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 clock is ticking. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

If he is indeed to become an ex-Astro George Springer can officially sign with his new team starting at four PM Houston time this Sunday. Michael Brantley the same. All free agents can sign contracts starting Sunday afternoon. If the die isn't cast that Springer is leaving, it certainly feels like his renewing vows with the Astros would be an upset.

The Astros will make Springer a 18.9 million dollar qualifying offer for 2021. He will of course reject that because contract offers of at least five years and over 100 million dollars likely await. Should Springer move on the Astros would then get a compensatory draft pick. Brantley won't get anything in close range of Springer's haul-to-be but still should at least get multiyear offers. The Astros should make the qualifying offer to Brantley (if they don't they forfeit any compensation for his departure). If they don't out of fear that he'd accept the one-year deal, the Astros would look lame. I don't think it comes to that. Losing Springer would be a huge blow on multiple levels, but if somehow they were to keep Brantley while getting back Yordan Alvarez at even 80 percent of his rookie performance level the Astros' lineup would look to be in decent shape.

With MLB's economic outlook shaky for 2021, it's unreasonable to say Jim Crane and his partners should give Springer whatever he wants. A six or seven year megadollar contract for a 31-year-old player with some durability questions on his resume is an iffy proposition. At the same time, the Astros have been quite profitable in recent years (before 2020), and Crane said over the summer the Astros were positioned to be "aggressive, whatever the market looks like." 13 million Josh Reddick dollars are off the books for 2021, 10 mil of Roberto Osuna is gone. After next year more than 57 mil of Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke clear.

MLB's postseason awards will be doled out over the next couple weeks but for the first time in years the Astros don't have a credible candidate for any of the big ones (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year). The Astros do have three American League Gold Glove finalists. I think Carlos Correa wins the shortstop honor. Correa had a weak regular season at the plate but his defense was stellar, plus the two guys who divvied up the last four AL SS Gold Gloves (Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons) had down seasons and aren't finalists. Quick: name the teams of fellow finalists J.P. Crawford and Niko Goodrum. Hard to see either winning over Correa. Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker were also named top three at their positions. For the first time the finalist selections were driven entirely by stats and analytics.

Big week for the Rockets

With the Rockets settling on Stephen Silas as their new Head Coach, that hire coupled with the in house promotion of Rafael Stone to General Manager makes it appear as though owner Tilman Fertitta is doing more things on the cheap. The NBA economic environment is challenging and huge portions of the rest of Fertitta's portfolio are submerged in a COVID-driven bloodbath. Silas has paid his dues for a good while and most recently worked under the outstanding Rick Carlisle in Dallas. He has earned a lead chair opportunity. But with no prior head coaching experience and no bidding war for his services, Silas signs on at a much lower rate than, say, Jeff Van Gundy would have commanded. Former head coaches (and former Rockets' player rivals of the 90s) Jeff Hornacek and Nate McMillan would make for two strong Silas assistants. From their playing days if you combined Hornacek's offense and McMillan's defense into one player you'd have one of the top 20 or so greatest guards in NBA history.

Silas and Stone take the reins at a challenging time for the Rockets with their messy salary cap sheet, reduced draft capital, and one of the oldest core player groups in the league. Polite public statements aside, it's part of why Daryl Morey left. Maybe Mike D'Antoni too though that seemed more about feeling disrespected by the lack of a contract extension before this past season. D'Antoni may have overplayed his hand since he did not get fill any of the coaching vacancies elsewhere in the NBA. Only Oklahoma City remains open, and D'Antoni has gotten no run there.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. It seems sadly appropriate that the first meaningful positive in the Texans' 2020 season came in form of a COVID test result.

2. If we all commit to getting through it together, I think we can get by without a Texans' game this weekend. Remember, it's their open week, not a bye!

3. One hit wonder goodbye songs: Bronze-Terry Jacks "Seasons in the Sun" Silver-Norman Greenbaum "Spirit In The Sky" Gold-Steam "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye"

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