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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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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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