I knew I hated preseason football. I’ve watched it plenty of times. I know what happens. Pretty much nothing. I can’t remember anything from preseason that extrapolated into the actual season that mattered. The only preseason game I really remember, do you remember?, was the one against the Cardinals in 2014 where Ryan Fitzpatrick completed like 1/11 passes for 9 yards and everyone realized that he was going to be bad, and guess what, he was bad.
So, yeah, I may watch LIVE tonight. If not, I’ll watch condensed tomorrow hungover with a pot belly filled with beans. Regardless when you watch or how you watch, here are SIX things to watch for when the Texans play the 49ers tonight.
I’M SHOCK COLLARED AT THE GATES OF HEAVEN
1.) Last Year Actually Happened
Four summers ago I went on a trip to the Colorado Plateau. I went to the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Capital Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, and Mesa Verde with my heart in tatters and shredded like Earl Campbell’s jersey in the 1970s. At the Grand Canyon I backpacked 30 miles or so of the Tonto Trail. On the second day I went to get going but struggled to find the trail. It was like looking for a very important set of keys. I ended up walking back up the canyon and wasted an hour and a half. That hour and a half ripped up my muscles, forced me to walk in the blazing sun, and sucked up water that was nonrenewable.
The rest of the day I don’t remember too well. It’s all surreal looking and thinking back on. I took a nap under some cotton wood trees at a campground with twelve spots, all vacant. I felt the rocks as I walked with my mouth closed. During this vagabond voyage I saw a black mark perched on pink rock. It’s eyes bugged out and turned in full rotation. It yawned showing off a sticky tongue packed in its mouth like origami. It didn’t flinch or move like those other horrified lizards when I approached. A chameleon. Deep down in the grand canyon.
I’ve been back four more times since that time, I’ve kept my eyes out, I’ve talked to people along the way, and never have I seen one or heard of someone seeing once since then. And now waking up today where I’m at I feel like I hallucinated the whole thing. It doesn’t even seem real. Just some dehydrated dusty desert vision. Like some alligator walking through the streets of Atlanta.
This is exactly how I felt about Deshaun Watson. Last year was a fever dream of touchdown passes and magic man pocket maneuvering and squirrel across the highway scrambling. It’s been so long since I actually watched him play that I felt like it never happened. Like imagining your friend Dan laughing in the kitchen even though Dan is dead, or seeing a chameleon in the wild, at the bottom plateau of the Grand Canyon in 110 degrees of baking heat.
Last week Watson threw one pass and he completed it. He ran one series and they punted it. No. I’m not insane. Watson did play football for the Texans’ last year and actually did the things he did. I didn’t imagine it all. And this year he will once again play football for the Houston Texans.
Enjoy it and savor it when he’s out there tonight. Bill O’Brien already said the starters will play about as much as they played last week, which wasn’t much at all. Regardless, any sight of Watson on the field is assurance that reality is more stable than it actually is.
2.) The New Guard
Phillip Rivers. Ben Roethlisberger. Tom Brady. Eli Manning. Drew Brees. We are nearing the end of the life of the former cream of NFL quarterback play. Soon they’ll all be gone. There will be a cavity in our Sundays missing Rivers climbing up the pocket and running so slow outside of it, Roethlisberger getting smashed over the head with a bottle of Busch Light and not feeling a thing, Brady being annoying and completing wide open passes over the middle, Manning throwing aw shucks interceptions, and Brees peaking over the line of scrimmage to throw deep. The end is near.
We are going to need other quarterbacks to come alive and be able to take over. No matter which team they play for, or the aesthetic of their game, we need some young men to step up. Marcus Mariota needs to play better. Dak Prescott needs to evolve past throwing seven yard passes to a lot of different receivers and managing a viscous run game. Teddy Bridgewater needs to be traded to Tampa Bay. Josh Rosen needs to excel once Sam Bradford’s Aorta collapses. Ryan Tannehill is never going to happen, stop trying to make it happen. And Jimmy Garooppolo needs to be more than, as Jalen Ramsey claims, all scheme.
I watched more of Jimmy G! during his Brady’s four game timeout than he played last year. At that point of the season I don’t have much time to watch bad football teams unless it involves the Houston Texans or Blaine Gabbert. But tonight, it will be fun to see him sling it. Jimmy has a crazy release and an arm as wild as his heart. He’s a pure thrower of the football. It’s going to be fun to see how he’s evolved the rest of his game tonight.
3.) I <3 Julie’n Davenport
So far so good. I told y’all signing Nate Solder would have been a mistake and Davenport could be a competent cost effective starting left tackle if he got strong enough. And last week against Kansas City, boy howdy, did he look strong enough. His biceps are spaghetti squashes, he’s wide and massive, and he sucked up and devoured every bull rush the Chiefs threw at him last week.
Even though Davenport delivered last week it was nothing more than a first impression. An important step, but there’s still a handful of boulders between here and the other side of the creek. Whenever Houston has the ball he’ll be the only player I’ll be watching. I’m interested in the interior of the offensive line as well, but you can’t see things very clearly from the LIVE sideline camera angle. It just looks like a Rivercity Rockfest moshpit. Out on the left edge, with the Texans traveling south, Davenport is easy to see.
When Houston goes the other way I’ll watch for Seantrel Henderson. He’s an enormous man, but he hasn’t played football since 2014, and when he did play he was terrible, and this season he’s probably going to be terrible. Last weekend he struggled in pass protection and was constantly beat by edge rushing moves. Lucky for him the Texans were using that 2014-2016 quick passing offense so Brandon Weeden got the ball out before anything could harm him. Life won’t be as fortunate in the future.
No matter which way the Texans are moving the ball, there is an important position to watch right front and center.
4.) Just Go Away
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I really don’t like watching Alfred Blue play. He runs up the middle and falls down. He doesn’t even run fast. He doesn’t offer anything additional to this offense. Just a plodding steady constant of time. He’s no different than a ceiling fan.
But still he’s here. He just keeps hanging around this town. The Texans have had a cornucopia of running backs over the last few seasons, but none of them have been consistent enough, or their expected athleticism didn’t match their actual on field athleticism. Johnathan Grimes, Chris Polk, Akeem Hunt, and Tyler Ervin. All four have been here and haven’t been able to really supplant Blue.
Then last week that little man Troymain Pope came out onto the field. He caught a couple of screen passes and was unable to be seen among a jungle of offensive linemen. Patiently waiting, then ripping off down the field. A screen pass actually worked! Someone actually showed some athleticism. It was beautiful and insane to see. It was what we all have been wanting to see from Tyler Ervin for two years now.
Now, when D’Onta Foreman comes back Blue will no longer be the second running back, but he could still be on the roster as a third back. Ervin could still be here as a kick returner. But there’s a different reality, a better reality, one where the Texans finally found a third running back with speed who can do things with screen passes, and add an additional layer of grime to a filthy offense.
5.) THE DUKE
I don’t watch college football. Football all day Saturday. Football all day Sunday. Hell that’s too much damn football. So I’ll wait until after the draft and get acquainted with the NFL’s new recruits. Duke Ejiofor was as much of a Baldur’s Gate NPC to me as a football prospect.
Then I watched his video from his Wake Forest halcyon days, and boy-o, the kid could play. He had both a great rip and spin from the edge, and despite being under sized, he could get underneath some pads and drive tackles back. He fell later in the draft because of injuries, and the Texans swooped him up.
Last week, with the starters off the field quickly, Ejiofor was the best defender on the field. Constantly he was applying pressure and ripping and swimming around offensive tackles. He had a Pro Football Focus Pass Rusher Effectiveness Efficiency Rating of +107.12.
For so long the Texans haven’t had a third edge rusher. It’s been all Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney. Sure, Brennan Scarlett has had some shots along with Ufomba Kamalu, but neither are very good. If they are playing snaps you better hope it’s week 17 and you’re trying to stave off an embarrassing last place finish. Ejiofor looks better than being a vulture sack garbage gut. He has actual pass rushing skill, and the athleticism to close the distance between him and the quarterback quickly. In football you can never have enough defensive backs, and you can never have enough pass rushers. Hopefully Ejiofor becomes an additional rusher they can toss out there when Clowney or Mercilus is a little winded.
6.) SIX THINGS
I’ve been writing this silly little article for three? years now. I don’t know. I still can’t believe I’m doing this. And during this time this same version of this same article has popped elsewhere. Five Things To Watch For here and there and here and there. Well I’ve had enough of it. I’m packing my bags. I got six things to watch for.
Take it from here Cormac:
The other thing is the old people, and I keep comin back to them. They look at me it’s always a question. Years back I dont remember that. I dont remember it when I was sheriff back in the fifties. You see em and they dont even look confused. They just look crazy. That bothers me. It’s like they woke up and they dont know how they got where they’re at. Well, in a manner of speakin they dont.
Enjoy the game everyone.