Fred Faour

Texans defense finally shows up, roughs up Cowboys in 19-16 win

Tyrann Mathieu and the defense came up big. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Two weeks ago, the Texans had a 2.8 percent chance of making the playoffs after starting 0-3.

Today, they wake up with a 2-3 record, only one game out of the AFC South lead. 

In a tough, bruising, hard-fought game, the Texans outlasted the Dallas Cowboys, winning 19-16 in overtime.

Last week, the offense we had been waiting on all year finally showed up. And this week, Deshaun Watson put up some sexy numbers - 33 of 44 for 375 yards and a touchdown and one interception. Watson also rushed 10 times for 40 yards, but was pounded by the Dallas defense and was visibly shaken several times.

DeAndre Hopkins made the play of the game, with a tremendous individual effort on a 49-yard catch in overtime that led to the game-winning field goal. The Texans offense was really good, other than in the red zone. 

But the stars of this game were on the defensive side of the ball. And this week, the defense we had been waiting to see all season showed up. 

The Texans defense had been terrible through four games. But Sunday night, they put together their best effort in months. They held Zeke Elliot to just 54 yards on 27 carries for an average of 2.7. He added seven catches for 30 yards, but the Texans limited one of the best offensive weapons in football.

They were also physical throughout. They only sacked Dak Prescott twice, but that was a credit to the quarterback's elusiveness. They constantly got pressure and forced contested throws. He managed just 208 yards passing and one TD.

The most impressive part of the performance was the much maligned secondary. They attacked routes. They covered well. Most importantly, they did something they had not done since Week 1 - pick off a pass. In fact, they got two. 

The stars were plenty on this night. J.J. Watt had another sack, his sixth of the season. Jadeveon Clowney split one with Bernardrick McKinney. Zach Cunningham played his best game, including a huge stop in overtime. Kareem Jackson had an interception and was terrific in run support. So, too, was Tyrann Matthieu. Even Jonathan Joseph had three passes defensed. Rookie safety Justin Reid made several plays, including an interception. 

As a team, they held Dallas to 4 of 14 on third down, an achilles heel all year for the Texans. 

To put it simply, a group that had been a joke for four games finally won a game for the Texans. They were tough, physical and made plays. And they had to, because Dallas' defense matched their effort, and almost their performance. 

The end result? That 2.8 percent is looking a lot more possible. And if this defense can show up the rest of the season, the Texans might still make some noise. 

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These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.

Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?

Affecting the NL playoffs

It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.

Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.

As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.

They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.

It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.

Affecting the AL playoffs

There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.

Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.

So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.

This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.

Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.

So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.

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