The Houston Texans may not have been that dominant on the scoreboard this past weekend, but overall the team sure played one hell of a complete game. The defense was worlds better than its Week One iteration, the offense pushed the ball down field more often, and the punt and kick coverage teams were incredible throughout the day. Had the starters for both teams remained in the game for all four quarters, this contest likely would not have even been close. With that, on to this week’s observations:
1. I complained a little bit last week that Brock Osweiler did not utilize DeAndre Hopkins enough when he was given one-on one-looks, so I was pleased to see him go straight to Nuk when he was matched up in press coverage with Delvin Breaux on the first play of the game. The ball was broken up on a great play from Breaux, who got himself in position in Hopkins’ hip pocket (he may have gotten away with a bit of a hold, but it wasn’t that egregious), but it was nice to see Osweiler at least try to get his best weapon a bit more involved against a favorable match-up. Oh, and the ball was not quite placed as far ahead of Hopkins as Osweiler probably would have liked, but again, it was still very catchable had Breaux not stuck his hand in there to knock it away.
2. By the way, on that same snap, Will Fuller absolutely flew by the slot corner. There was a safety over the top that likely would have taken away any deep ball attempt (yes, teams are already bracketing him), but his defender wasn’t even in the same zip code after the first 10-15 yards. This kid can flat out run.
3. Fuller gave a nice effort as a run blocker on the next play, a power run by Lamar Miller, but Kenny Vaccaro completely dominated him at the point of attack and limited the run to only a few yards. The willpower is there as a blocker, but the strength isn’t…yet.
4. We’re only three plays into this game so far, and Tony Bergstrom has gotten obliterated twice in pass protection. He allowed the pocket to collapse right in Brock Osweiler’s face on third and long, which forced a hurried check-down to Lamar Miller short of the sticks. I know the offensive line is missing four starters in the game, but this might become a problem, folks.
5. Brian Peters plays special teams like a rabid dog, and I love him for it. If his play as a linebacker approaches the level of Mike Mohamed (a personal favorite of mine back when he was on the team), I will love him even more.
6. Nick Fairley whipped Xavier Su’a-Filo for a sack on the Texans’ first possession (after the fumble recovery on the punt). He rocked Su’a-Filo right in the chest, controlled his center mass, and finished with a great arm-over move to get free. XSF never stood a chance once he lost that first punch, to be honest. He’s got to be able to meet power with power or big defensive tackles like Fairley will just keep throwing haymakers off the snap for easy wins.
7. Stephen Anderson ran a really nifty route on third and six to move the chains. Saints linebacker Dannell Ellerbe tried to press him at the line of scrimmage, but Anderson knocked away his hands and released cleanly to the outside. From there, Anderson hitched up right at the first down line, then immediately broke to the outside to shake Ellerbe loose. Had he simply motored down and cut out like a traditional out route, Ellerbe likely would have been able to get a piece of his jersey and hang on to stay in position, but his little hitch and break to the outside dropped Ellerbe’s guard just enough to give him the space for the reception. Really, really crafty route from the rookie there.
8. Protection was great on that throw as well. The right side of the line worked well together picking up a stunt, and Xavier Su’a-Filo did a great job one-on-one with Saints rookie David Onyemata.
9. Oh, and one last thing from that third and six play – I noticed a Saints safety literally sprint straight over the top of Will Fuller on the boundary as soon as the ball was snapped. He seemed like his one and only responsibility on that play was to not let Fuller’s corner get toasted on a go route. We’re less than five quarters into the preseason and it is already very clear to me that opposing defensive coordinators are absolutely terrified of #15. I kind of don’t blame them.
10. Holy crap, a wide receiver screen actually picked up yardage for once. Braxton Miller, ladies and gentlemen.
11. Remember a couple notes ago when I said that defenses are terrified of leaving Will Fuller one-on-one? Well, a few snaps later, the Saints left Fuller alone against a corner, and he promptly embarrassed them for a 19-yard touchdown. If you let this kid get a free release and elect not to have a safety over the top, it’s over. You lose. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 dollars. I feel like a moron for ever questioning his selection in the first round.
12. Brian Cushing is flying around out there like his old pre-injury self. I’m happy to see him get some of that explosiveness back after two consecutive healthy years. He’s clearly ready to go for the regular season.
13. Jadeveon Clowney is simply not fair. He had a late get off on his first snap because he was still getting into his stance, yet he still managed to be the first Texan to get to the passer. He had a downright devastating bull rush on Saints right tackle Zach Strief to get there, by the way. Clowney completely detonated Strief the moment his hands made contact. I almost felt bad for the guy…almost.
14. So let me get this straight. Brandon Coleman can catch the ball, take three steps, lose the ball because of a tackle, and that is still ruled an incomplete pass? Um…okay then. I’ll just chalk this up as another entry into the "nobody has any idea what a catch is" saga.
15. One thing some people might not have noticed on that Coleman non-fumble was the pressure that Christian Covington put on Drew Brees. He split the double team with a nice rip move inside the left guard and laid a hit on the future Hall of Famer right as he released the ball. I’m eager to see if Covington can be an effective interior pass rusher and collapse pockets in the regular season while Clowney, J.J. Watt, and Whitney Mercilus all take turns screaming off the edges.
16. Lamar Miller is looking really good on zone runs so far. He knows he has the speed to get to that front side edge any time he wants to, but as soon as defenses start flowing harder and cheating to that front side lane, he’s got the vision to cut it back and gash them on the back side as well. He doesn’t quite have the "dead leg" that Arian Foster had, but he certainly has the speed to be just as dangerous on these lateral runs.
17. Speaking of Miller, he had a great run on a second and short play that did not get many yards, but really showed his capacity as a back. The offensive line busted a couple of assignments and let not one, but two Saints defensive linemen through to the back field, so Miller shook them both out of their shoes and accelerated back downhill to move the chains before the rest of the New Orleans defense could catch up. That ability to make something out of nothing was sorely lacking last season once Foster went down with his Achilles’ injury.
18. Jonathan Grimes’ work as a pass protector continues to impress me every single year. He’s so good at doing the dirty work on this team – blitz pick-up, receiving, special teams – you name it, and he can do it. He’s a good asset to have as a fourth running back.
19. Xavier Su’a-Filo has been having an up and down game, with mostly downs so far. Nick Fairley has eaten him alive with pure power, especially on passing downs.
20. In case you were wondering, yes, Jadeveon Clowney is still a ridiculously good edge run defender.
21. One snap later, and Clowney gets his first sack of the preseason. He tore through the Saints’ left tackle with yet another bull rush, demonstrating his enormous raw power. When he gets under an offensive lineman’s pads off the snap, it’s pretty much an automatic win for him. What a freak.
22. Braxton Miller may be this team’s "starting" slot receiver right now only because of Cecil Shorts III’s absence, but he has played so well in these first two games that he might have just earned that spot anyway. Miller is an explosive athlete after the catch, has terrific hands, and his route-running acumen has reportedly improved every single week. Between him and Will Fuller, we might see the Texans trot out two first-year players as starting wide receivers in the regular season, which is a unicorn-level rarity in a Bill O’Brien offense. These kids must be that special.
23. Now that I think about it, I have not had a single problem with Brock Osweiler’s play so far in this game. He’s made good decisions with the football, dealt with pressure well, and has been accurate on his throws for the most part. There are a couple of passes he missed on by a few inches, and he made a couple catches harder than they needed to be (like sailing one a wee bit too high for a wide open Braxton Miller, for instance), but I have seen more good balls than bad balls thus far. Whenever the starting offensive line can finally get back on the field together, Osweiler’s performance should only improve from there.
24. And of course just as I write that, Osweiler throws three straight incompletions into the end zone, the last of which was an interception. I think he tried to force that back shoulder throw to Will Fuller a little bit when he really never had the body positioning to make that throw work in the first place. Jaelen Strong on the other side – at least in my opinion – was in a better spot to make a back shoulder fade work, but Osweiler was dialed into Fuller from the beginning. He’ll want that one back when he watches the film this week.
25. A.J. Bouye made a great play to come up and tackle Mark Ingram out on the edge. Tackling was a huge issue last week against San Francisco, so it’s nice to see that seemingly improve just six days later. It’s also nice to see Bouye back on the field from his groin injury, too.
26. Christian Covington is really putting together a nice game today. He’s flashing as both a pass rusher and run defender on almost every series. Losing 30 pounds has really helped him become that undersized, quick, penetrating defensive end that this team has not really had to complement J.J. Watt since the days of Antonio Smith.
27. Jadeveon Clowney whipped the Saints’ left tackle yet again with an inside swim move – a move that he has not really had up to this point in his career, by the way – but the tackle got away with one of the worst uncalled holds I’ve ever seen. He literally dragged Clowney by the jersey down to the ground as he lost his balance and fell over, yet the zebras still never threw a flag. That’s just awful officiating right there.
28. I’m seeing a lot of positives from A.J. Bouye in this game. He’s tackled well, as noted before, but his coverage has been on point as well. He struggled with hand placement and leverage earlier in his career (A.J. Green demolishing him two seasons ago immediately comes to mind), but his hand work has really improved and he’s putting himself in much better position after a receiver breaks down. If you want to keep up with a well-run out pattern, really the only way to do that is by having good enough hands to slingshot yourself into position after those hard breaks to the outside. Bouye developing that skill is absolutely huge for his career.
29. Kenny Hilliard is running the ball so well this preseason. Between his skills inside the tackles, Jonathan Grimes’ contributions as a pass protector, and Akeem Hunt’s work as a receiver and return man, I literally have no idea who this team’s fourth running back will be. The race is way too close to call right now.
30. The Texans’ punt coverage teams have been phenomenal tonight. They haven’t left a single lane open for any of the Saints’ return men, and for the most part, everyone has been able to tackle out on their islands if necessary. I don’t know what the coaches did this week to improve this team’s tackling so quickly, but it clearly worked.
31. D.J. Reader has had a few really good snaps in his limited action thus far. I’ve seen him lose some ground a couple of times initially off the snap, but he’s got this innate slippery quality about him that allows him to get off of those blocks and put himself right back into position to make a play on the line of scrimmage. He could still use some more work when it comes to holding that point and not letting the offensive line gain any ground in the first place, but at least he has been able to make up for it with quickness and hand usage to shed those blocks.
32. I know I have already said it a couple of times, but I really do want to emphasize yet again that Christian Covington is having a whale of a first half. He’s been all over the field making plays, including a sack he just got with an awesome rip move inside the left guard. We might have ourselves a new starting defensive end, folks.
33. Will Fuller is still body catching a little bit out there. He had an opportunity to pluck the ball out of the air on a pass over the middle from Tom Savage, but instead let it into his chest and pinned it with his arms. It was still caught, and he got a nice chunk of yardage, but I would like to see him extend those hands out there and look the ball into "the diamond" in the future. Every little mechanical nuance matters at this level, especially when it comes to preventing drops.
34. Tom Savage nearly threw a pick-six on a deep out pattern to Jaelen Strong. Luckily for him, it was dropped. The decision was poor and the ball never should have been thrown, obviously, but I actually feel like Strong shares even more of the blame for a really terrible route. He’s facing an off-corner with two yards out of outside leverage, which is pretty much the worst possible alignment to try to run a deep out against. The only way to make this route work on that kind of coverage is to stem the corner a little bit inside, like you are running a skinny post or a seam route, get him to bite and flip his hips inside, and then motor down hard and dart back outside. On top of that, Strong needed to "flatten" the route and come two yards back to the line of scrimmage just to take away the DB’s angle to the ball. As you might have guessed, he did none of those things.
There was no stem to the inside, no flattening of the route, and absolutely no sharpness to his cut. You can’t round off a deep out cut against an outside-leveraged cornerback who is literally sitting on that exact route. You just…can’t. If Strong keeps putting this kind of stuff on tape, Will Fuller might run away with the number two receiver job after all.
35. Jadeveon Clowney’s technical development from just one year ago is simply stunning. I’ve seen a bigger variety of moves from him in half a game so far than I did throughout all of last season. His hands are better, his hips are better, and his explosiveness is starting to get utilized to its full potential. Mike Vrabel may have just successfully converted Clowney from a monster into a bonafide demigod. Holy. Crap.
36. D.J. Reader just had a really, really good rep about six minutes into the third quarter. He got under the center’s pads, bulled him back a few yards into the backfield, then effortlessly disengaged to tackle on the ball carrier. If he wants to be the new Vince Wilfork, duplicating that play over and over for the next ten years would be a good start.
37. A few snaps later and Reader had another really good rep. He lost his footing at the point of attack, but still did not allow himself to lose any ground (while still on his knees!) and fought his way back up to get in on the tackle. This kid can play.
38. Tom Savage is a tough son of a gun. He’s been getting shelled behind second and third string linemen for three years now, yet he still stands tall in that pocket on every snap without flinching. He’s just got "that thing" about him when watching him play that makes you think he should be starting somewhere.
39. The backup defensive linemen and outside linebackers are not generating very much pass rush so far. The starters are of course loaded across the board with guys who can get to the quarterback, but beyond that first rotation, sack production will be really thin.
40. Out of all of the backup OLBs, however, Brennan Scarlett has had the best game through three quarters. He’s a very similar player to John Simon as that high-motor SAM backer that stops the run and tries to get the defense into favorable situations on third down, so if he does happen to make the 53-man roster, it will likely be as Simon’s backup. The real question with him will be whether he can develop into a more effective pass rusher than Simon, who to date has not really contributed much to this defense on third and long.
41. Tony Washington and Joel Heath both just had nice pass rush reps on the same play. Neither one of them could actually finish for a sack, but their pressure clearly disrupted the quarterback and led to a hurried incompletion. Both Washington and Heath have a tough hill to climb to make the final roster, but turning those pressures into sacks in the final two preseason games would certainly help their case.
42. Tom Savage accidentally tossed a lateral at the ground (which is technically a fumble) while attempting to throw the ball away. That was…uh…interesting. I’m just glad it’s still the preseason.
43. Antonio Allen completely lost his man down in the red zone for a wide open would-be touchdown. He was cheating up against the run (on third and long of all plays) and just let the Saints’ tight end run right by him to the pylon. Had the pass not been dropped, that’s six points on the board for New Orleans. Allen is lucky. Very, very lucky.
44. One last thing...I really dig the new field that the Texans installed for this season. Artificial turf is a faster surface that tends to favor teams with lots of speed out on the edges, so all of the young guns on this offense – Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, Tyler Ervin, Akeem Hunt, etc. – should have a distinct advantage during home games. Get ready to see a lot of deep balls this season.
Well, that’s about all I’ve got for now. There are still some things that Brock Osweiler and a few other assorted starters could stand to clean up before their regular season debut, but this team seems to get more and more "ready" with each passing day. The rookie receivers are already playing like veterans, the veterans on defense are playing with the youthful exuberance of rookies, and Jadeveon Clowney…my GOODNESS, would you just look at Jadeveon Clowney?
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