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The Texans are consistently inconsistent

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Texans are in control of their playoff fate after besting the Titans Sunday. Their 24-21 win over their chief rival for the AFC South crown this year was a microcosm of this season for them. A lot of highs, some lows, head scratching, and barely eking out a win. When you look at good teams, they share several qualities. Perhaps the key quality they all share is consistency. Consistency in football is the ability to play at a high level often enough that opponents know they're in for an uphill battle. That does not describe the Texans.

The game against the Titans was a perfect example of this. Deshaun Watson made three boneheaded plays that could've cost them the game. Some will argue that Bill O'Brien shouldn't have called those plays. However you see it, the interception in the end zone to Duke Johnson, the torpedo pass from inside the five yard line that was intercepted, and the throwaway on 3rd down with about 3:30 left in the game when the Titans had no timeouts were all potential killers. On the flip side, Watson's two touchdown throws to Kenny Stills, his darts to DeAndre Hopkins, Zach Cunningham's All-Pro performance, and Whitney Mercilus' heads up interception at the goal line returned to the Titans' 12 were all great.

What do the Texans need to do in order to be more consistent this year? How can they make a run in the AFC playoff picture? Here are a few things I believe they need to do, that they can do this season, to improve consistency in and try to make a run:

Rush the passer more effectively

There were too many times in the Titans game, and others, that the Texans have not been able to effectively rush the passer. Benardrick McKinney is a good rusher for an inside linebacker. He should be used more either as an edge rusher, or a blitzer up the middle. He's better at rushing the passer than he is in coverage. Also, Whitney Mercilus needs to show up with more than one or two pass rush moves. He too often is shut down when his primary move fails to get him to the quarterback. The Texans pass rush resembles a stalling car: it'll go for a bit, but ultimately gives out after minimal effort.

Manage the damn clock!

Clock management is not a hard thing to do. If you look at how O'Brien does it, you'd think it was akin to open heart surgery by classically trained pianist. Timeouts are precious, so are the seconds that tick off the clock when making a decision that should've already been decided before the game started. Too often the Texans let time fly by them because they seem ill-prepared. The times in which it takes plays to get called in to Watson, break the huddle, and hike the ball takes too much time sometimes. I'm not saying script more plays, but prepare in a manner in which you know what set of plays you want to call in certain situations. And for goodness sake, know the time on the clock and when/where to ise timeouts!

Penalties

Laremy Tunsil has been enemy number one when it comes to offensive line penalties. Lonnie Johnson Jr has been Tunsil's counterpart in the defensive backfield. Penalties have played too big of a factor in the Texans' season. Most of them have been self-inflicted. False starts, holding on both sides of the ball, and other drive killing or extending penalties have plagued them. This is a discipline issue in most cases. Tunsil needs to rely on and trust his athleticism and strength. the defensive backs need to cut out the grabbing past five yards of the line of scrimmage. I bet if they institute a hefty fine system for penalties, it would help. Accepted penalties weigh heavier than declined ones. The more yards and penalties you accumulate, the heftier the fines. Watch how quickly it dies down.

Don't get cute

This goes for O'Brien and Romeo Crennel. Stop getting cute with the play calling. The DeAndre Hopkins option to Watson worked, but was almost as disastrous as the "Watt-cat". Crennel needs to learn not to put his players in positions that ask them to do things they aren't capable of doing (ex: Jonathan Joseph getting beat deep up the sideline by A.J. Brown or any time McKinney is in coverage). Knowing your personnel and what they're capable of is key in calling plays and knowing formations and groupings. K.I.S.S.

Health

When this team is fully healthy, specifically the offense, they are fun to watch. But this is football. Health at this part of the season is relative. This is when coaching up your talent and depth building by the front office comes into play. The next man up mentality and ability to play through pain are crucial. Being hurt and injured are two different things. Guys who are hurt play, while guys who are injured don't. The guys I'm looking at: Will Fuller, J.J. Watt, and Justin Reid. Fuller opens up the offense when healthy. Reid is fighting a shoulder injury and is a key contributor to a maligned secondary. Watt is the wildcard here. If he can come back from the torn pec and provide anything to the pass rush, it'll give the defense a much needed boost.

Will this team make the playoffs? Yes. Will they advance past the first round? It's possible considering they could be playing at home. Can they make an AFC title game? I'm highly skeptical. Is a Super Bowl run or win possible? I wouldn't bet the lint from my laundry on it. This team has enough talent to compete with anybody, but it's the intangibles that can put them over. Can they put it together? Will they put it together? Hate all the questions I'm asking? I do too. Unfortunately, this Texans team has too many questions to be consistent.

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Houston goes up 1-0 in the series

Altuve, Correa help lift Astros to ALCS Game 1 win over Red Sox

Carlos Correa's go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of ALCS Game 1 helped lift the Astros to a 1-0 series lead. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite one rough loss to the White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros looked like the dominant team they are capable of being, taking that series 3-1 to advance and taking ownership of home-field advantage in the ALCS against the Red Sox, who upset the Rays. In Game 1, despite trailing for the middle portions of the game, Houston would get more highlight moments from the faces of the franchise to start the series with a win.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek

Losing Pitcher: Hansel Robles

Houston strikes first, but Boston sends Valdez to an early exit

Both starting pitchers worked in and out of trouble in the early goings of ALCS Game 1, starting with Framber Valdez in the top of the first. After erasing a leadoff single by inducing a double play, he went on to load the bases on a single and two walks but would strand all three runners to keep Boston off the board. The Astros jumped in front in the bottom half, with Jose Altuve working a leadoff walk, moving to second on a one-out single by Alex Bregman, advancing to third on a wild pitch, then ultimately scoring on a sac fly by Yordan Alvarez to put Houston ahead 1-0 after one frame.

They had a chance to extend their lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a shaky inning by Chris Sale, who loaded the bases with one out as Houston would get two singles and a hit-by-pitch. That flipped the order over to the top, but a great diving catch by former Astro Kiké Hernández would end the inning. Hernández led off the top of the third against Valdez, and he would tie things up with a solo homer.

Things went downhill from there for Valdez and the Astros, as a one-out walk followed by a single gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in scoring position. On a groundball that likely should have been a double play to end the inning, it would get through Altuve's legs, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive for Boston. They took advantage, getting an RBI double to extend their new lead to 3-1. Valdez would get one more out before Dusty Baker would give him the early hook, bringing in Yimi Garcia, who finished the frame.

A battle of the bullpens, Altuve ties it up

Like Valdez, Sale would also not make it through three innings, getting two outs while putting two on base before Boston would start their bullpen's night as well. Both sets of relievers settled the game down, with the Red Sox stranding two of Houston's runners in the third as well as the fifth, maintaining their two-run lead. After Garcia finished the third, Cristian Javier entered to eat up a couple of innings, and he would do just that by getting through two frames with just one hit, four strikeouts, and no runs.

Next, Phil Maton took over in the top of the sixth and erased a leadoff walk to keep things in striking distance for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put another runner on base, getting a one-out single by Chas McCormick. Two batters later, with two outs, Jose Altuve provided yet another career postseason highlight, tying the game 3-3 with a two-run home to re-energize the Minute Maid Park crowd.

Astros take ALCS Game 1

Now a brand new ballgame in the top of the seventh, Brooks Raley came in to face three batters, getting two strikeouts while allowing a single before Dusty Baker would move on to Ryne Stanek, who would get the third out. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Correa continued his march to a monster off-season contract, putting Houston back on top with a solo homer, making it 4-3.

Houston kept the script after Stanek with the new lead in hand, going to Kendall Graveman as the setup man in the top of the eighth. Despite a two-out single, he would get out of the inning with the lead intact, putting Houston three outs away from the victory. After a walk, single, and hit by pitch to start the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, Altuve would drive in his third run of the game, getting a sac fly to extend the lead to two runs at 5-3.

That insurance run proved pivotal, as closer Ryan Pressly was met with a leadoff solo home run by Hernandez, his second of the night for Boston, to make it 5-4. Pressly refocused and was able to get the next three batters in order, though, wrapping up the win to start Houston off with a 1-0 series lead and putting them three wins away from advancing to the World Series.

Up Next: The two teams will have a moderately quick turnaround, with ALCS Game 2 scheduled to start at 3:20 PM Central on Saturday ahead of NLCS Game 1 between the Dodgers and Braves getting the night slot. The pitching matchup is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi for Boston, who is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his two starts this postseason, going opposite Luis Garcia, who had a rough outing in the ALDS for Houston, giving up five runs without completing three innings in Chicago.

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