It was with great pleasure that I spent a few hours yesterday reviewing every first quarter snap of the Texans' preseason opener against the 49ers. As a whole, I would say that it was a very positive team performance in the first 15 minutes, but there were a host of issues that still need to be corrected on both sides of the ball. Some of the veterans were logging their first semi-meaningful snaps at new positions, the rookies began their collective baptism by fire, and of course Bill O’Brien got to experiment with the new PAT rules right off the bat. Here is a chronological record of my thoughts as I watched the first quarter of the game in real time. Quarter number two will be up next tomorrow morning after I get some more time to chart those snaps.
1. Brian Hoyer’s first snap was okay. The Niners tried to rob him with a rolled coverage from a two-deep press-man shell to a three-deep zone shell with a robber safety underneath. I saw him do a bit of a double take while going through progressions before he checked it down to his only option. I liked that Hoyer didn’t fall for the baited trap of a curl route against a deep third zone when he’s got a robber sitting right there; at the same time, I also saw him get the ball out a bit late once he made the decision to check it down. He made the right decision, of course, but I just want to see the pace of his progressions quickened.
2. Jeff Adams was decent at left guard in place of Xavier Su’a-Filo. Leverage is going to be his biggest issue because he’s so damn tall. He got bulled over on Alfred Blue’s first carry because his man got under his pads, but Adams was crafty enough to pull the defensive lineman down with him. It was holding for sure, but at least he didn’t get called for it. Garrett Graham is still not a reliable blocker as a tight end, by the way. Luckily for us, he can still be a reliable receiver instead.
3. Speaking of Graham, Hoyer’s pass to him on the out route had more zip on it than I remember from Hoyer in Cleveland. His arm is certainly stronger than Ryan Fitzpatrick’s. I never saw Fitz make that throw with such velocity.
4. Brandon Brooks and Derek Newton can still absolutely crush the edge when they combo block together. When they want to move someone, they get moved in a hurry. It’s tantalizing to say the least.
5. Alfred Blue still is not the athlete that Arian Foster is – not even close – but he looked like he had a bit more pep in his step than he did this time last year. Blue seems to have gone from a below average plodder to someone who might be able to give you some burst and wiggle in the hole now. I still want to see more from him, but it was encouraging.
6. Ben Jones looks much better at center than he does at guard. He is exponentially more effective when he’s allowed to double team and use leverage and angles to get people out of the way rather than use brute force as a play side guard. Jones honestly looked like a young Chris Myers on a few plays blocking for Blue. However, when he doesn’t have leverage, he still isn’t strong enough to make up for it. He’s not a power guy – never has been, and never will be. His game relies on getting under people’s pads. If Jones doesn’t do that consistently, the run game will suffer.
7. Hoyer’s tipped pass on the naked boot rollout might not have been tipped if it came from Ryan Mallett’s 6’6" frame. That was a potentially big gain to Graham that was left on the table. Just sayin’…
8. Cecil Shorts III’s speed on his long touchdown was obviously impressive, but I liked Hoyer’s throw even more. That ball had some heat on it! It was a good read with good eye discipline too as he held the single high safety deep middle and let Cecil’s post develop underneath him. Great play.
9. DeAndre Hopkins with a grown-ass-man catch on that two point conversion. ‘Nuff said.
10. It should be noted that Andre Hal was the starter at strong safety. He’s really come a long way as a 7th round pick a year ago, eh?
11. Jared Crick whipped Joe Staley on his first snap of the game by getting under his pads and discarding him on the way to the backfield. Carlos Hyde then promptly stiff-armed Crick into the next dimension, however, so it all kind of cancelled itself out in the end. I also want to point out that Whitney Mercilus lost edge contain almost immediately on this snap when he attacked the wrong half of Vance McDonald’s pads. He was lucky to draw the holding call on that one, to be honest.
12. Rahim Moore learned a very important lesson in the first series – never, EVER get caught peeking in the back field when Torrey Smith is lined up on your side. No matter how fast you think you are, it’s not as fast as Torrey.
13. Whitney Mercilus dominated backup tight end Blake Bell on the edge on the snap following the incompletion to Torrey Smith. He had Bell 2-3 yards in the back field on the run and helped re-direct Carlos Hyde back into the teeth of the defense. Speaking of the teeth, Crick was stout as a two-gapper and Mike Mohamed – all 238 pounds of him – did a great job working against Staley on the second level. He held his ground on the stack and worked his way back inside to help get in on the tackle. Great effort from him. Brian Cushing and Louis Nix got held up coming from the back side, so if Mohamed and Crick weren’t whopping’ ass on the front side, that could have been a big gain for the Niners.
14. Christian Covington just checked into the game and immediately got free on a nice stunt due to Brian Cushing bulldozing into the offensive line as hard as he could; I love that psychopath. Kevin Johnson also checked in and had great coverage from 7 yards off on a hitch route. Colin Kaepernick wouldn’t have completed that against K-Jo even if he tried; Johnson was on his man immediately after the break. This kid’s acceleration out of his backpedal is downright stupid.
15. Ryan Mallett is in the game now. His first throw was a quick little out route to C.J. Fiedorowicz against an inside leveraged linebacker. The decision was fine as a drive starter just for the sake of keeping things on schedule, and the placement of the throw was good as well, but what really stuck out to me was Fiedorowicz’s route. He did a nice three-step break and really rolled his hips into the cut so that he could immediately flatten the route down and put his body in between the ball and the defender. With Fiedorowicz having such a huge frame and catch radius, the linebacker had ZERO shot at making the play on that ball. I love seeing that the "gimme play" to a big-bodied tight end might actually be a legit option to keep the chains moving this season. We haven’t had that since Owen Daniels was in his prime.
16. James Ferentz got beat on Jay Prosch’s first carry as Brandon Brooks worked to the second level, but Prosch ran over the nose tackle anyway and grinded yards out of it. It wasn’t a pretty three yards, but it’s probably three more yards than that play should have gotten. I would also like to note that Jeff Adams got beat again as the right tackle on this play. Leverage is seemingly becoming a worse and worse issue for him as I see more snaps. He’s got to keep that butt low or we’re in trouble.
17. Oh my goodness, Jay Prosch just had a hell of a lead block on an 8 yard carry for Alfred Blue. Garrett Graham was losing the edge (again) and couldn’t seal the outside, so Prosch chipped the force defender out of the way and then advanced to take on a defensive back on the second level. He almost single handedly gave that edge to Blue, who did a nice job slipping out of a tackle in the back field as well. I see you, Jay. I see you.
And this block too from Prosch just a few snaps earlier. Saved Graham on the edge then took the DB out of t... https://t.co/gOxha0rrlk— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) August 16, 2015
18. I loved Mallett’s read on his 17 yard pass to Keith Mumphery. He saw the corner bailed out of his press alignment and knew that he would have the curl underneath it, and once he saw there was no safety cutting under the corner’s zone, he fired a bullet across the field to put it between Mumphery’s numbers. I didn’t like the way that Mumphery let the ball get into his body rather than extending and plucking the ball out of the air, but he did do a good job of selling the go route to back the corner off in the first place. Overall, it was a positive play.
19. What. The. Hell. Jay Prosch is murdering people on this drive! He just plowed through two defenders on another off tackle lead for Blue and gave him the edge for a 32 yard gain.
Watch Jay Prosch's lead block. Low man always wins, boys and girls. https://t.co/pbG3PIrjfg— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) August 16, 2015
20. Ben Jones as a center and Jeff Adams as a left guard are okay in pass protection. Ben Jones as a left guard and Jeff Adams as a right tackle, however, might get one of our quarterbacks killed.
21. 4th and 1 down in the red zone. Blue runs behind Prosch, who again hammers open enough space for Blue to convert the first down. Watching Prosch lead block on this drive has been supremely entertaining.
22. James Ferentz was at fault for no less than two of those goal line carries not getting in. His first sin was getting jettisoned off the line of scrimmage before Brandon Brooks could establish his combo block from the back side, which then allowed enough penetration for a crucial tackle for loss. After that, Ferentz whiffed on a second level and let a linebacker stop Kenny Hilliard cold right at the goal line. As for the other four failed runs, one of them was due to C.J. Fiedorowicz not getting quite enough push to help Jay Prosch punch it in off tackle, another was a now lead blocking Prosch getting caught from the side on a bad angle by a blitzing linebacker, and the other two were just a complete and utter collapse by…well…basically everyone. It was an ugly, ugly goal line drill that I hope to never have to relive again.
23. Benardrick McKinney is now in the game at the end of the first quarter, and he immediately helps bail out Jeoffrey Pagan with a nice stack and shed after Pagan got blown off the line. That’s good work on his first professional snap. I saw Nix hold stoutly on the back side as well. He didn’t lose any ground at all, though he also couldn’t get a hand on the ball carrier. Either way, it was a good rep.
24. Nix has allowed offensive linemen to cross his face a couple of times on zone runs, so he definitely has to work on not letting blockers get to his front side hip. If he loses front side on a zone run, it puts way too much pressure on the linebackers to fill prematurely as the running back presses the hole, which then causes the whole unit to lose lane integrity almost immediately. Watt can get away with "backdooring" offensive linemen if he loses front side because he’s just that athletic, but Nix doesn’t have that luxury. Vince Wilfork is a master of holding that front side hip, naturally, so hopefully Nix can pick up a few things from the old vet along the way. As a side note, despite Nix getting beat front side on this play, Mike Mohamed made a fantastic diagnosis and form tackle on a cut back from the ball carrier. Mo has been all over the field so far. If he keeps this up throughout the year, he has a legitimate shot to lead the team in tackles this season.
That is all I’ve got for you for today. I’ll be taking a few hours to chart and evaluate the second quarter this afternoon, so check back in tomorrow morning to see my notes on the team’s performance going into the half. With any luck, I will be able to publish notes on another quarter every day until Thursday; that is the goal, at least. What were your own first quarter impressions of the starters and rookies after rewatching the game? Sound off in the comments below.