Another big day

Without its stars, the Texans defense dominates Cleveland 33-17

Jonathan Joseph had two interceptions to helo the Texans beat Cleveland. Bob Levey/Getty Images

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The Texans caught a break this week after losing J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus for the season in week 5, hosting the winless Browns at home. The expectations were that the offense would be the difference in the game while the defense adjusted to the big losses in their front seven. Little did anyone know, the defense wouldn't skip a beat and perform better than expected in the 33-17 win. It is the Browns, so there is no way to know what will happen going forward; but getting this week and the bye week to game plan for how the defense will be used is key to figuring out what the Texans will look like going forward. 

Early on the offense appeared to be continually growing under the play calling of Bill O'Brien and the performance of Deshaun Watson. From the start there was a lot more throws over the middle to tight ends and consistent running plays in short and mid range down and distance. It may have been an early attempt to control the clock which has keyed a lot of their offensive success this year, but it helped keep the offense in good down and distance.

The first drive of the game looked great but stalled in Browns territory and walked off the field with a Ka'imi Fairbairn field goal. After exchanging punts the Browns were able to get something going and tied the game at 3 with a field goal of their own. That was as close as it would get. The Texans moved the ball 87 yards in five plays on their next drive for Watson's 13th touchdown pass of the season. He connected with Will Fuller for the 5th time this season. Fuller now had 5 touchdown catches in 7 total receptions. From there it was pretty much all defense.

The very next drive saw Kevin Hogan march the Browns down to the Texans 22-yard line but sail a pass over the head of Duke Johnson and into the arms of Jonathan Joseph for an 82-yard touchdown. A missed extra point left the score 16-3 but that was fixed shortly after. The next Browns drive ended in another interception, this time by Dylan Cole. A gasp went through the crowd again and Cole was injured on the return and limped off the field. It was the second injury of concern on the drive as Jadeveon Clowney had gone down earlier, and they could not afford to lose him for the season. Clowney's injury wasn't serious and he was back on the field before the end of the drive, but Cole's hamstring would keep him out for the rest of the game. 

Watson would get another touchdown on a shovel pass to Braxton Miller and go into the into the half with a 24-3 lead after tossing a successful 2-point conversion to Ryan Griffin. The first half would end with Joseph getting his second interception of the game, and the 13th in a Texans uniform giving him the franchise record, passing his teammate Kareem Jackson.

Bill O'Brien was 20-0 when leading at the half and the win today would make it 21-0. This was especially assured when the defense started the second half playing like it was ready to win the game on its own. They would force a 3-and-out on the Browns first drive and then record a safety on the next Cleveland possession. The Texans capitalized on the free kick with another Watson touchdown throw, this time to DeAndre Hopkins putting the game well out of reach, 33-3. Watson has now thrown at least three touchdowns in the last three games, making him the first rookie to do so. That is the kind of performance that can carry a team a long way.

He would make one mistake though, on a second and 5 play from the Houston 32 yard line he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Jason McCourty, making the score 33-10. Hogan would get a garbage time touchdown to Seth DeValve cutting the final score down to 33-17 but that would be it. The Texans would walk away with an easy home win and a break to prepare for a tough road game in Seattle. 

At the end of the day it was the kind of all-around game that you expect from an above average team against a franchise in line for another first overall pick. The Texans' offense would finish the day with 217 yards through the air and three touchdowns and an additional 123 on the ground. The Texans had nearly equal time of possession despite getting defensive scores and great field position.  Their record sits at 3-3 with games against Seattle and Indianapolis coming up after the break. If they can keep up this level of play they will find themselves in a good position going into the latter half of the regular season.

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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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