OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION THIS SUNDAY?

Winless Texans are 6-point favorites over visiting Jaguars

This is the week the Texans get going. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

"It's brutal. I mean, it's depressing. It sucks. This sucks."

J.J. Watt had identical thoughts as most Texans fans leaving NRG Stadium on Sunday after the Texans lost 31-23 to the Minnesota Vikings (1-3). The defeat buried their record in an even deeper hole at 0-4 for the first time since 2008.

The last team to make the playoffs after starting 0-4? The 1992 San Diego Chargers.

One thing is certain: Bill O'Brien seemed more concerned about posing for a photo with former Texans coaches, Dom Capers and Gary Kubiak, before Sunday's clash, rather than game planning to keep his job.

Fantastic. O'Brien is finally out and Texans fans can take a deep breath. But Cal McNair still owes the city an explanation about the defensive side of the ball.

While O'Brien was trying to save his job by taking over play calling, defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver was struggling to get his guys off the field for the fourth time this year.

Issues on defense

Vikings offensive coordinator Kubiak employed the Vikings' effective run game to ruin his former employers Sunday. For the fourth week in a row, the Texans gave up 160-plus rushing yards. Dalvin Cook dodged and weaved through the Texans weak front line, racking up 130 yards and two touchdowns.

The last team to give up 160 or more yards in the first four games of a season? The 1995 Arizona Cardinals who finished 4-12.

It wasn't just the run game that Kubiak used to outthink the Texans. The Vikings air game exposed the secondary that was sleeping most of the game. If cornerback Vernon Hargreaves wasn't getting bulldozed by Cook in the end zone, it was receiver Justin Jefferson beating him downfield en route to his second 100-yard game in a row (four receptions for 103 yards).

In addition to Cousins and Jefferson finding their chemistry, Cousins had good fortune linking up with wide receiver Adam Thielen all game long. Thielen caught eight balls for 114 yards and a touchdown. Although Whitney Mercilus showed much-needed life and sacked Cousins twice, the Vikings quarterback was still able to eat up large chunks of yardage, averaging 13.7 yards per target.

Despite putting pressure on Cousins on pass plays, there was no evidence of the Texans setting the edge to defend the run. It was especially apparent on a 4th-down play when Kubiak dialed up a sweep with Cousins, who successfully found the edge.

Onto the Jags

Looking forward, the Texans are 6-point favorites over the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday. The spread seems high for a winless Texans team. MyBookie.ag has the over/under at 54. Jacksonville is giving up 30 plus points per game.

Hopes are high for Houston now that Deshaun Watson is free from the reins of O'Brien. Deshaun Watson and play caller (for the moment) Tim Kelly will have control of the offense.

This will be interim coach Romeo Crennel's first game at the Texans helm. The Texans will face another dangerous run assault led by September's offensive rookie of the month James Robinson. Although Robinson does not possess the power of Dalvin Cook, he is a young, hungry threat that must be shadowed.

I will be looking for a lockdown week from the Texans secondary. The Jags only have one receiver, D.J. Chark, who poses a downfield threat. Chark has caught three touchdown passes from quarterback Gardner Minshew. Look for cornerback Bradley Roby to match-up well with Chark.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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