The battle for a top spot in the AFC is on the line Sunday

Watson and Jackson highlight Sunday's huge game

The Friday Stoots Six-Pack gets you ready for the most fun game on the Texans schedule to this point.

Quarterbacks living up to the hype

These two put on a freaking show in college. I expect nothing less from their showdown on Sunday.

Both quarterbacks are playing at such a high level right now it should be incredible to watch. Jackson has been used perfectly while Watson has been incredible with his arm and decision making.

The ultimate idea on Sunday is, both of these guys likely won't decide the game. It will be what they are capable of doing to the other's defense that will decide who wins. Whichever quarterback has his defense hold up their end of the bargain, or make just one play, they will walk away the winner Sunday.

Not just Lamar either

The Ravens are loaded on offense. LOADED. Lamar Jackson is awesome, sure. They are stacked everywhere making him look even more awesome.

Mark Andrews is one of the best young tight ends in football right now. His two companions, Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst aren't bad either. The Ravens have three of their top five pass catchers out of those three.

Marquise "Hollywood" Brown is a game-breaking talent at wideout. There isn't much to write home about outside of him at wide receiver but Miles Boykin is a freaky athlete and Seth Roberts seems to be reliable.

Mark Ingram has been one of the best free agent additions from this past offseason. He's been a tough out for opposing defenses.

The offensive line is very solid. Ronnie Stanley is the best pass blocker in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus (Laremy Tunsil is second by the way). Orlando Brown Jr. is a very solid right tackle and his line-mate at left guard Marshal Yanda is still really good.

If the Texans pull this off, they will have taken down a very impressive offense.

To two seed or not to two seed, that is the question

The winner of this game will have the inside track and will be the two seed in the AFC. If the Texans are the losers they will likely have to settle for the third seed because they will be two games AND a tiebreak behind the Ravens and Patriots. If the Ravens lose they will just have to best the Texans by a game down the stretch. I would say the remaining schedules would be a push in my honest opinion.

Avoiding the opening weekend game in the playoffs would go a very long way in the Texans finally playing in an AFC Championship game.

As healthy as it is going to get

It seems the Texans might be getting their secondary as close to healthy as they have been in a long time.

Tashaun Gipson and Bradley Roby are the two questions in the secondary. If they could both be back, my goodness the Texans would be deep as they've ever been.

Roby was fantastic as the slot corner before the hamstring injury. Johnathan Joseph outside with Lonnie Johnson/Gareon Conley opposite and Roby inside with Justin Reid and Gipson behind them would be a formidable match for the Ravens.

Baltimore has a loaded secondary led by Earl Thomas. They are going to be a challenge for Watson and company. Will Fuller being available would be huge development towards getting after the Ravens deep secondary.

Run vs run

The best rushing offense in football belongs to the Baltimore Ravens. The third best rush defense in football is owned by the Houston Texans. Pro Football Focus rates the Texans as the best rushing attack in football though.

Strength on strength on Sunday.

Every Ravens opponent is in the bottom half of the league in rushing defense with the exception of the Seahawks and Patriots who are both around the top ten.

In those games the Ravens put up 199 and 210 on two solid run defenses. Yikes.

The Texans will need to make the most of Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson on the ground. Deshaun Watson's legs are a huge weapon as well. The Texans will have to control the game and wear down the Ravens secondary to hopefully open up some late game attacking.

The helmet hit heard round the world

Usually I drop all six things on the Texans but my goodness I couldn't pass up the opportunity to put this crazy video in here.

Myles Garrett clearly lost his cool and it is going to cost him dearly this season and on his reputation forever.

Antonio Smith almost connected on Richie Incognito way back in the day when Smith was on the Texans. He lost two preseason games and a regular season game, but he missed on his swing.

I don't know what is right for a suspension but I know when he is gone this dings the Browns a ton on defense. They needed him a ton down the stretch to save the respectability of their season.

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Tucker looks like the real deal. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Kyle Tucker finally had his breakout season in 2020. The 23-year-old flashed potential to be a legitimate five-tool threat. He slashed .268/.325/.512, swiped eight bags, and played above average defense. Is Tucker's performance sustainable? Not only that, but is there room for growth?

Hard Hit % - 44.5%

Barrel % - 9.1%

K % - 20.2%

BB % - 7.9%
Chase % - 26.2%

The first thing to realize with Kyle Tucker is the small sample size at the MLB level. Despite appearing in three separate seasons, he's played in a total of 108 games, which is obviously quite a bit shy of even one full season. He also has an extremely unique swing that you wouldn't teach to anybody, but it "works" for him. This makes him a tough hitter to judge, as it's uncomfortable judging mechanics that work for him, and it's uncomfortable judging numbers that haven't had time to develop trends.

Hard Hit, Barrel, and Chase numbers are unavailable for the minors, but walk and strikeouts percentages are. This creates the ability to at least look at one trend.

Tucker broke onto the scene in 2018 with a monstrous season for AAA Fresno, the Astros affiliate at the time. In 2018, Tucker slashed .332/.400/.590 with 24 homers and 20 steals. He had an 18.1% K% and a 10.3% BB% that season. In 2019, Tucker struck out a little bit more (21.6%) but also walked a little bit more (11.2%). Tucker's 20.2% K% in 2020 is more in line with his minor league K%, indicating he's adjusted to major league pitching.

Tucker essentially put the pieces of contact ability and quality of contact from his previous MLB stints together in 2020. In 2018, Tucker didn't strike out very much (18.1% K%), but his 3.9% Barrel % didn't strike fear in any opponent.

In 2019, Tucker had a 12.8% Barrel %, and his 92 MPH average exit velocity is the best of his three seasons in MLB, but he struck out 27.8% of the time and walked just 5.6% of the time.

In 2020, there's a marriage between the two. His K% and BB% aren't as good as his 2018 marks, but they're better than his 2019 marks. His exit velocity and Barrel % aren't as good as his 2019 marks, but they're better than his 2018 marks. Tucker became a hitter that was able to do more damage without sacrificing consistency.

Tucker had a xBA of .267, which is right in line with his .268 average. His .459 xSLG lags behind his .512 actual SLG, but it isn't a catastrophic drop. The version of Tucker Astros fans saw is essentially who he is, but how does he improve?

What really unlocked Tucker in 2020 was a change in his setup.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here he is on August 2nd against the Angels. As you can see, he's standing pretty straight up, and he has a "neutral" stance. Following the game on Aug. 2, Tucker was batting .200/.250/.300 with no homers.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here's Tucker on August 6th, just a few days later. He's started to close off his stance just a bit, but he's still pretty neutral, and he has a little more forward body lean with his torso. Following the game on Aug. 6, he was batting .214/.267/.357 with a homer.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Now, here's Tucker on August 10th. His stance is considerably closed off, and he's maintaining the forward body lean he adopted on August 6th. Following the game on Aug. 10, Tucker was batting .190/.230/.328. It would be the last time any of those numbers would be that low the rest of the year. He maintained that stance for the rest of the season, and he finished the month of August hitting .272/.333/.588.

The swing change allowed him to be a factor on the outside pitch. Tucker would pull off on his front side, which made it tough for him to keep balls fair on the pull side. He'd often yank inside fastballs into the stands down the right field line. It also made him uncompetitive on outside strikes, as he'd either swing-and-miss, or roll them over into the shift.

After he made the change, Tucker started steering inside pitches fair, and he was able to do something with pitches on the outer third.

The next step is finding a way to continue to diversify his batted ball profile. Tucker's pull percentage in 2020 was 47%. That's a higher pull % than guys like Kyle Schwarber and Matt Olson. It was only 1% lower than Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo.

The one dimensional batted ball profile allows teams to shift Tucker aggressively. Teams shifted Tucker in 74% of his at-bats. His wOBA against the shift is .304. In AB's where teams didn't shift him, Tucker had a .455 wOBA. The shift hurts Tucker more than most as well, because he hits the ball on the ground 39% of the time. Gallo and Olson hit it on the ground 32% and 35% of the time respectively.

Lastly, Tucker's performance on breaking balls leaves a lot to be desired. He crushes fastballs, as he batted .303 with a .574 SLG against fastballs in 2020, with a .292 xBA and .528 xSLG. His .208 AVG and .396 SLG against breaking balls aren't very good, and his .209 xBA and .340 xSLG don't tell a prettier story. His 32% whiff % against breaking balls is nearly double his whiff % on fastballs.

If Tucker can learn to be more competitive against breaking balls and learn to use the whole field, then he'll be a really scary hitter. If he doesn't, teams will be able to gameplan for him, and he'll see streaky production similar to other one dimensional hitters like Matt Carpenter and the aforementioned Gallo and Olson.

While the bat may be streaky, Tucker brings it with the glove and on the bases. He had 5 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in the outfield in 2020, a 0.6 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), and he was plus-4 in Outs Above Average. His well above average speed and instincts give him the ability to be a rangy outfielder and dangerous baserunner.

Tucker had a breakout season in 2020, but there's still changes left to be made if he wants to be a breakout star and not a one hit wonder.

This is part four of an offseason series covering the 2020 Houston Astros. Be sure to check out parts 1-3 on SportsMap.

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