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Red Zone Play: Texans Looking For Excitement In The Details

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Preseason may not be the regular season, but there’s still plenty we can learn.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Last weekend’s game against the 49ers was hardly an offensive explosion, nor was it much of a defensive slugfest. In fact, the game as a whole wasn’t exactly one of those “greatest games in history” sort of events. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t a handful of flashes, or explosively bright points in an otherwise ho-hum game.

Since most preseason games are generally about evaluation (from individual performances, position group effectiveness, scheme work and situational play rehearsals), it’s easy to get bored as a fan since the stakes aren’t high and the drama of real team competition never really rises to a climax like it does in the regular season and the NFL Playoffs.

Still, there were a fair amount of reasons to get pumped aboutcertain details throughout the game. Here’s a few that stood out for me in a good way:

Duke Ejiofor – this kid just continues to get after it. While his impact slowed a bit as the game went on, can you imagine what happens in the regular season when the only person between him and an opposing skill player with the ball is a tight end or tailback? With all the attention his more accomplished teammates will demand, Ejiofor is poised to have one of the best rookie seasons for a Texans edge rusher since J.J. Watt. With either Jadeveon Clowney, Watt or Whitney Mercilus commanding a double-team on every snap, Ejiofor is going to get more than his fair share of shots this year and I for one am totally okay with that.

Bruce Ellington – Year Two looks good on Ellington. Sure, chances are he’ll never make us forget about Andre Johnson, but when he’s combined with DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V, Ellington is going to make some plays. Just like Ejiofor, he’s going to be the guy who slides into perfect opportunities simply due to basic math; if you’re busy doubling the star players, guys like Ellington are going to make you pay for it. Seeing that Deshaun Watson is already comfortable using Ellington as his go-to guy, and knowing he has great chemistry with Nuk and Fuller, this explosive offense might just be even more so this season.

Joe Webb – I remember when he was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings and hailed with the same sort of praise Braxton Miller received when he was selected by Houston. A dual-threat sort of guy who could be that Swiss Army knife player that allowed the offensive coordinator to dream up all sorts of non-standard plays. While neither Webb or Miller has lived up to that hype, Webb seems capable of not losing a game while running an offense customized to Deshaun Watson’s strengths. There will almost surely never come a day when Webb is at Watson’s level, but knowing he can run a streamlined version of the same offense makes far more sense than erecting a statue of Tom Savage in the pocket should Watson be unable to take the field for any reason.

Now here are a few observations that aren’t quite as exciting, or even happy, or anything remotely resembling a #GoTexans sort of thing…

Kevin Johnson – chances are I speak for a lot of people when I say it’s time to close the curtain on the Kevin Johnson experiment. We have enough tape on him to realize his technique is flawed. Hs coverage skills – both man and zone – aren’t up to the level necessary to be a starter in the NFL. His inability to take care of his body “in flight” is worrisome. While I certainly hope he recovers fully from his latest injury, I also would be fine if a spot on the final 53-man roster wasn’t held for Johnson. Maybe he can salvage what’s left of his career if he lands with a team that has a defensive back guru on the coaching staff, but it seems clear that sort of coach isn’t wearing Battle Red and Deep Steel Blue.

Braxton Miller – speaking of ending the experiment, it’s time for Miller to seek greener pastures as well. With the potential rookie receiver Keke Coutee offers, the consistency Bruce Ellington brings to the field, and the presence of seasoned veteran Sammie Coates, Houston no longer has the luxury of waiting for Miller to achieve his potential. I have to admit I was very wrong about Miller when Houston drafted him, as I saw all sorts of wildcat possibilities with him in the backfield alongside Lamar Miller and Will Fuller; those never occurred, and Miller just can’t seem to do the one thing he needs to do consistently: get open and catch the ball.

Secondary – it’s hard to know how this unit is going to perform when the snaps start really counting, since there’s not been any consistency so far in who is on the field and when. And maybe putting Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Aaron Colvin, Justin Reid and Tyrann Mathieu on the field together play after play will make a big difference. But if the unit performs the same as they did last weekend, allowing Jimmy Garoppolo to dice up the secondary seemingly at will, Tom Brady will hang 30+ points on them by halftime when Week One rolls around. Now, obviously, there are a lot of variables at play here, from reduced pass rush pressures, to guys learning their rolls, to coming off a week where the teams scrimmaged each other daily, but that sort of performance will require Watson and company to put up 35+ points a game just to hang in there.

What did you see? Find a few pluses and minuses of your own? Give us your thoughts in the comments section.