Texans 20 , Colts 17

Texans vs. Colts: Good, bad and ugly

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In a Thursday Night Football battle, the Texans edged out the Colts in 20-17 hard fought victory. Here's how I saw things play out:

The Good

-DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller re-established themselves as one of the best wide receiver duos in the league this game. 13 catches on 19 targets for a combined 234 yards and two touchdowns (both by Hopkins). Whenever Deshaun Watson has Hopkins on the short to intermediate stuff and Fuller stretching the field, it gives him more options in the pass game.

-Deshaun Watson completed 63.3% of his passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns. While he did throw an inexplicable interception and took a sack, he still did enough to guide his team to a win. This kid is going to be a star and eventually lead his team to great things one day.

-The defense came up big against a division rival. Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney combined for 27 tackles, 19 of those were solo tackles. This wasn't an easy game. It was a grinder, and the defense deserves some love for their contribution.

The Bad

-Watson's interception in the 2nd quarter hurt their momentum. The Colts had just punted the ball to the Texans. With a 3-0 lead, they could've taken a two score lead with a touchdown drive. Instead, pressure up the middle tipped the pass and Colts corner Kenny Moore made a great play to pick it off. Sometimes good defense beats good offense.

-Back to back Colt possessions swung momentum back in their favor. At the end of the 1st half, the Texans gave up a field goal to tie the game at 10. To start the 2nd half, the Texans failed on a 4th&3 conversion. The Colts went on an 11 play drive (10 runs, one pass) and scored after Benardrick McKinney failed to make the tackle when he met Jonathan Williams in the gap.

-The Colts ran the ball 39 times for 175 yards at a 4.5 yard per carry clip. Losing the rushing yardage differential by -76, turnover game by -1, and time of possession by almost seven minutes is normally a recipe for a loss. These metrics need to be cleaned up moving forward, or else this team will be out early in the playoffs.

The Ugly

-The Colts convderted 9/15 of their 3rd down conversions. Giving up 60% on 3rd down conversions isn't what good football teams do. If the Texans expect to advance in the AFC playoff picture, they have some work to do as far as 3rd down conversion percentage.

-Dylan Cole went down with a calf injury in the 2nd quarter. He's not only one of their more athletic linebackers, he's alos the leading special teams tackler. Hopefully he's okay as this team, particularly the defense, has suffered enough injuries.

-After the field goal early in the 2nd quarter, I heard them playing "Football Time In Houston" by Clay Walker. Will they PLEASE get rid of that damn song?!? I'm sure there's a rap song they can use that's better. Hell, get a local band to do a rock song. Anything but that tired ass song!

Now that the Texans have won this game and firm control of the AFC South, they have about a 75% chance at making the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Colts have only about a 20% chance to make it. The Texans have five games left: Patriots, Broncos, @Titans, @Bucs, and Titans. None of those teams pose a serious threat outside the Pats. Winning all these games would give them a 12-4 record and a shot at a first round bye depending on what happens with other teams. Winning this game puts them in the driver's seat in the AFC South, and helps them in the race for a first round bye. They'll need some out side help to get first round bye in the playoffs, but health is a major component moving forward. Especially on the defensive side of the ball. With the Pats coming into town next Sunday night, the Texans have a chance to make some noise in the AFC. Next week will be the new biggest game of the Bill O'Brien era.

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Cristian Javier has proven he's a quality starting pitcher. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The 2022 regular season is nearing its end and while for the Houston Astros the true test will begin in the postseason, now is a good time to look ahead at what the team’s starting rotation could look like in 2023.

The big question will be whether long-time ace Justin Verlander returns to the team. Heading into 2022, there was doubt whether he would even be with the Astros coming off Tommy John surgery. Verlander re-signed with Houston on a two-year deal with a player option for 2023.

His production in 2022 has been nothing short of sensational. Verlander has the most wins for the Astros with a week left in the season. He has a 1.82 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 5.2 wins above replacement. More importantly for both Verlander and the Astros, is that he has played in 26 games and counting this season.

Whether Verlander remains with the Astros will likely depend on whether Houston is willing to spend. It is highly likely Verlander opts out of his player option following the strong 2022 campaign he has put together and looks for a bigger payday. Houston has shown it is not afraid to let key players walk in the offseason, so let’s take a look at a potential rotation with and without Verlander.

If the 39-year-old, who will be 40 by the time the 2023 regular season starts, stays with the Astros, he will undoubtedly be either the No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher in the rotation along with Framber Valdez, who is right behind Verlander in wins this season at 16. If Verlander leaves, Valdez should be the new Astros ace at No. 1.

Behind those two should be pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who in seven games in 2022 has a 2.38 ERA and has cooled the concerns about his right flexor tendon strain being a long-term concern. He suffered the injury last postseason.

After those three, things begin to get interesting. Let’s say Houston opts to stay with a six-man rotation. The fourth starter could be Luis Garcia, who has a 3.90 ERA in 2022. The 25-year-old has shown he is more than a capable starter for the Astros.

The big question is if Hunter Brown can lock himself a spot in the rotation. Numbers wise, he makes a solid case to be more than Houston’s fifth starter as he has garnered 1.13 ERA through four appearances and two starts.

Brown’s starts have been against the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, so there is a bit of a caveat there, but the upside undoubtedly should put him in the conversation for a starting role in 2023.

If Verlander leaves Houston, it should be more of a guarantee that a spot in the rotation as a starter for Brown is locked. Another factor in whether Brown is a starter could be if the Astros keep Dusty Baker as manager. Baker has shown at times he is willing to side with veterans over younger talent.

Other factors in Brown’s role will also be Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier. Urquidy has a 3.88 ERA in 28 games, all of which have been starts. Javier has a 2.65 ERA in 29 appearances, 24 of which have been starts.

Javier’s role for the Astros the last couple of years has involved starting and coming out of the bullpen, but this season he has shown that he is a capable starter. Based on this season’s play, Javier should have the edge for a starting spot, which leaves the question, what should the Astros do with Urquidy?

If Verlander walks, and Houston opts to keep a six-man rotation, then he just slides in and becomes starter No. 6. If Verlander stays, then is he willing to accept a role out of the bullpen, or do the Astros continue to use Brown out of the bullpen? Over the course of the season, both Brown and Urquidy will undoubtedly have chances to start throughout 2023.

Because of the long grind of an MLB schedule, the Astros should not trade whoever doesn’t get a starting role if Verlander stays, but how likely is it that it is even a problem for Houston? Regardless of who leaves or stays, the Astros should also continue with a six-man rotation because over the course of 162 games, it is what is best for your starters.

If the Astros bring back general manager James Click, based on how the Astros have seen players like George Springer and Carlos Correa walk in the past under his leadership, it is likely Verlander leaves Houston, but at the same time, many didn’t believe he was going to be back at all for 2022.

One thing is for sure, the Astros have a great problem to have. So many starting pitcher candidates, many of whom can be under team control for several years. So even if Verlander walks, an unforeseen injury happens, or a player ends up being disgruntled, Houston has more than enough flexibility to remain among the American Leagues’s best.

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