CODY STOOTS

Texans offensive woes continue, but battle for first place is in sight

Deshaun Watson is struggling. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

There is still plenty to digest before the AFC South showdown with Jaguars with the winner taking home first place honors. We get into it on a Monday with three headlines, two questions, and one stat. 

Watson feels...better?

Deshaun Watson played in Sunday's game despite what Fox's Jay Glazer said was a cracked rib, a bruised lung, and partially collapsed lung after last week's game with the Cowboys. Watson, apparently, is a mutant who heals faster than every other person because Monday Bill O'Brien updated everyone on Watson's health. 

"I think he's doing better," O'Brien said. "Better than he was at this point last week."

Watson will have to corroborate O'Brien's claim this week but I find it hard to believe he went from those reported injuries to feeling better after he took around 20 hits in the game. If he is trending that way then Watson was either not nearly as hurt as we were led to believe or healed up quickly. Either way it bodes will for Watson's long-term durability this season.

Offensive line regresses

The Texans had a nice enough game against a furious Cowboys front but regressed greatly against the Bills. Seven sacks to go along with 12 quarterback hits and a couple of those hits knocking the ball away from Watson in the pocket. Julién Davenport had a rough game at left tackle in his second start since his benching and Kendall Lamm resembled more of his 2017 self than the successful version from the previous two weeks. 

The rushing attack was bad as well. Just 74 yards on the ground for the Texans in a game where they never really pulled away from the Bills. The 3.1 yards per carry was up from the previous week but still their second-lowest of the season. For a team that is playing close game after close game, the rushing attack will be key and should they ever get a sizeable lead they will need it to hammer the opposing team down for a final couple of quarters. Also, with less threat to run, Watson's play action passing efficiency goes down as well. 

O'Brien was quick to point out that while they need to block better the struggles protecting Watson are not always solely on the offensive linemen. 

Foreman not close, but getting closer

D'Onta Foreman is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury last season and has been on the physically unable to perform list since the start of the season. Monday was the first day he was eligible to practice. Upon practicing, the Texans have 21 days to decide to put him on injured reserve or activate him to the roster. 

O'Brien said today he doesn't expect Foreman to practice this week saying he isn't quite ready.

According to a study in Foot and Ankle International, the average amount of days to return for football players in their study was 340 days after surgery. Foreman had surgery on Nov. 22 of last year so 340 days after surgery would be Oct. 28 of this year. That would be the Sunday after the Texans play the Dolphins on Monday Night Football and one week before they face the Broncos. With a bye week after the Broncos game, it would seem likely the first time Foreman suits up would be the middle of November against the Redskins with the Denver game being the second most likely. 

Can this offensive line survive the season?

It is very possible we have seen the best this offensive line has to offer. That is a scary thought to have about the Texans. There isn't much relief in sight either. All the tackle combinations with the top three guys have been tried except Martinas Rankin at right tackle but last week Mike Devlin pointed to his injury in the preseason keeping him from getting work at that spot. David Sharpe is the other tackle on the roster but he has played in just five games in his NFL career and despite being a fourth-round pick by the Raiders in 2017 saw his time in Oakland come to an end this past Septemeber. At this point, the free agency market or even waiver wire isn't going to have a starter show up so the Texans are stuck. Davenport is the left tackle it would seem and Kendall Lamm the right tackle. I don't know how much Seantrell Henderson would have helped this team, though interesting he hasn't had a lot of NFL success, there was clearly some hope he could solidify as a veteran the right side. If Davenport struggles maybe Rankin gets another shot at left tackle.

What's wrong with the Jaguars?

A preseason darling suddenly finds itself with all the shine off and battling for first in a division they had every right an intention of running away with this season. This team plays nothing like the AFC Championship game Jaguars. Media members who cover the team have lamented how poorly their ballyhooed coverage has been this year and the increased number of zone plays the team is using. The ferocious defensive line finished with the second-most sacks last year. This year the Jaguars are 18th in sacks and on pace to finish with about 20 less than last year. Yes, Blake Bortles is still a huge problem but even when he was a dunce throwing the ball the secondary and pass rush was there. The Texans have to hope Jacksonville doesn't get back to their roots on Sunday. 

I bet the Jaguars "get right" against the Texans. With the success most quarterbacks have had against the Texans this season it would make sense Bortles could stay out of the team's way and not be a total negative for the offense. The defense has tons of talent on the defensive line, the most the Texans will face all season, and with the team already giving up 25 sacks it could be another long day for the line and Watson. Jalen Ramsey was morose and had little to say in-line with his often brash personality after the loss to Dallas. I can't imagine the bark stays gone for long and there's plenty of bit behind it too.

 

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Kyle Tucker had a big day at the plate on Sunday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of the series, with one team or the other putting on a solid offensive performance in each, the Astros tried to win their fourth series in their last five by taking the rubber game on Sunday against the Blue Jays. Thanks in part to a big day from Kyle Tucker, who played a significant role in the early offense they used to power to the win, they would accomplish their mission.

Final Score: Astros 7, Blue Jays 4

Astros' Record: 18-16, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (2-1)

Losing Pitcher: Nate Pearson (0-1)

Kyle Tucker helps lead the offense to seven unanswered runs

Houston did not go easy on Nate Pearson in his 2021 debut. After a scoreless first, the Astros loaded the bases on two walks and a single, then brought the first run of the day home on an RBI walk by Michael Brantley. Another walk opened the door in the bottom of the third, and Kyle Tucker capitalized with an RBI triple to make it 2-0, followed by an RBI single by Robel Garcia to make it a three-run lead, ending Pearson's day one out into the bottom of the third.

Things didn't get easier for Toronto's pitching in the next inning, as Jose Altuve would lead off the bottom of the fourth with a solo homer. A single and a walk then set up another big hit for Kyle Tucker, a three-run dinger to make it seven unanswered runs and giving Tucker four RBI on the day.

Blue Jays pound Greinke in the fifth

After four shutout innings to start his day on the mound, working around a few hits along the way, Zack Greinke tried to cash in on his team's offense to get another win on his record. He wouldn't be able to get it done, though, as Toronto would get after him in the top of the fifth. They would score four times amongst five batters that came to the plate, with a solo homer by Rowdy Tellez, a two-RBI double by Bo Bichette, and an RBI single by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

That made it a 7-4 game, and with Greinke still not having recorded an out in the frame, Dusty Baker would lift him at 88 pitches in favor of Bryan Abreu, who would get a pop out and a double play to end the inning and keep the lead at three runs. Greinke's final line: 4.0 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 88 P.

Houston takes the series

No more runs would come on either side the rest of the way, with Kent Emanuel working around a single for a scoreless sixth, Ryne Stanek getting a 1-2-3 seventh, and Andre Scrubb doing the same in the eighth to set up Ryan Pressly for the save. Pressly would get the job done, sending the Blue Jays down in order, including two strikeouts to wrap up the win and giving Houston the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will stay at home to continue this homestand, welcoming in the Angels for three games starting Monday at 7:10 PM Central. The opener will feature a pitching matchup of Alex Cobb (1-2, 5.48 ERA) for Los Angeles and Luis Garcia (0-3, 3.28 ERA) for Houston.

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