3 headlines, 2 questions, and 1 bet on the heels of a Texans win over the Falcons

Watson as good as ever as line does best job of season

Texans Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Watson's huge day

Deshaun Watson was shredding record books when he started his career with the Texans. Last year, there were less records to fall but he's back to his old ways now.

Watson was incredible on Sunday and head coach Bill O'Brien put a lot of the credit on Watson and what he sees.

He mentioned Watson deserves the accolades for seeing the openings in the defense and making the right decision. On Monday he reiterated that Watson makes the plays based off the information he sees pre-snap as well as what he sees as the play is happening.

O'Brien also joked they practice the dribble fumble play all the time.

Jokes aside, Watson is clearly a high-level decision maker now. Even when the offensive line is shaky, which it wasn't Sunday, he isn't making a lot of wild plays like in his first year and early in his second year. He has just one interception this season

The Falcons did Watson a favor thinking they could get pressure with just four, but even when blitzed Watson made the right plays more often than not. Pro Football Focus credits him with one incomplete pass in eight attempts which led to 75 yards passing and one touchdown.

Keeping it clean

No sacks. No quarterback hits. Just a handful of pressures. The Texans offensive line had their best performance of the season.

It also saw the return of what is the hopeful starting offensive line for the rest of the season. Zach Fulton was back at right guard and the improvement over Greg Mancz was noticeable.

We said last week in this space they were close to turning a corner and now with hopefully health and consistency they can continue to put together complete games. Not only did they keep Watson clean but they were able to get more than a few successful runs out of Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde. Deshaun Watson's rushing isn't usually the offensive line so we don't count that in the success.

"They did a good job," O'Brien said. "They had a good week. They worked hard. They put in extra time and everybody did. I mean, again the sacks are, everybody's involved."

Class is in session

SportsMap's own Jake Asman asked Deshaun Watson for a repeat performance of what he saw from his opponent's defense and sure enough, Watson delivered.

I very much hope this continues. I also hope NFL quarterbacks will replicate what Watson is doing. Defenders too. The average football fan is smarter than ever and hardcore fans love picking up an extra nugget or two about scheme.

Can the special teams get fixed?

After what was a fairly solid year on special team last year, the Texans have been unspectacular on special teams this year.

Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn has missed three extra points and has missed two field goals this season. One of those was a 56-yard attempt as time expired in the first half in Los Angeles. Not going to crush him too hard for that, 56-yard field goals aren't easy. The other was just over 50 yards, at home, and likely should have been a make.

Again, I'm not super worried about the kicking yet, but there is definitely something to the misses of the extra points that needs to get shored up. The Texans play close games. They can't afford to give away a point here or there.

"He's got to make the kicks," O'Brien said.

DeAndre Carter became a topic of the special teams as well. He had a muffed punt with the team up two scores late that let Atlanta get in position to make it a one score game. Later in the game he caught a kickoff near the sideline. The officials ruled he was out of bounds when he made contact with the ball, which is a penalty on the kicking team, but replays showed otherwise. The Texans should have had the ball where Carter caught it as he came down in bounds and went out of bounds.

"I'm not concerned about DeAndre Carter at all," O'Brien said.

O'Brien said he believed Carter would see what he made mistakes on in film and correct them. Carter is almost a yard better on punt returns than his season with the Texans last year.

The Texans also had three special teams penalties yesterday. Two on punts that cost them 18 total yards and one on Fairbairn's final extra point that was declined because he missed it.

Can the Texans replicate the Colts gameplan?

The Colts smashed the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football. They were physical and slowed the high-flying Chiefs defense to one of their worst performances in Patrick Mahomes time as the starter.

What jumped off the screen is the play of the Colts offensive line pushing around a Chiefs defense, albeit a banged up Chiefs defense, for the better part of four quarters. They controlled the clock, shortened the game, and matched their physical offensive play on defense as well.

Let's not get too excited with the Colts figuring out the Chiefs. Tyreek Hill still isn't back and Sammy Watkins was hobbled. Plus there were multiples injuries to the offensive line and even Mahomes' ankle.

I bet Sunday is a shootout

I would expect the Chiefs will give Tyreek Hill a go even if he isn't 100 percent. The injury report will be important this week for both teams as the Chiefs had a multitude of people banged up on both lines as well as the mentioned wideout issues.

Kenny Stills on the back of Will Fuller's big day would be quite the crew to prepare for this weekend for Kansas City. I don't anticipate either defense slowing down the other consistently so turnovers and big plays should decide Sunday.

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The Astros host the Orioles on Friday night. Composite Getty Image.

Say it with me: The Astros aren’t dead yet. The Astros aren’t dead yet. The Astros aren’t dead yet! The odds favor them missing the postseason for the first time since 2016, but they definitely aren’t dead yet. Too much season left.

The Astros sure hope they hit their season standings rock bottom in falling 10 games back of Seattle in the American League West Tuesday. Two wins over the hapless White Sox later, coupled with two Mariner losses in Cleveland, and the deficit is eight going into the weekend. The Astros’ real race may be for a Wild Card. On that front they sit six games behind Minnesota, six and a half back of Kansas City. The Twins and Royals currently hold the second and third Wild Card slots. The Astros also trail Boston by five games.

The Astros’ season needs some positive jolts if it is not to slip away. A shot at one comes Friday night with pitcher Jake Bloss called up from Double-A Corpus Christi for his Major League debut. He is merely tasked with facing the best offense in the AL as the Baltimore Orioles visit Minute Maid Park this weekend. Bloss was the Astros’ third round draft pick last summer. He turns 23 on Sunday. He started well this season at High-A Asheville earning the move up to AA. As a Hook, Bloss was spectacular in posting a 1.61 earned run average over eight starts with a scant 19 hits allowed over 44 2/3 innings. Bloss gets the fast big league call out of necessity (with Justin Verlander on the injured list), because he excelled, and because the Astros have no significant pitching prospect knocking at the door from Triple-A Sugar Land. Not one guy in the Space Cowboys’ rotation has given up fewer hits than he has thrown innings. The Pacific Coast League is a hitters’ league, but that is a damning stat.

Blame game

With the Astros’ season a big fail to this point, it is the nature of the beast for some to call for the head(s) of Manager Joe Espada and/or General Manager Dana Brown. Espada has certainly not distinguished himself as some brilliant rookie skipper, but blaming numerous lackluster player performances on him is classic scapegoating. Brown is in his second season and does have a couple of stains on his early record, but the foremost task Brown was charged with at hire was rejuvenating the Astros’ weak farm system. It takes two or three draft classes to infuse some depth of young talent. If the Astros are sellers as the trade deadline approaches, selling is another avenue through which Brown tries to add good prospects.

Brown picked Bloss. Brown’s first first round pick was shortstop Brice Matthews who also recently earned promotion to Corpus Christi. If Jeremy Pena doesn’t show improvement, and if Matthews is fulfilling his potential, he could be challenging for the shortstop job by the end of next season. 2023 second round pick, pitcher Alonzo Tredwell, has been bad so far with the Low-A Fayetteville Woodpeckers.

Midsummer Classic

The first phase of All-Star balloting ends Thursday at 11AM Central Time. The Astros’ representation on the American League team is simple: three definites and one maybe. Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, and Yordan Alvarez all rightfully are poised to be elected starters. Altuve has to hold off the Rangers’ Marcus Semien, but at minimum will be added as a reserve. For Altuve it will be his ninth All-Star team, adding on to his franchise record after not making the team last year because he missed the first month and a half of the season with a broken thumb.

Tucker and Alvarez will both become three-time All-Stars. Neither has been voted a starter before. Even with the time he’s missing on the injured list, Tucker belongs in the outfield with the Yankees’ superstar combo of Aaron Judge and Juan Soto. Alvarez’s opportunity to win the vote at designated hitter opened up when Shohei Ohtani switched leagues in signing with the Dodgers.

Last year the Texas Rangers dominated the AL lineup with five starters. It was not an omen that they would go on to win the World Series. This year Arlington hosts the game at Globe Life Field, but Semien is the only Ranger anywhere close to the lead in the fan voting.

As for the one Astro All-Star maybe, that is Ronel Blanco. The 30-year-old has come out of nowhere to be the Astros’ ace, but he is not a lock. I don’t think his foreign substance suspension hurts much other than it factors into Blanco having pitched fewer innings than almost all other candidates. It’s a matter of math. A maximum of nine starting pitchers make the squad, there may only be eight taken. It’s not hard to name nine guys who could get the nod over Blanco, especially when you factor in that every team must be represented. Tyler Anderson is the most deserving Angel. Erick Fedde or Garret Crochet is the most deserving White Sox (Sock?). The Seattle Mariners have no deserving everyday player, though some might argue Cal Raleigh if three catchers are taken. The M’s are dominating the AL West on the back of stellar starting pitching. It’s hard to see no Mariner starter getting picked, although only Logan Gilbert at 2.93 has an earned run average within 0.50 of Blanco’s 2.43. Blanco has three more starts to strengthen his case before the staff is named July 7.

*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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