FALCON POINTS

Texans grind out 10th win of the season thanks to stellar play from J.J. Watt

Texans grind out 10th win of the season thanks to stellar play from J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt again made big plays. Mark Brown/Getty Images

During their nine-game winning streak, the Texans won a lot of ugly, grind it out games. Add Saturday's 29-22 victory over the Jets to the list.

The Texans were outplayed for much of the game and at times the Jets looked like the 9-4 team going in and the Texans appeared to be the 4-9 group. The Texans settled for too many field goals. They were gashed in the secondary (again). Deshaun Watson took too many sacks (again). The offensive line and Watson were terrible against the blitz (again).

But once again, the Texans found a way to win. Watson led a fourth quarter, game-winning drive and the Texans escaped.

While there is a lot to dislike about the win, the big picture numbers are impressive:

The Texans are now 31-1 with a halftime lead under Bill O'Brien. That is simply outstanding.

They have won 10 games under O'Brien for the first time. They sit 10-4 in the AFC.

They took another big step toward wrapping up the AFC South, and remain alive for a first-round bye if they can get some help elsewhere. But they will need to play better moving forward.

DeAndre Hopkins once again played like the best receiver in the NFL. He had 10 catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner. He limped off afterward, but appeared to be OK.

Lost in everything is the season J.J. Watt is having. Healthy for the first time in three years, he continues to play at a high level. Watt made plays early in the game - sacking Sam Darnold on the Jets first series and forcing a fumble that led to a touchdown - and constantly put pressure on the Jets. The only thing missing from his Player of the Year days is his stamina. He has been gassed many times this year, and was again against the Jets in the second half. But he came back with a huge sack in the fourth quarter. He finished with two sacks, the forced fumble, two tackles for loss and seven tackles overall.

They needed every bit of what he had to offer. Once again, the pass defense was terrible. Darnold looked terrific at times, completing 24 of 38 for 253 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another 35 yards. The secondary could not cover the Jets mediocre receivers.

Watson was good when it mattered, but held the ball too long on several instances and was sacked six times. The offense suffered when Lamar Miller went out early. Alfred Blue was awful, with only six yards on nine carries for a ridiculous 0.7 average. They were brutal on third down, going just 1 of 9. (The Jets were 9 of 16). The Jets outgained the Texans 318-286. They had more first downs (21-15) and dominated time of possession (35:04 to 24:56).

The Texans did not make good halftime adjustments, as the Jets defense dominated out of the break.

But the Texans also got some help from the Jets, who missed two extra points. Good teams win games when they are not at their best. The alarming thing is we have not seen the Texans at their best very often this year.

Watt, however, is playing his best. He now has 14.5 sacks and has forced six fumbles. He looks a lot like vintage Watt. He won't win Defensive Player of the Year, and likely would not finish in the top three. But he has been excellent.

They needed every bit of it on Saturday, on a day where they were not at their best. But they escaped with a win.

Again.

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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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