Falcon Points

Texans get big win in Los Angeles, knocking off the Chargers 27-20

Texans get big win in Los Angeles, knocking off the Chargers 27-20
Zach Tarrant/Houstontexans.com

The Texans played another down to the wire thriller in Los Angeles, holding on for dear life to beat the Chargers 27-20. Let's take a look at how it played out:'

Offense

Positives: The revamped offensive line gave Deshaun Watson more than enough time to make plays. Titus Howard moved to right tackle, and Max Scharping got the start at left guard. This will likely be the lineup moving forward, with Laremy Tunsil, Scharping, Nick Martin, Zach Fulton and Howard. Watson missed some, but also made some big plays, throwing for 351 yards and three touchdowns on 25 of 34 passing. He was only sacked twice, and escaped the pocket several times, including on a beautiful play that led to Jordan Akins' second touchdown. And oh yes, the tight ends made an appearance, with three TDs between Akins and Darren Fells. They were very good on third downs, going 6 of 10.

Negatives: Watson's fumble on the first possession was just a bad football play and put his team in an early hole. The running game, so effective the first two weeks, was nearly invisible, averaging just 2.2 per carry. Watson threw a horrible fourth quarter pick but was bailed out by a defensive penalty. He also had a interception dropped on the same drive. Those mistakes can't happen in the fourth quarter. He also held the ball way too long on too many occasions. Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn missed a long field goal at the half and an extra point.

Defense

Positives: J.J. Watt had a big game with two and a half sacks and the line was able to get pressure on Phillip Rivers. Whitney Mercilus had another strip sack, and the Texans had five for the game. The pressure was a necessity against a beat-up LA line and the Texans took advantage. They held the Chargers to three points in the second half.

Negatives: The Chargers picked on Jonathan Joseph all day. The veteran has simply lost the ability to play at an even average level. They also were penalized far too often, including three times on the TD drive right before the half. The rest of the secondary was OK, but Joseph was seeing most of the action. They were bad again on third and long, and once on fourth and long on the Chargers fourth-quarter drive. They allowed the Chargers to convert twice on fourth down on the final drive. They could not stop New Orleans on the final drive in week 1. They did not stop Jacksonville last week. But this time, they finally got a stop on fourth down and won the game.

The bottom line

The Texans rarely get road wins against good teams, and even more rarely against top tier quarterbacks. They got both. They dominated the second half, came up with some big plays and exit with a 2-1 record, tied for the lead in the AFC South with the Colts. Make no mistake, this was a very good win, one that shows what they can be. There are still some things to clean up, but this was their best overall effort of the young season.

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Examining baseball's run scoring dilemma. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Baseball can’t run away from its lack of runs.

Batting averages are near half-century lows. Velocity is at an all-time high.

"Run scoring, it’s not easy to do. It’s hard and it’s getting harder,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Pitchers are getting better by the outing.”

The major league batting average was .240 through April and .239 in May, the lowest since the bottom of .237 in 1968’s Year of the Pitcher. It’s risen slightly along with the temperature as spring turned to summer: .246 in June and .250 in July, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Still, the season average of .243 heading into the All-Star break was just ahead of 2022 and 1968 as the lowest since the dead-ball era ended in 1920.

“Batting average was down a little bit. That’s not necessarily a good thing if you’re looking for action in the game,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in late May.

And the drop isn’t just in the big leagues. This year’s minor league batting average is .243, down from .256 in 2019.

“I didn’t see 100 (mph) when I was playing. It’s commonplace now,” said Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, whose last season was 2008.

Average four-seam fastball velocity is 94.2 mph this year, matching 2023 and up from 91.1 mph in 2008. There were 3,880 pitches of 100 mph or higher last year, up from 214 in 2008.

Just at Triple-A this year there have been 461.

“You can tell as a hitter. Guys are going to the top with the fastballs,” said Dylan Crews, the No. 2 draft pick last year and now at Washington's Triple-A Rochester farm team.

In an age of shortened attention spans, Major League Baseball has tried to increase action by instituting limits on defensive shifts in 2023 along with a pitch clock to cut dead time. The average time of a nine-inning game dropped from 3 hours, 4 minutes in 2022 to 2:40 last year and 2:36 thus far this season, but runs remain near post-Steroids Era lows: 4.39 per team each game, down from 4.62 last year and up from 4.28 in 2022.

Still, hitters have cut down slightly on strikeouts: the rate of 8.36 per team per game this season is the lowest since 2017, down from 8.61 last year and a record 8.81 in 2019.

“There’s more spin rate. There’s harder throwers,” San Diego star third baseman Manny Machado said. “There’s just so much information and I think that’s what creates the havoc and makes hitting a little bit harder.”

The percentage of fastballs — four-seamers, sinkers and cutters — is 55.5% this year, just above last season’s 55.4%. It was 62.5% in 2015.

Spin rates on sliders, sweepers and slurves have increased from 2,106 revolutions per minute in 2015 to 2,475 this year and their use has increased from 10.9% to 22.5%.

Team wonks view video and dissect data to provide pitchers pointers and batters blueprints. The Dodgers employ senior directors of baseball systems applications and baseball systems platforms along with directors of baseball strategy and information, quantitative analysis, baseball product development, integrative baseball performance, performance innovation lab and baseball innovation.

As a result of the perpetual perusal, pitchers are told what to throw, when to throw and how to throw.

Atlanta’s Max Fried mixes seven pitches: four-seamer, sinker, cutter, slider, sweeper, curveball and changeup.

“The information is so prevalent that there are no secrets,” Fried said. “Baseball is still a game of changing speeds and mixing up looks and if you can just kind of keep guys off balance as much as you possibly can there, you’re going to give yourself the best chance to be successful.”

The New York Yankees built a pitching laboratory known as the “Gas Station” at their minor league complex in Tampa, Florida, ahead of the 2020 season, a type of facility that is now becoming more commonplace. Pitchers from big leaguers down to high school have gone to Driveline in Kent, Washington, to develop their repertoires. “Pitch shape” has become a common term.

“You could go long periods, months maybe, where teams were not adding new pitches,” Baldelli said. “And now you see almost every series, you run in against a team and someone’s doing something completely different. I think the fear has kind of left the major league clubhouses when it comes to making adjustments.”

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