TEXANS 34, TITANS 17

The Texans made a prime-time statement in 34-17 victory

The Texans defense sacked Marcus Mariota six times. Tim Warner/Getty Images

After a three-and-out to start the game, the Texans put their foot on the gas and ran all over the Titans in prime-time for a 34-17 home victory less than a week after owner Robert C. McNair passed away. They have reeled off eight consecutive victories and notched a crucial divisional win in a tight AFC playoff race.

Tonight’s victory was the kind of team win Houston needed heading into the final stretch of the season. Offensively, they ran the ball exceptionally well against a Titans defense that was averaging 3.9 yards per rush coming into the game, finishing the night with 282 yards. Lamar Miller exploded to the tune of 162 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries, 97 of them coming on a touchdown run in the second quarter. It was Houston’s third consecutive touchdown drive, giving them 21 unanswered points after Tennessee took a 10-0 lead in the 1st quarter.

He wasn’t the only one to have a big night on the ground. Deshaun Watson ran the ball nine times for 70 yards and a touchdown, including a big 34-yard run in the 4th quarter that led to his second passing touchdown. He also had a great night throwing the ball, finishing with a 130.9 passer rating on 19-of-24 for 210 yards and two touchdown passes. He spread the ball around to nine different receivers, with DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas getting the most receptions.

Thomas scored his first two touchdowns in a Texans uniform to go along with his four catches for 38 yards. Hopkins continues to be Watson’s favorite target, finishing with five receptions for 74-yards. He now has 73 catches for 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

Not to be outdone, the Texans defense made sure that when Houston got the lead they never relinquished it. They were unable to force any turnovers until a fumble with thirty seconds left in the game; but they sacked Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota six times for minus 43 yards, disrupting any rhythm he thought he had. Mariota did have some big plays in the passing game - his two touchdowns were 61 yards and 48 yards - but only threw for 195 yards otherwise.

The biggest sequence in the game happened in the second quarter. With Houston leading only 14-10 the Titans drove down to the Houston 3-yard line. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel chose to go for it on 4th-and-1 and handed the ball to tight end Luke Stocker for no gain and a turnover on downs. The very next play was Miller’s long touchdown and the momentum swung fully toward the Texans for the rest of the game.

This was a statement win for Houston as they maintain a two-game lead in the division against the surging Indianapolis Colts. Their 8-3 record currently places them in the third seed with a Week 14 home game against the Colts as their only matchup against an opponent with a winning record.

 

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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