Texans post-bye schedule might not be so soft after all

Keke Coutee could make an impact if healthy. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

With the Texans getting back to work I figured the three headlines should be a look at the progress the next three opponents made. It looks a little bit more difficult than this time last week. 

Washington Controls NFC East

Despite being outgained 501-286 Washington defeated the Buccaneers 16-3. Tampa Bay owns the dubious honor of having the most yards ever when only scoring three points. I can't say it was because Washington was really good though. Three of the four Buccaneers turnovers were deep in Washington territory with the other one leading to an easy field goal for the Redkskins. They're now 6-3 and own a sizable lead in the NFC East. 

Washington has been dealing with a ton of injuries and the weak Tampa Bay defense didn't do a lot to challenge an offensive line that has plenty of backups now starting. Alex Smith was only sacked three times but managed just 178 yards passing. Adrian Peterson and the other backs got going along with Smith to rush for over 100 yards. This offense isn't dangerous by any means. They average 20 points a game and have scored over 24 points just once. Washington hasn't scored more than 20 in a month. 

This is a game if the Texans offense gels coming out of the bye, they should handle Washington easily. They're not capable of coming back from a big deficit and aren't talented enough to win a shootout. If the Texans play their typical close game and make it ugly Washington has more than enough on defense to win the game. The Redskins are in the middle of one of the more unique runs in NFL history. There has yet to be a lead change in any of Washington's games.

Titans and Vrabel down Patriots

Tennessee worked the New England Patriots on their way to a 34-10 shellacking of the defending AFC champions. Tom Brady never got going. James White was bottled up. Rob Gronkowski was hurt. The Titans leaned on former Patriots back Dion Lewis early and he and a seemingly healthy Marcus Mariota helped the Titans score on their first three drives. Running back Derrick Henry and wideout Corey Davis each had huge days against an unusually leaky Patriots defense. It was one of the most shocking results of the NFL season. 

The Titans are much better than the version the Texans saw, and lost to, early in the season. They're healthier on the offensive line and Mariota has put together three impressive games managing the offense and leaning on a suddenly solid rushing attack. Mike Vrabel is feeling himself and coaching up a team short on talent and becoming a headache. He called a trick play the Patriots failed to execute and joked after the game he wanted to see if they could do it better than New England. 

When Tennessee heads to Houston it will be Monday Night Football. Tennessee is undefeated in the AFC South but will take on the Colts next week before the contest with the Texans. That matchup is a toss-up with the Colts dismantling of the Jaguars on Sunday. The Monday Night Football game could very well be a determining factor in who wins the AFC South. 

That's why he was picked first

Three touchdown passes and a 151.3 quarterback rating by Baker Mayfield helped the Browns break the Falcons win streak. While Mayfield was feeling it through the air nobody was feeling it quite like Nick Chubb. He rushed for 176 yards in the victory with a 92-yard scamper really putting things out of reach for Atlanta. Cleveland forced a fumble coming out of halftime and quickly turned it into points. 

This Cleveland team is now one win away from matching the win total of the three previous seasons combined. They have plenty of talented players on defense and now their offense seems to be grooving with Hue Jackson and Todd Haley being shown the door. This is something to monitor for Texans fans in the coming weeks. Cleveland has a bye and road trip to their fellow Ohio mates Cincinnati before they come to Texas. It seems likely Baker Mayfield's swagger will be alive and well as he returns to his home state in three weeks. 

Did the bye week get the Texans healthy?

There are plenty of eyes on the injury report this week as the Texans finished up the Denver game with lots of key players ailing heading into their break. Cornerback Aaron Colvin had returned to practice after an ankle injury in week four sidelined him. Practicing before the bye should mean he is set to return either for this game or almost certainly the Tennessee game. Johnathan Joseph was a limited participant before he missed the Denver game and seemed optimistic he would be ready after the break. Andre Hal was close to getting back after playing in his lone game before a shoulder injury sidelined him. I would expect those three defensive backs to play in Washington and Tennessee at the very latest. 

Zach Cunningham was out with a knee injury and didn't practice at all before the game in Denver. His injury is a bit more of a question so his status will need to be monitored this week ahead of Washington, though they could use him. Keke Coutee is the player which interests me the most coming back from the bye week. Coutee could really help open up this offense and take some of the pressure off Demaryius Thomas as he still picks up the intricacies of the offense. Coutee's been dealing with a hamstring injury that has only had him play in four games including preseason. He was present for the first four games of the Texans current winning streak. It would be close to a month since he last played if Coutee plays this weekend. 

O'Brien's post-bye balling

Bill O'Brien in his career has a 16-17 record after his team's bye week. On the surface, that isn't great. But let's take a closer look. Last season was a disaster after the break in the schedule. Deshaun Watson led the Texans to a near-win in Seattle in the last ever game played by the Seahawks Legion of Boom. Then, disaster struck. Watson tore his ACL, Tom Savage took over, and the team went into the tank winning just one game the rest of the year. Now, let's take out last year's 1-9 record after the bye. 

O'Brien coached three different starting quarterbacks (Ryan Mallett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Case Keenum) to a 5-2 record in 2014, his first year on the job. O'Brien again coached three different starting quarterbacks (T.J. Yates, Brian Hoyer, and Brandon Weeden) to a winning record, this time a 6-2 mark. 2016 wasn't as impressive with just a 4-4 mark. A three-game losing streak happened after a win over the Jaguars but O'Brien steered them out of a tailspin. The Texans won three of their final four games, including two AFC South games to earn the tiebreaker win over Tennessee before the season finale. 

It's trending the wrong way, sure, but if O'Brien captures some of his early success after the bye, the Texans will be sitting pretty heading into the playoffs. 

I bet the Texans get Keke Coutee back this weekend and it leads to a noticeable change in the offense. Coutee has been impressive in short stints and he has had a few near huge plays this season. He was so close to being a regular contributor before the injury robbed him of the chance. He's the only true slot presence on the team. With the rushing attack seeming to be back on track, and Thomas hopefully better in tune with the offense, Coutee is poised to really show what he's capable of in the NFL. 

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Houston loses to end the road trip

Dodgers get best of Odorizzi to split series with Astros

Jake Odorizzi allowed four home runs over three innings against the Dodgers on Wednesday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

After spoiling the night of many Dodgers fans in the opener of this two-game series in Los Angeles the night prior, the Astros returned to the stadium to a fresh set of hostile fans, looking to get the mini-sweep. This one went much more in favor of the home team, though, as the Dodgers would ride three big innings to start the game to the win for the series split.

Final Score: Dodgers 7, Astros 5

Astros' Record: 65-43, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Max Scherzer (9-4)

Losing Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (4-6)

Odorizzi gets shelled

After a Michael Brantley solo home in the top of the first run against Max Scherzer, making his Dodger debut, it looked like the Astros may continue their momentum from the night before to grab hold of this game as well. However, that all changed in the bottom of the inning, as the Dodgers would tee off against Jake Odorizzi.

In that inning, he allowed four runs, a leadoff solo shot by Mookie Betts, then later a three-run blast by Will Smith. Betts made it 2-for-2 with solo homers in the bottom of the second, extending the lead to 5-1. Things went from bad to worse in the third, with Los Angeles getting their fourth home run, this one for two runs to make it a 7-1 game. Odorizzi would finish the third but go no further.

Scherzer K's 10 over seven innings in his Dodger debut

Houston tried to start clawing back into it in the top of the fourth, getting a second run against Scherzer with a two-out RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, trimming the lead to five runs at 5-2. First out of Houston's bullpen was Yimi Garcia in the bottom of the fourth, and he tossed the first 1-2-3 inning for Houston. Rafael Montero was next in the bottom of the fifth, working around a leadoff double followed by a walk for a scoreless inning.

Montero remained in the game in the bottom of the sixth, still 7-2, and would get another scoreless inning, this time sitting down the Dodgers in order. Scherzer finished his quality debut for his new team in the top of the seventh, erasing a leadoff walk to complete seven innings while allowing two runs.

Astros lose to split the series with Dodgers

Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he, too, would get through a scoreless inning by erasing a two-out single. In the game-within-the-game, the Dodgers brought in Joe Kelly for the top of the eighth, who notched two strikeouts to bring none other than Carlos Correa to the plate, setting up a rematch of the well-known incident that led to the "pouty face" clip from 2020. Carlos Correa won this round, launching a 405-foot homer off of Kelly to make it a four-run game at 7-3.

Phil Maton kept the score there, stranding two runners in the bottom of the eighth to send the 7-3 game to the top of the ninth, where the Dodgers would bring in Kenley Jansen. After a leadoff single, Kyle Tucker would get the Astros within two runs on a two-run homer, making it 7-5. That's as close as they would get, as Jansen would regroup to get the next three batters out to wrap up the loss for Houston.

Up Next: With this road trip completed, the Astros will have a quick turnaround as they catch a late flight back to Houston then turn around with a game Thursday at 7:10 PM Central to open a four-game series with the Twins. Framber Valdez (7-2, 3.01 ERA) will take the mound for Houston in the opener, while Minnesota will counter with Griffin Jax (1-1, 6.41 ERA).

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