To advance in the playoffs, you must protect the QB and run the ball well

Texans must address O-line issues

Last year's O line was bad. This year might have been worse. Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The off season starts now for the Houston Texans and the time is now to address the most glaring weakness on this football team. The offensive line for the Texans was exactly that, offensive, all season long. We knew it was an issue last year and new GM Brian Gaine had improving the group in charge with protecting Deshaun Watson as his top priority in the off season. We knew if he could do that in his first year on the job, he would no doubt win over the fans and impress his employer as well as his head coach, Bill O' Brien. Everyone had high hopes that with the check book open and possibly a few savy draft manuevers, this team could block, protect and take this squad to a whole new level. Watson was coming off season ending knee surgery as well, so it was imperitive that the line improve if the franchise quarteback was to survive the entire season and stay upright enough to win more games.

With that said, he was limited in the draft picks he had at his disposal and passed on the biggest names hitting the market in free agency. Instead he looked for bargains and steals and guys that had underachieved as well as considering veterans that hpefully had something left in the tank. After starting the season 0-3 and putting Watson in harms way on seeminlgy eery play, the five guys up front for the Texans looked like they might just be the worst offensive line in football and clearly a step down from the sub par group that finished the 2017 season. Just when it looked like it was over and done and the team had no chance to make the playoffs, let alone win their first game, along came Deshaun and his surgically repaired knee, feeling good and running around slinging the rock to the tune of nine straight wins. Thanks to his incredible athletic ability and ridiculous escapability in the pocket, the line looked like it improved with every victory as fans were too giddy with the W's to continue harping on the worst position group on the roster. They won the division and won 11 games, making the playoffs after starting 0-3, a feat that hadn't been done since 1998. It was all good in the NRG neighborhood, right? WRONG!

Along came the playoffs and as every victorious team in the opening weekend of the post season can attest, you have to have solid line play for four quarters as you protect your QB and open up holes for your running game to win at the most critical time of the season. The Colts, Eagles, Cowboys and Chargers checked all those boxes as they survived and advanced to the divisional round next weekend. Philly and LA kept their QB upright and held off two of the best defenses in the league, while Dallas won by opening up big holes for the running game against a stingy Seattle defense and we all know what Andrew Luck was able to do against Houston.

The Texans were sent home to lick their wounds and start the process of improving for next year by addressing the most glaring weaknesses on the roster. It's safe to say it all starts with the o-line and overhauling a position group that gave up a whopping 62 sacks this year while forcing Watson to endure 133 hits in and around the pocket. Those numbers rank up there with the David Carr era as the third worst protection performance in team history, and was in the ballpark of the two worst performances protecting a QB in NFL history. Carr was sacked 76 times in 2002 which set the league record and he almost topped that mark with 68 more in 2005. The only other season where a team surrendered 70 or more sacks was in 1986 when Randall Cunningham was taken down 72 times as a member of the Eagles.

So it's safe to say, the line was absolutely horrendous and it could have been worse if they didn't have such a talented signal caller behind center. When you factor in that Watson led the team in rushing Saturday with 76 yards and it wasn't the first time that had happened, it gives you even more ammunition to how bad the blocking was, as well as the protection. The offensive line failed to open up holes for the running game against Indianapolis just as they had failed to do in the last meeting between the two teams in the regular season. They also had surrendered 12 sacks to the Colts in two games this season and three more on Saturday, while the Colts have only allowed Andrew Luck to be taken down 18 times all season, including the game two days ago. Watson led the team in rushing Saturday in part because he was constantly running for his life and trying to escape pressure in the pocket. He finished the year as the teams' second leading rusher with over 500 yards on the ground partly because it was the only way he could attempt to stay safe and avoid another serious injury.

Now that you finally have your franchise quarterback in Houston, the time is now for Brian Gaine and the Texans front office to address the most glaring need and improve the O-line through the draft and free agency. They will have a full compliment of picks at their disposal and enough money to put themselves in position to overhaul the current group and upgrade the position group accross the board. They better, because if they don't Texans' fans better prepare for more heartbreak and failure than divison titles and playoff victories.

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Houston drops first of three

Mariners heat up late to take series opener over Astros

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

With the playoffs just a little over a week away, the Astros started their last week of regular-season games in Seattle against the Mariners. A couple of wins against them would secure Houston's spot as the AL West's second playoff participant, with Oakland all but having locked up the first spot sitting six games in front of Houston with seven left to play. Here is a quick rundown of the opener from T-Mobile Park:

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 1.

Record: 27-27, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Marco Gonzalez (7-2, 3.06 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 4.24 ERA).

Bitter end to an impressive start for McCullers Jr.

Both starting pitchers would take a scoreless deep late into Monday night's game. While the Astros were trying to figure out Marco Gonzalez, Lance McCullers Jr. was repeating the success of his last start, a seven-inning two-hit start against the Rangers.

McCullers Jr. allowed a two-out walk in the bottom of the first inning, then proceeded to retire the next fourteen batters before a one-out double in the bottom of the sixth gave the Mariners their first hit of the night. He would go on to finish the sixth before things unraveled in the seventh.

A leadoff walk would result in a run after an error by Jose Altuve left runners on first and second, setting up an RBI-double to give the Mariners the first run of the night and a 1-0 lead. McCullers Jr. looked like he was going to cap off his night by stranding the runners on second and third after back-to-back strikeouts, but before he could get the last out of the inning allowed a three-run home run to blow the game open at 4-0. His final line: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR, 102 P.

Mariners take the opener

Despite getting several hits against him along the way, Houston could not get anything substantial going against Gonzalez, who would shutout the Astros over eight innings of work. After Enoli Paredes finished the seventh, Brandon Bielak would take over out of Houston's bullpen for the bottom of the eighth.

He struggled mightily, loading the bases with no outs, including a hit batter before allowing a two-RBI single to extend Seattle's lead to 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the top of the ninth, getting a two-out double by Carlos Correa, who would score on an RBI-single by Josh Reddick. That would be too little, too late as the 6-1 score would go final as the Mariners took the opener, keeping the Astros' magic number at two.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will be another 8:10 PM Central start on Tuesday. On the mound will be Framber Valdez (4-3, 3.82 ERA) for the Astros and Ljay Newsome (0-1, 6.35 ERA) for the Mariners.

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