DEPENDING ON THE D

The Texans will need to rely on their defense to win games, and Sunday they were not good enough

The Texans will need to rely on their defense to win games, and Sunday they were not good enough
Lamar Houston's touchdown kept Houston in the game. Tim Warren/Getty Images

The Deshaun Watson-less Texans looked a lot like the 2016 Texans on Sunday. Only worse.

Ineffective on offense. Relying solely on a defense that gives up big plays, but also makes them. And that’s how Sunday’s game against the Colts played out.

And it was not good enough. The Colts came up with two big plays on offense to the one by the Texans defense, and that was the difference in the game in a 20-14 Colts victory at NRG Stadium.

If they Texans (3-5) are going to win, it is going to be because they play solid defense. And not give up big plays. They weren’t bad on Sunday, but they were not good enough, giving up two big touchdown passes.

And that was against the Colts, perhaps the weakest team left on their schedule not named San Francisco.

The defense gave up a long early touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton and fell in a 10-0 hole. But just before the half, Eddie Pleasant came up with a strip sack, and Lamar Houston ran it in for the score. That was as close as they would get.

Eddie Pleasant. Lamar Houston. Not the names you expected when the season started. But without J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, this is what the Texans are.

D.J. Reader. Marcus Gilchrist. Carlos Watkins. These were the players the Texans were forced to rely on. And will be moving ahead.

And it wasn’t good enough. Against the Colts. Hilton made another big play on an 80-yard score in the third quarter, and that was all she wrote. On that play, Andre Hal did not touch Hilton down, and he got up and took it to the house.

We all know the offense will struggle without Watson. And Tom Savage lived down to expectations, much as he did last season, when he and Brock Osweiler were manning the ship. That is what the offense will be. It produced seven points against a bad defense.

Seven.

They drove deep into Colts territory on the final minute, but typically bad clock management ended with a sack/fumble to close out the game.

So it is the other side of the ball that will be asked to win games, no small feat considering who is missing on defense. They were able to stay in the game Sunday thanks to a defensive score. But will they be able to do that against better offenses?

The Rams, who can both run the ball and get big games out of QB Jared Goff, loom next. Then a Cardinals team and who knows what the quarterback situation will look like for them? Ravens, Titans...even the 49ers now that they have Jimmy Garropolo -- will have better QB situations than the Texans. And the defense will have to stop them.

Hal. Brandon Dunn. Brennan Scarlett. These will be the names that will will support Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Bernardrick McKinney and of course Jadeveon Clowney.

They were not bad on Sunday. But they weren’t good enough.

Moving forward, they will have to be so much better. And with names like that on the field, it might not be possible.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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