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Texans-Cowboys Preview: SIX Things To Watch For

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Here are SIX things to watch for when the Texans play the Cowboys.

NFL: Preseason-Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys
This man is going to throw a lot of passes.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

I used to be the absolute worst. I was the crust in a belly button, the green squishy balls in a nose, the big toenail that needs to be clipped. I used to actually care about this wasteful fourth preseason game between the Texans and Cowboys. I once actually thought whenever Houston would win this stupid game that it was a reinforcement of Houston’s roster depth compared to the peons in Dallas.

Crawling, I have emerged from extended adolescence understanding what’s important and what to care about. Tonight’s game at NRG Stadium is none of these things. It’s the final narrative to Hard Knocks. It’s a bunch of guys who aren’t going to play anyways trying to make the roster. It’s the finality of preseason that transports us into Labor Day. There’s nothing more to it than that.

HIT IT.

1.) Look At All Those Empty Seats

This entire preseason, like every preseason, stadiums have been a third full. People are speckled across the stands like midweek National Park campgrounds. Season ticket holders don’t go to these games. Seatgeek is filled with matinee priced seats. Nobody wants to go. It’s an event to skip. It’s time saved for better things to do.

In both Dallas and Houston, there are four million people or so in the vicinity who can attend this game and choose not to. To end this vacancy, these wasted seats, the NFL should move this game to the Alamodome. There are around a million and a half people in that area; just about all of them are Cowboys fans, some are sad! Texans fans like me, and the rest love the Raiders because silver and black reawakens “Go Spurs Go!” chants, and because Al and Mark loved to flaunt San Antonio as a possible destination before leaving for Las Vegas.

This preseason game would sell 60,000 tickets in San Antonio. It would be hilarious. Hell, even the Texas Rangers sell a ton of tickets to play preseason baseball where right field is 200 feet away. It would give fans of both the Texans and Cowboys a chance to congregate at a neutral field together, drink some dishwater margaritas, eat a ton of chips, and walk along a green river. More importantly, it would allow those who don’t inhabit those sprawling metropolises to see their boys up close and personal without having to go through the rigors of four hour drives, hotel rooms, shuttles, or paying to stand in volcanic parking lots. Also, who knows, a high enough turnout could lead the league or other leagues turning this area from a one team city into a two team city.

Rather than burden season ticket holders with wasted tickets to go to a game they don’t want to go to, leaving the seats empty, they should fill it up, play some football in that post-apocalyptic concrete bunker, and make a big thing out of it. Let’s do it. Let’s play Dallas versus Houston in the fourth week of the NFL preseason in San Antonio every year. Let’s do something with that enormous concrete blocking lurching on the side of I-35. I’m sure the mayor would even pay for it.

2.) Martinas Rankin

My man.

Last weekend Rankin finally saw the field. He played left tackle at first and he was really good at it. He was sealing off the backside with one-on-one blocks. His pass sets were crisp, exact, and he was meeting defenders head on. Punches were strong and edge rushers evaporated at the point of contact. Then, later on in the game, Rankin moved to guard. I don’t have a damn clue how he played there. The guard position is nearly impossible to watch from the sideline view. It’s trying to untangle sixteen controllers at a 2003 LAN party. It’s a mismatch of cephal0pod limbs and tentacles.

Whatever Rankin did at guard doesn’t matter anyways. Rankin is a tackle, and right tackle is currently the weakest spot on the Texans’ offensive line. If disaster strikes, Houston already has the acceptable Greg Mancz to fill in at guard or center. They don’t need him there. Seantrel Henderson is expected to start at RT in Week One, and I’m expecting it to be a chunk-hurling, blood-in-your-stool disaster.

I feel better now after watching Rankin last week. He looked strong and healthy, and just like in college, he could both run and pass block, something every other tackle prospect from last year’s draft class struggled to do. Hopefully, Rankin gets a million reps tonight and is ready to go around Week Two, Three or Four, able to take over at tackle if what I think happens happens (which will probably happen).

3.) The Fringe Players

There are a couple of cute players who have had some fun preseasons that are on the edge of the roster, trying to Charles James II their way onto the roster. Remember Happy Socks? HBO can edit anything into a story. They are narrative crafting masters.

Anyways, Troymaine Pope has a beautiful name, and he’s been a fun little guy to watch on the field. Houston hasn’t been a good screen team since the Gary Kubiak days. Their offensive linemen have struggled blocking the second level and rampaging in space into defenders. Their skill players haven’t been shifty tackle breakers. Houston has been one of the worst tackle breaking teams in football the last two years. They ranked 31st in broken tackle rate the last two seasons after ranking last in 2015. Yikes. Pope has been a great screen receiver this preseason. Tackling him with three offensive linemen in front of him is like trying to find Waldo at that monster party. He hides among the trees, popping out of the brush and into space. I don’t know if Pope can make it as a runner, but he can at least do one thing no other rplayer on this roster has been able to do.

Vyncint Smith has made some big plays this preseason. In the fourth quarter, when Houston was dying for a large chunk of yards, he went and got it. I also like how he spells his first name. I’ve never seen that before. As an undrafted free agent from imaginary Limestone State (there’s no way that’s a real school), he didn’t seem to have a shot to make the team. He’s done something with his opportunity so far. It would be cool if he made the practice squad at least. We all know Will Fuller V or Braxton Miller will go down some point this season, allowing someone to crawl into a backup sixth receiver spot while Sammie Coates moves out wide.

Stephen Anderson and the other bottom-dwelling tight ends may have one last ride tonight as well. It looks like Houston is set with Ryan Griffin as their starting tight end. Great. I’m ready for another year of him catching four yard passes in the flat and getting dismantled by defensive ends and outside linebackers in one-on-one blocking attempts. Jordan Akins looks like he can do what Anderson does, only better. Anderson is only 6’3” 230 pounds. He’s never going to be even a horrible blocker. He’s pretty much an oversized slot receiver, a player made to take advantage of smaller slot corners who have devolved into shorter quicker defenders to cover pesky little vermin receivers. However, he’s a terrible redzone receiver. There’s no point in giving him shots if he can’t score touchdowns. Akins seems like a similar player, but has better size, and has shown the ability to post defenders up this preseason. The other rookie, Jordan Thomas, looks like he can be a competent blocker, something Houston hasn’t had from a tight end since 2012.

Lastly, the edge rush position interests me. Duke Ejiofor has been a blender of pass rush moves. Inside out moves, inside counter swims, outside spins. Woo-boy. I’m sweating. He’s been far and away better than Brennan Scarlett. Like fetch, Scarlett is never going to happen and Houston needs to stop trying to make it happen. He’s a pass rushing vulture, feasting quarterbacks who turn into soft purple guts after they step away from previous pressure, and have held onto the ball for five plus seconds. Also, last season, when he filled in for Whitney Mercilus, he was dominated in the run game and couldn’t deal with offensive tackle strength. The same can be said for Ufomba Kamalu, who is still here somehow. Ejiofor at least offers something as a third rusher. And I also wouldn’t be opposed to Dylan Cole moving outside to play a little bit there either. He was great in pass coverage last season. I’d like to see him drop back in zone and slap down some quick slants and drags.

4.) Defensive Line Shoving

The Cowboys have been consistently great at one thing for the last five years, and that one thing is playing offensive line. Sure, what’s left of the All-Pro greats won’t be playing, but Dallas has some competent backups as well. On Houston’s end, the one thing that has jumped out to me in every preseason game is the jump and movement the defensive line has made. Consistently, they are picking up the line of scrimmage and moving it two yards back. Joel Heath and others have been beer and tequila thrill seekers. Putting pressure on the quarterback and dismantling run plays.

This is important. Houston’s defense, and to me, their entire season, depends on the health of their front seven. Two of their three best players on their front seven are coming back from season ending injuries, and the other has a history of injuries. It’s not unreasonable to expect one of these guys to go down. And if it happens, someone needs to be ready to try and be at least 60% as good.

5.) Who’s Going To Play Cornerback?

I’ve been reading and listening and thinking about all thirty-two teams in preparation for this season and I don’t think there’s a worst cornerback group in football. Johnathan Joseph is stuck. He’s great at reading routes and reacting, but he’s too slow to actually get there when playing soft zone or off-man coverage. If he presses, he’s too slow to do that either. It just leads to him getting roasted down the sideline. Even when last season started and he was deemed healthy, Kevin Johnson was one of the worst cornerbacks in football last year, and he looked bad again this preseason. I have no clue what happened to the guy. I have no clue if Aaron Colvin is good or not. He’s coming from the best slot corner situation in football, nestled between the best cornerback combo in football and playing behind one of the best pass rushes in football. Here, in Houston, with more responsibility, who knows how he’ll respond.

That’s only three cornerbacks too. Romeo Crennel loves to play six defensive back sets. He may very well go with these three and his three safeties: Kareem Jackson, Tyrann Mathieu, and Justin Reid instead, but who knows. And injuries can always happen. You can never have enough pass rushers or defensive backs, and right now Houston barely has three defensive backs.

Currently the backups are Dee Virgin, Johnson Bademosi, Bryce Jones, Jermaine Kelly Jr., recently signed Kavon Webster, and Andre Chachere. Houston needs someone to do something. Hopefully Thursday night one of them is able to clamp down on Dallas’s receivers.

6.) Forget Last Year, I’m Ready For This Year

My eye, but I’ve been all over that ground—years and years ago. I’ve lived out my melancholy youth. I don’t care any more what’s behind me, or what’s ahead of me. I’m healthy. Incurably healthy. No sorrows, no regrets. No past, no future. The present is enough for me. Day by day. Today! Le bel aujourd’hui!

Enjoy the game, everyone.