TEXANS 20, BILLS 13

Veteran defensive backs give Texans a 20-13 win

Veteran defensive backs give Texans a 20-13 win
DeAndre Hopkins had the only offensive touchdown. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Texans most veteran players came up big when it counted to secure a 20-13 home win. Big interceptions at the end of the game by Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson moved Houston to 3-3 on the year and kept them moving fast up the divisional standings.

It was the long tenured veteran cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph who would make sure Houston walked out with a victory. Although the Texans defense once again held the opposing team under 300 total yards offensively and got turnovers to get their team a short field, offensive turnovers and short fields in the second half made it difficult to keep points off the board.

The Bills came alive after halftime, rallying from a 10-0 deficit to take a 13-10 lead late in the fourth quarter. It could have been much worse. After Deshaun Watson’s second interception started the second half of the game, Buffalo took a short drive down to the 5-yard line. But veteran Kareem Jackson made a huge one-man goal line stand at the 4-yard line. On second down he made a great open field tackle that jarred the ball loose for an incomplete pass, then stepped in front of a Josh Allen pass on third down to force the Bills to settle for three points.

It was Houston’s other long serving cornerback Jonathan Joseph who would win the game with a stellar play. With under two minutes left and Houston having just tied the score 13-13 with Ka’imi Fairbairn’s second field goal, Joseph stepped in front of an outside pass from quarterback Nathan Peterman for a 28-yard pick-six and a 20-13 Texans lead. Five plays later Kareem Jackson would catch Peterman’s second interception to seal the victory for the home team.

Defensively, the Texans frustrated Bills quarterbacks early and often. They forced starter Josh Allen to have only 45 yards in the first half and take two sacks (J.J. Watt and Benardrick McKinney each getting one). He would leave the game in the third quarter with 84 yards on 10 of 17 passing. Nathan Peterman took over and led the Bills’ second half comeback. He finished the game 6 of 12 for 61 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  

This was not a good day for Deshaun Watson and the Houston offense. They jumped out to an early 10-0 lead after two special teams plays, but they only moved the ball a total of 36 yards in those drives. The first score came on a 13-yard reception by DeAndre Hopkins after a muffed punt was recovered by Brennan Scarlett at the 29-yard line. Ka’imi Fairbairn’s first field goal came after a blocked punt by Tyrell Adams resulted in another recovery by Scarlett. That drive netted only 7-yards on a three-and-out.

It was probably Watson’s worst performance of the year. He was sacked 7 times for 35 yards, threw two interceptions and lost one of his three fumbles. He had 177 yards passing on 15 of 25 attempts with only one touchdown. Obviously, his injured chest meant play calling to keep him from running around too much and getting hit, but the offensive line can’t hold up against a decent pass rush. It was a contributing factor to being 3 of 13 on third down conversions, a horrible rate for any offense. This led to a limited game from DeAndre Hopkins. He finished with only 63 yards on five receptions with the offense's only touchdown.

Houston got a lot of help from the Bills by way of penalty, Buffalo committing 12 of them for 104 yards. But once again being held under 100-yards rushing as a team forced them into long yardage situations. Lamar Miller averaged 4.3 yards per carry in the second half, but only had 6 carries. Alfred Blue averaged 6 yards per carry in the first half, but only had 3 carries for 2 yards in the second half. As a team they averaged on 3.1 yards per rush, only about a yard less than the 4.3 yards per pass on the day.

 

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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