Nationals

Schaub has shot to get Texans into AFC title game

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Schaub has shot to get Texans into AFC title game

HOUSTON (AP) Matt Schaub made his first playoff start last week and helped lead the Houston Texans to a win.

But he did make a key mistake, throwing an interception which was returned for a touchdown.

He knows he'll have to be much better if the Texans expect to win at New England in a divisional playoff game on Sunday.

``He's going to have to play at a high level, but we all are,'' coach Gary Kubiak said. ``You know what I mean? We got a job to do around him.''

Schaub's No. 1 goal this week is to help the offense score touchdowns instead of field goals when it gets in the red zone. Houston got inside the 20-yard line four times last weekend against Cincinnati, and settled for field goals three times after the offense stalled.

``Against this team in their building threes aren't going to cut it,'' Schaub said. ``We've got to get down there and we've got be aggressive and score touchdowns.''

Schaub is a nine-year veteran, but Saturday was his first start in the postseason after he missed Houston's playoff run last year because of an injured foot. He said it meant a lot to him to be with his team for the first time in the playoffs, and of course, getting the win made it even better.

Receiver Andre Johnson believes that having that first game out of the way will help Schaub this week against the Patriots.

``Him just getting his first win probably just got a monkey off his back,'' Johnson said. ``Because that's something that a lot of people talked about. I think with him getting that out of the way, it will make him feel more comfortable going into the game.''

The Texans had their worst game of the season in their first trip to Foxborough, a 42-14 loss to the Patriots last month. But Schaub said that the loss didn't do anything to hurt their confidence.

``We know what type of team we can be when we're playing up to our expectations and our standards and what we demand out of ourselves,'' he said. ``We'll go up there with a lot of confidence to win a road football game.''

Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison was pleased with Schaub's work against the Bengals, and liked how he dealt with their pass rush, which is among the best in the NFL.

``He managed the game well and then he handled the pressure when it was coming, to get the ball out, when he was hot,'' Dennison said. ``He missed a couple of things. Obviously, his footwork was a little off, it cost us one there. But he's a tough-minded kid and he kept playing. Our guys rally around tough guys and he's done a nice job with that all year - just keep bouncing back. I think with that he leads us very well.''

Schaub threw for 4,008 yards with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in the regular season. But he's thrown just one touchdown with four interceptions in the past five games.

Aside from the interception, Schaub was better against the Bengals as he completed 29 of 38 passes for 262 yards. He was helped by improved protection, and wasn't sacked after being taken down 12 times in the previous four games combined.

He knows they'll likely face a completely new look from New England's defense this time around.

``You've got to go in expecting a lot of different things,'' he said. ``You've got to be prepared to handle a lot of different situations and circumstances, things that they can do because they do a lot. Being able to adjust in game will be important.''

Along with taking advantage of opportunities in the red zone, Schaub knows another key to the game will be limiting penalties and turnovers against New England. He had an interception early in the last game against the Patriots that contributed to an early 14-0 deficit.

``The way they play, you can't have penalties and put yourself behind in the down and distance,'' he said. ``You can't give them extra possessions by turning the football over. The way their offense is playing you have to expect them to score points, and (can't) give them extra opportunities with the ball.''

Schaub, who has been criticized for not showing enough emotion at times, was animated when asked if the demeanor of the team changes this time of year.

``There's no tomorrow at this time of the season,'' he said. ``If you want to move on, you've got to bring a sense of attitude and nastiness with you to go out and dominate your opponent on every play.''

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Nationals Scene and Heard: Team has a staff member opt-out

Nationals Scene and Heard: Team has a staff member opt-out

WASHINGTON -- Tuesday night was a quieter one in Nationals Park. Multiple members of the bullpen pitched against the same hitters over and over in what was less an intrasquad game and more drill work.

Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Javy Guerra, Aaron Barrett, Kevin Quackenbush and Ryne Harper pitched. Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Starlin Castro, Carter Kieboom and Eric Thames hit the most.

Let’s get started with what was going on at the park:

-- Davey Martinez announced Tuesday night that batting practice pitcher Ali Modami has opted out of the 2020 season. Modami throws BP as a left-handed pitcher, but he’s also one of the fixtures at the park since joining the team in 2011.

His initial work was often with Bryce Harper in the batting cages before games. Modami always pitched to Harper, who did not take BP on the field. Overall, Modami threw a massive amount of pitches on a daily basis to whomever was ready to swing.

Modami added good-luck charm to his duties in 2019 when he was tasked with carrying the lineup card to home plate Friday, May 24, when the Nationals were 19-31 and staggered home from New York. They won -- in sloppy fashion -- that night. Modami went out the next day, and every day from then on.

You might also remember him as Brian Dozier’s celebratory transportation in the dugout. He’s another part of a would-be normal situation who will not be around in 2020.

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-- A staffer who is back is hitting coach Kevin Long. Tuesday night was his first in Nationals Park since intake testing which forced him into quarantine.

“I know he had a mask on, but he was smiling ear to ear,” Martinez said. “He was dying to come back, and he’s back now. That’s one guy we got back. Hopefully, we get the rest of the guys back soon.”

-- Wednesday marks two weeks since intake testing began. The Nationals performed rolling testing the first week of “Summer Camp” and eight players have not been seen since. Among them are Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Howie Kendrick.

Martinez said recently the team is following District-mandated protocols -- which are more stringent than the ones put in place by MLB’s operations manual -- when deciding who will come back.

If any of the players went into quarantine July 1 or 2, they are nearing the end of their 14-day stay in such isolation. So, are they close to joining the team just three days before the exhibition game and eight before the start of the season?

“Honestly, I don’t know that answer,” Martinez said. “Every morning I wake up, all I can do is ask my medical staff, ‘Are they coming’ and they give me a no. Hopefully, one of these days when I wake up and ask if they are coming, they give me a yes. That’s all I can say about it. I do know we can’t wait to get all these guys back and be in full force. Hopefully it will be soon.”

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-- Harris worked a clean inning Tuesday. His recovery from a spring-time abdominal strain is complete and he often worked from a mound in Baton Rouge while everyone waited for the season to begin. Tuesday was the first time he’s faced hitters since the 2019 World Series.

“I’ve thrown a lot of bullpens,” Harris said. “The reps are there, as far as just pitching and my arm. It’s just now getting the feedback from hitters and basically the validation of, OK, my stuff is doing what I think it’s supposed to be doing and I’m getting the swings I’m accustomed to getting. I got to have a bigger sample size, but with all the technology today you can pretty much know where you’re at pretty quickly. So, me throwing [Tuesday], I’ll take a look at it [Wednesday] when I get here, make sure my stuff’s doing what I’m accustomed to it doing, if it’s not, figure it out before my next outing.”

-- A quick Harris quip about the idea he might be used frequently at the start of the season. “If you don’t want to throw 18 times in a month, give up some runs and you won’t throw 18 times in a month.”

-- The Nationals worked on preparation for the new extra-innings rule this season which will place a runner on second base to start the 10th inning. They immediately tried a “daylight” pickoff play -- when the shortstop cuts in behind a runner leading off second, the catcher signals there is space, or “daylight” between the fielder and runner, and the pitcher pivots for a pickoff attempt. Tuesday was the first time they started to fold this into their daily routine.

-- Martinez said to-go meals are prepared at the end of workouts so players and staff can leave with food and go straight home.

“We’re making it a point for these guys, when you leave here, you’re pretty much going to a hotel or you’re going to your place that you have and you’re staying in,” Martinez said. “If we’re really going to do this and keep everybody safe, I tell these guys all the time, you can’t be messing around. You’ve got to really take it seriously. One, I don’t want to get sick. Two, I don’t want anybody else around here getting sick. You’ve got to be smart about everything we do.”

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