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Texans vs. Jaguars: The good, bad and ugly from Sunday's win

Andre Hal (center) made a triumphant return. Zach Tarrant/Houstontexans.com

The Texans are now in sole possession of first place in the AFC South due to their 20-7 win over the Jags today. This was not as ugly as their previous three wins, but it was ugly nonetheless. Let’s dig into some main points the way I saw them:

The Good

-Texans’ run game decided to make an appearance today. They racked up 102 yards in the first half (75 by Lamar Miller). This coupled with a fumble and four Jag punts helped the Texans to a 13-0 halftime lead. This is key because the team is now 25-1 under Bill O’Brien when leading at the half.

-Jadeveon Clowney continues to give teams fits. He added two sacks to his season total, but his best work came against the run. I love when they use him to rush the A gap (between center and guard), or head on with the center. He’s a matchup nightmare when rushing inside because of his speed and strength.

- Texans’ safety Andre Hal played and registered a tackle today. Normally that’s no cause for celebration, but considering he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in May, I consider this celebratory. A man of faith, Hal used it to get to where he is today and I respect him tremendously for beating the disease and making it back in six months.

The Bad

-With two timeouts, 1:11 before halftime, and getting the second half kickoff, the Texans played it safe and simply ran out the clock with three straight runs. O’Brien still doesn’t understand you can’t hoard timeouts. Either that or he’s not confident in his play-calling or team’s ability to go for the jugular.

-While the run game was pretty dominant in the first half, it fizzled in the second half. They managed only 38 yards after halftime. With a two score lead, running the ball should have been higher on the priority list. Running the ball takes good blocking and attitude and this team showed me they lack the toughness it needs to do so consistently.

- When you win the turnover battle by a plus three margin, you’d expect a more convincing victory. Those three turnovers led to 10 points. Most would say this is good. I disagree. They had the ball on the Jags’ 36 and 12 yard lines after the two fumbles and on their 26 after the fourth quarter interception with 5:49 left in the game. Teams that can’t consistently score touchdowns off turnovers are destined to lose more often than they win.

The Ugly

-The Texans lead the league in false starts (15), pre-snap penalties (25), and sacks given up (26). Henceforth why Watson is banged up and the team is constantly behind in down and distance.

-Keke Coutee was ruled out for the game as his hamstring injury caught up with him. He missed significant time to start the season and quickly gained a prominent role in the slot and as a weapon on misdirection plays.

-Deshaun Watson’s accuracy is still a concern of mine. Going 12 of 24 for 139 yards (no interceptions) against the Jags’ defense isn’t going to cut it. Sure they have the best corner tandem in the league and a good pass rush, but 50% completion is awful. The run game and defense isn’t going to continue to bail him out. Star quarterbacks win games for their teams instead of their teams winning in spite of their performances.

Being 4-3 and in sole possession of first place in the division is not a bad place at all. It could be much worse had a few things not gone their way. This team has a long way to go in order to make noise in the playoffs. But hey, making it to the playoffs by winning your dumpster juice of a division is certainly one way to make the playoffs. What they do from there is up to them. This was a big win and hopefully it gives them the confidence they need to go on a run.

 

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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