FOURTH-DOWN GAMBLE PAYS OFF IN 31-24 WIN

Watson, gutsy Texans get big win over Mahomes, Chiefs in Kansas City

Watson, gutsy Texans get big win over Mahomes, Chiefs in Kansas City
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Deshaun Watson

The first Deshaun Watson-Patrick Mahomes battle went to Watson and the Texans in an impressive 31-24 victory. Let's take a look at how it played out.

OFFENSE 

Positives: Carlos Hyde came to play. He pounded the Chiefs - who have been bad against the run all year - for 116 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. As a team they rushed for 194 and averaged 5.0 per carry. Deshaun Watson was not as brilliant as last week, but he had a solid day, other than the two interceptions (see below). He did a lot of damage with his legs, rushing for 44 yards and two touchdowns, and he was not sacked for the second week in a row, a credit to the improving offensive line. He completed 30 of 42 for 280 yards, a touchdown and the two picks (one worked as a punt). When the Texans got the ball back with five minutes left and a seven-point lead, they chewed up clock, running it down to the two-minute warning. They went for it on fourth down, Watson hit DeAndre Hopkins for a first down and the game was over. A ballsy call by Bill O'Brien that paid off, and the Texans ran out the clock.

Negatives: After a career day last week, Will Fuller reverted to the inconsistent player he has been most of his career. He had three drops, two of which could have gone for touchdowns. Fuller can get open, but drops have been a problem throughout his career. Right tackle Titus Howard, who was really improving week to week, suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury. The line was finally playing well, so this is a big blow. Watson threw the two interceptions, including a bad one in the end zone trying to force the ball to Hopkins. The play before, Hopkins dropped a probable touchdown. Hopkins has not been great this season and that was a bad sequence. Still, Watson can't make that throw. You have to come away with points in that situation. Both guys did make up for it on the fourth down play late in the game. Finally, kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn is a mess. He missed yet another extra point and a field goal. O'Brien chose not to bring him in for a clinching field goal late.

DEFENSE

Positives: They got a rare pick of Patrick Mahomes in the first half, costing the Chiefs points. They also came up with a huge strip sack right before the half, leading to a touchdown. They gave up just seven points in the second half against one of the best offenses in the league. They came up with a huge three and out with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter, giving the ball back to the offense with a seven-point lead. They held Mahomes to his lowest yardage total of the season (273),.

Negatives: Mahomes and the Chiefs are going to get their points. They punched the Texans in the face right off the bat with big plays and 17 first-half points. The Texans again had too many penalties, mistakes you usually can't make against the Chiefs, but they bounced back strong after the rough start. Bradley Roby was playing well before limping off the field, a serious blow to a struggling secondary. But overall they played well enough to win against a terrific offense.

THE BOTTOM LINE

This was a huge win for the Texans, considering they rarely beat good teams on the road. This is their second such win of the season, and after the Colts beat KC last week, the Texans needed to hold serve. They did in a big way. The coaching staff made great adjustments at halftime, and they overcame some mistakes. The fourth-down call was brilliant.

The secondary was down two corners, yet managed to make enough plays to keep the Chiefs in check in the second half. There is no way around it; this is a huge win.

I have been critical of O'Brien, but he called a first-rate game, engineered a balanced offense, and made a big-time call late in the game to put it away. Too often the Texans depend on the other team messing up at the end of games. This time they grabbed it by the throat and went out and won the football game.

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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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