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2016 Houston Texans Preseason Notebook (Week 3): 40 Thoughts From Texans-Cardinals

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Bill O'Brien's starters flashed dominance on both sides of the ball against a championship-caliber team last weekend. Here are some observations that you might have missed while enjoying the beatdown.

Believe it or not, Carson Palmer somehow got out of this sack. The old man is slippery...
Believe it or not, Carson Palmer somehow got out of this sack. The old man is slippery...
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

With only one day to go until the Texans' preseason finale in Dallas, I wanted to post my personal notes from watching Week Three's dominant performance against Arizona. The starters showed up to play against a Cardinals squad that some expect to go all the way to the Super Bowl this season, nabbing two interceptions off of Carson Palmer while also scoring two first half touchdowns on offense. It was about as clean of a "dress rehearsal" game as any fan could hope for from the first string, and some of Houston’s young depth players made their presence felt in the second half as well.

There are still some concerns with the Texans’ roster going into the start of the regular season, but I think it’s safe to say that Bill O’Brien has his boys ready to rock come Week One against the Bears. With that, onto my observations:

1. Brian Peters of course found a way to make the tackle on Andre Ellington during the opening kickoff. He wasn’t even touched. I don’t know how he does it, but Peters always seems to put himself in exactly the right position to take down returners whenever he is on the coverage teams – what a beast.

2. Bernardrick McKinney started this game off with a bang. On the Cardinals' second snap on offense, they ran power right behind a pulling Mike Iupati into the strong side C-gap. McKinney read the pull, shuffled into the hole, then got low and completely stoned Iupati at the point of attack. He then worked across Iupati’s face while taking on the block and managed to get his hands on David Johnson for the tackle. Keep in mind that David Johnson is basically 230 pounds of solid muscle and Mike Iupati is the human equivalent of a brick wall. McKinney took on both of them by himself…and won. That’s how you make an impression, folks.

3. On that same play, Christian Covington stood strong against a double team from the play side tackle and guard. He held his ground, even while down on his knees, and eventually was able to split it and take away the inside cutback lane from Johnson. It’s good to see he can still be stout despite dropping so much weight in the offseason.

4. Andre Hal’s interception on the tip drill was a great example of exceptional football instincts that always seem to put him in the right place at the right time. When Hal 9000 is lurking in the middle of the field, good things tend to happen. This dude is going to be here for a long, long time.

5. That snap also happened to be Jadeveon Clowney’s first pass rushing opportunity of the night, and it looks as though he’s still having a bit of an issue flipping those hips around and flattening to the quarterback. He got the edge on Jared Veldheer without much difficulty, but just couldn’t quite get his big frame redirected towards Palmer in the back of the pocket. He needs to keep doing those yoga classes and loosen those hips up a bit more.

6. Xavier Su’a-Filo got whooped by Calais Campbell on Brock Osweiler’s first dropback of the day. The gigantic Cardinals defensive end abused Su’a-Filo with his trademark push-pull-swim combo, and he was in Osweiler’s face almost immediately. Brock still had the wherewithal to dump the ball off under duress to Lamar Miller, but unfortunately Miller couldn’t hang on to the ball. That drop took Houston from second and manageable to third and long. Ugh.

7. One snap later on that third and long, Osweiler again had DeAndre Hopkins one on one (which we have seen a lot so far this preseason) but did not pull the trigger on the jump ball opportunity. I know that quarterbacks generally try to look for easy completions early in the game to get in rhythm and stay "dialed in", but in my opinion a back shoulder fade to Hopkins is already one of the easiest completions you could ever hope for on this down and distance. 50-50 balls to Nuk are really more like 70-30 balls to be honest, so Osweiler might as well take that chance with his Pro Bowl receiver rather than toss a short "in" route to Braxton Miller that has almost no hope of moving the chains. Once again, I understand the mentality of getting in rhythm early, but I still think that Hopkins’ unique skill-set has been criminally underused so far this preseason.

8. Bill O’Brien went for it on fourth and three. Okay, I guess that last throw to Miller makes a little more sense now. If Osweiler knew all along that he had the green light to go for it on fourth and short inside the Arizona red zone, then making this down as easy as possible was a sound move. Observation number seven is now mostly useless…whoops.

9. On that fourth down, by the way, Su’a-Filo got worked by Campbell yet again. His ability to string together move after move and take advantage of guards that lean too far over their toes is simply mesmerizing – he’s a hell of a player. Osweiler was able to find a lane and step away from Campbell’s pressure though, and while on the run, he fired a dart straight to Braxton Miller on an over route for the first down. It was a really well run route by Miller and a nice grab as well. This kid is growing up before our very eyes.

10. Su’a-Filo immediately got his revenge on Campbell during Lamar Miller’s touchdown run. Campbell tried to go low and shoot himself into the backfield at the point of attack, but Su’a-Filo responded by torquing his momentum straight into the ground for a nice pancake block. Miller did a great job as well to shake off a linebacker in the hole and finish the run in the paint. That one was pretty.

11. Whitney Mercilus is a damn good rusher on stunts, twists, and loops. He understands how to time his moves to slip in between linemen trying to pass him off, while at the same time also performing his role to "pick" blockers for the other rusher to free them up. If you run a stunt with him, someway, somehow, someone is going to get a hit on the quarterback.

12. One snap later, Mercilus blew by the right tackle with a great inside rip move. Carson Palmer got the ball out early, but Mercilus was once again breathing down his neck as he released. Jadeveon Clowney wasn’t far behind coming off the other edge. This was an interesting defensive look from Romeo Crennel with a four-corner dime grouping on the back end and all three "starting" outside linebackers in Mercilus, Clowney, and John Simon as the primary rushers. It’s the second or third time I’ve seen this package so far and we are only five minutes into the game. Seeing Mercilus successfully rush off the left edge over the right tackle is interesting because that means that we might see him line up over there during the regular season when J.J. Watt goes back to the interior pass rushing role that we saw him excel in under Wade Phillips a few years back.

13. Benardrick McKinney has been kicking Mike Iupati’s ass so far today on every power run to his side. This guy is a rock. Mercilus was also bulldozing his way into the backfield yet again after embarrassing tight end Daniel Fells one on one. I think it is safe to say that Whitney is earning that contract extension so far. This Texans' run defense is…just…WOW.

14. David Johnson is a special running back. That is all.

15. Brock Osweiler’s sack really wasn’t anyone’s fault in particular. It was just a well-timed blitz against a playaction pass that left him kind of defenseless against Kevin Minter. Even if Lamar Miller didn’t hesitate for a fraction of a second in his blitz pickup, there was still nothing he could have done to prevent the sack. Minter just got there that fast.

16. DeAndre Hopkins literally just broke a DB with a move in the open field. This is starting to become an annual preseason tradition at this point. I hope Malcolm Jenkins can recover and get back on the field by next season…this one looked pretty bad.

17. Teams are going to find out pretty quick this year that leaving Will Fuller one on one with no safety help is one of the worst decisions you can possibly make. If the corner misses that first jam – and Fuller has shown good enough hand work to make people miss that jam – then he is flat out gone. Osweiler seems to have already developed a great sense of timing with him down field as well. He dropped a beauty right in the bucket for Fuller on the boundary that was good for a 35-yard gain, and it didn’t even look like he had to adjust his stride at all. The ball was just placed that perfectly.

18. I know that the offensive line is missing three of their five projected starters right now, but run blocking has really been an issue throughout the preseason. Lamar Miller has not been given much room to work with in any of these first three weeks, and I fear that the entire running back group will continue to suffer until Derek Newton and Duane Brown eventually return. Nick Martin’s injury was bad enough at the pivot position of this zone run game, but having bad interior blocking and bad blocking on the edges is just really hard to stomach.

19. Stephen Anderson and Brock Osweiler have now hooked up three weeks in a row on this crafty little hitch-pivot-out route combo against linebackers that are leveraged inside. They both seem to love that route to move the chains when they see man coverage looks. Anderson did end up being flagged for offensive pass interference on the play, but he did not do anything differently on this route than he did in the other two preseason games. The refs just decided to call it this time.

20. Protection held up really well on that 17-yard strike from Osweiler to Hopkins. Outside of a few bad reps by Xavier Su’a-Filo, the offensive line has been mostly holding its own in pass protection. Osweiler has been making their lives easier with quick decisions and great movement within the pocket as well.

21. And of course just as I wrote that, Chandler Jones beat Chris Clark off the edge with a rip move and gets to Osweiler for a sack. Sorry folks, I jinxed that one.

22. Jadeveon Clowney keeps getting so close to sacks, but he is just barely missing by inches. Like, I’m talking "gets a hand on Palmer’s collar but can’t quite finish" kind of close – he was right there. Whenever the Texans finally get Clowney, Mercilus, J.J. Watt, and Christian Covington all on the field at the same time in rush packages, those near-miss pressures when quarterbacks step up out of reach might finally start converting into big time sacks.

23. John Simon’s interception…WOW. I had no idea he had that in him. Great awareness, great hands, and great effort. It was a fluke play, sure, but those fluke plays often define a dominant defensive performance over the course of a season.

24. Akeem Dent is guessing way too much when filling gaps. He’s trying so hard to make a play that he is simply not being patient and reading what the offensive line is giving him. His gap discipline will need to improve if he wants to make the team.

25. Will Fuller had a sure touchdown on a perfectly thrown ball from Brock Osweiler, but it fell right out of his hands. He got over the top of the corner on a "slot fade" concept and had nothing but green grass ahead of him. Ugh.

26. D.J. Reader has gotten better every single week. I haven’t seen him lose against a double team at all in this game. The Cardinals simply can’t move him. On passing downs, I’ve seen Reader crush the front of the pocket a few times as well – his natural power when he gets under a blocker’s pads is insane.

27. It is starting to look like Jadeveon Clowney almost decapitating some poor running back right as he gets the handoff is becoming a weekly occurrence.  I just wish one of these "almosts" would become a big tackle for loss.

28. Tyler Ervin finally got a lane to run as a kick returner in the second quarter, and he paid it off with a beautiful 50-yard scamper down the right sideline. He gets to top speed so damn fast – it’s truly remarkable. I’m hoping to see him put those wheels to work as a running back a little later in the game.

29. Judging by Will Fuller’s excellent touchdown catch, he seems to already be taking classes at the "DeAndre Hopkins School of Pushing Off Defenders Without Getting Glagged". Using your hands to get just enough separation from a DB at the point of the catch is a really subtle art that a lot of pros never seem to master, so it is nice to see Fuller already putting those skills on display.

30. Just like Jadeveon Clowney has been the king of the "almost sack" in this game, A.J. Bouye has been the king of the "almost interception". I know the Texans' defense had a bunch of takeaways throughout the night, but Bouye should have had at least a couple more. He looks really damn good as Houston’s CB4 right now. Were it not for the insane depth at the position, I wager that he would be a good starting corner in this league.

31. Tyler Ervin got the ball on two consecutive snaps to start Tom Savage’s first drive, and his incredible speed was on display yet again. He does not fight through contact that well at the line of scrimmage, but man, once he gets in space, he’s almost impossible to catch. That kid can fly.

32. I’ve said it before and I will say it again – Tom Savage is one tough son of a gun. He took a few huge hits from free rushers on his first series and didn’t even flinch. Hell, he even got blown up while tossing a beautiful back shoulder touchdown to Jaelen Strong, but he stood tall and never let the rush affect his release. I love this guy.

33. Speaking of Strong, he made a great adjustment on that ball from Savage in the end zone. That innate body control was what made him such a dominant red zone threat at Arizona State in the first place.  Hopefully we see more of it during his second season in the pros.

34. After watching Tony Bergstrom play in these first three preseason games, I am ecstatic that the Texans took Nick Martin in the second round of this past draft. It is unfortunate that we will likely not get to see him play at all this season due to his ankle injury, but knowing that he will be the starting center next year and not Bergstrom is extremely comforting. Greg Mancz held his own in the first half against the starting Cardinals defensive line, but Bergstrom was repeatedly ragdolled by the Arizona backups. Were it not for Martin’s injury, I’d wager that Bergstrom would not even make the final 53-man roster.

35. Tom Savage had Stephen Anderson open on that same hitch-and-out pattern that they seem to love to run with him on third downs, but the ball fell incomplete because Anderson ran the route rather poorly. After his break towards the boundary, he drifted a couple of yards up field instead of staying on a straight line all the way past the numbers. Drifting just that short distance off his landmark allowed the defender to get back into position to make a play on the ball and break it up. That one little mistake cost the Texans a third down conversion and presumably more points. He’s got to fix that.

36. K.J. Dillon, Brennan Scarlett, and Reshard Cliett are all having a nice game so far. Dillon’s flashing better speed than I anticipated from hash to hash, and Cliett’s added bulk from this offseason is really helping him take on blocks at the point of attack. If all of them can contribute as special teamers, they should have a home on this roster come Week One.

37. I’m well into the fourth quarter now and I have already lost count of the number I’ve times I’ve seen Dillon come out of absolutely nowhere to put a hit on someone in the open field. He’s got some serious speed coming downhill at ball carriers. This is someone to watch.

38. Reshard Cliett has been more impressive in this game than both Akeem Dent and Max Bullough. He just got in on yet another tackle on third and short and stopped the ball carrier short of the sticks. Cliett has been gap sound, very stout at the point of attack, and has looked comfortable in both man and zone coverage throughout his limited playing time (and as a former safety, that coverage ability should not come as a surprise). We did not get to see him at all last season due to a torn ACL suffered in his rookie training camp, but this showing is a good example of why his coaches were so excited about his potential.

39. Tom Savage has looked a bit "off" in the second half. He’s stared down his receivers a few times, made some questionable decisions in the red zone, and has just flat out missed a couple of throws. He did throw that nice touchdown to Jaelen Strong earlier, but that has been overshadowed by this shaky third and fourth quarter performances.

40. Shane Lechler’s leg strength at his age is unbelievable. He’s been in the league for almost two decades now and he’s still booming punts as if he’s fresh out of college – what a machine.

What did you take away from last Sunday’s dress rehearsal game, BRB? Are you more excited than ever to see this newly-minted receiving corps do their thing, or are the injury issues on the offensive line making you more apprehensive about the Texans passing attack? Sound off in the comments below and let us know what you think.

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