the best offenses in baseball, and adding Tucker back would give the Astros another high-quality bat to further bolster their lineup.

The latest update is Tucker has been playing catch and could start a rehab assignment soon if all goes well.

Fix the rotation

Starting pitching has been a major issue this season due to a multitude of injuries.

Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy and J.P. France have all been lost for the year with various surgeries and guys like Justin Verlander and Luis Garcia are trying to work their way back from their injured list stints.

Garcia was recently pulled from his rehab assignment and won’t pitch again until he is ready. Meanwhile, Verlander could be closer to his return and is throwing bullpen sessions as of July 14. Getting both of these pitchers back at some point this season will be a huge boost to this roster.

The current Astros’ rotation consists of Framber Valdez, Ronel Blanco, Hunter Brown, Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss. Although not a bad rotation by any means, the starting pitching depth is getting pretty thin and Houston can ill afford another injury to their staff.

Astros general manager Dana Brown has been vocal about his desire to add starting pitching, and could have some options heading into the trade deadline. Players like Jack Flaherty, Garrett Crochet or Yusei Kikuchi, just to name a few, could be low risk high reward pitchers the Astros could acquire to add depth to their rotation.

Another option would be to call up A.J. Blubaugh from Sugar Land. The 24-year-old has a 6-2 record with a 3.46 ERA in 71.1 innings pitched this season for the Space Cowboys and could be a necessary depth piece to add to the rotation.

Play Astros baseball

The Astros have been playing better baseball as of late and have won 18 of their last 23 games. With players like Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander potentially returning soon, there is reason to believe Houston can make the playoffs for the 8th consecutive season.

The 'Stros will try to take sole possession of first place in their division from the Mariners when the two teams meet for three games at T-Mobile Park starting on Friday night.

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