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Texans-Rams Preview: SIX Things To Watch For

Here are SIX things to watch for when the Texans play the Rams. Yeah, we’re still doing six.

Houston Texans v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

I’m tired of the air conditioner always being on and making a boogeyman amount of racket, the ceiling fans clicking, the cicadas rattling—everything is always so loud— my back soaking my gnarled leather seat on the way home, heat sizzling off the asphalt, falling asleep at red lights, losing precious free time to the couch devouring me and strangling me with afternoon sleep paralysis...most of all, I’m tired of going to church on Sundays.

I’ve had enough of the summer. I’m ready to see and feel new things. I’ve had enough of preseason football. I’m ready for the real thing. Just two more weeks, just two more weeks until all is right in the world.


1.) Who’s Playing?

Earlier this week, Bill O’Brien said if they’re healthy, they will play. Hell, yeah. Could that mean J.J. Watt finally crawls onto the football field? Does Jadeveon Clowney show off that freshly cleaned knee? Is Tyrann Mathieu going to scamper around like some European midfielder? Will DeAndre Hopkins get the chance to take on Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib? How many series will Deshaun Watson get this game—one, two, three? While Whitney Mercilus is confirmed as out until the season opener in New England with a hamstring sprain, it’s possible everyone else could play.

Sean McVay also spoke about his starters playing on Saturday, and it looks like the Rams won’t be playing all of their first-stringers. These are his exact words.

“Yeah, for-sure guys are (T Andrew) Whitworth, (C John) Sullivan and (RB Todd) Gurley (II). No Gurley.”

But Ndamukong Suh, Peters, Talib, Mark Barron, Brandin Cooks, Jared Goff, and LaMarcus Joyner could all play. This may actually look like an actual football game instead of three hours of football follies as backups flail around attempting to run offenses and defenses they don’t get enough practice reps to actually run.

2.) Can They Cover?

This was a problem last week with the starters on the field. Kevin Johnson got torched by track start Marquise Goodwin before his big fall; thankfully, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men were able to put Johnson back together again and he’s feeling fine after last weekend’s concussion. New cornerback Aaron Colvin gave up a touchdown after getting beat by a simple slant as the red zone slot corner. When C.J. BeatHard is in at quarterback, there isn’t much to say. When Jimmy Garoppolo is driving the ball down the field, that means something.

In Saturday’s almost football-football game, the Texans are playing a Rams’ team that has a commendable offensive line and is really great at throwing screens. The past two weeks have seen the Texans’ back up defensive lineman corral the line of scrimmage, pushing offensive linemen backwards, creating havoc in front of the quarterback, setting homes on fire, pillaging backyard doomsday vaults, and things of that nature. This week, depending on who plays, Houston’s secondary may not be able to hide behind pass rush. They should be forced to cover.

This offseason, the Texans added Mathieu, moved Kareem Jackson to safety, and drafted Justin Reid. In previous seasons, the Texans have struggled at covering running backs, tight ends, and defending screens. The Rams love to throw screens. According to the 2018 Football Outsiders Almanac, the Rams had a better passing offense DVOA on passes behind the line of scrimmage than beyond it. They had a passing offense DVOA of 133% on wide receiver screens and a DVOA of 64.9% on running back screens. Additionally, they averaged 6.6 yards after the catch overall. The Texans’ newest safeties, plus Zach Cunningham, covering these screen passes is as fascinating of a match-up you can get in preseason football.

The Rams also have Robert Woods and Cooks on the outside. In case you forgot, Woods caught a 94 yard touchdown pass on Johnathan Joseph during last year’s matchup, and Houston allowed Cooks to catch 5 of his 7 targets for 131 yards and two touchdowns against them last year, one of which was a game winning 25 yard touchdown catch, when he was a Patriot. Tomorrow, the Texans will have the same cornerbacks out there minus Johnson. Whether the Rams are throwing screens, or taking shots deep, it will be fun to see if Houston can chase and tackle or rush the passer and play good enough coverage.

3.) Can They Block?

Aaron Donald still isn’t here. He’s at home, waiting around for that new contract that’ll make him the highest paid defensive player in football, which is something he should be. He’s the best interior rusher in football. He’s a great run defender as well. He’s been dominant in each of the last four years he’s played. Oh, well.

That boy named Suh will be playing tomorrow, though. Suh is the most violent defensive tackle I’ve ever seen. He simply shoves everyone down. Guards, centers, quarterbacks, it doesn’t matter. All he needs are two arms and a push to get his way. Last year he was a fine pass rusher, but where he excels is in the run game. Last season he was one of the most disruptive run defenders in football. The Rams also have Michael Brockers rushing on the inside, and their exterior rushers are Samson Ebukam and Matt Longacre now that Robert Quin has been traded and Connor Barwin wasn’t retained.

Houston signed two new guards, Zach Fulton and Senio Kelemete. Both of them blocking Suh is must see preseason TV. Fulton has the skill to pass protect Suh, and Kelemete has the size and strength. How they will do is a new question to consider. Neither has faced a player of Suh’s caliber wearing different colors yet this preseason.

On the outside, Juli’en Davenport and Seantrel Henderson/Martinas Rankin against the Rams’ exterior rushers will be worth watching as well. In only 377 snaps last season, Longacre had 5.5 sacks, 15 quarterback hits, and 19 hurries. Ebukam had only 2 sacks, 2 hits, and 2 hurries in twenty less snaps, but he’s four years younger. It’s the type of skill level you want the Texans’ tackles to deal with. Players good enough to make them work, but not spectacular enough to demoralize them.

The Henderson/Rankin battle is very important as well. Henderson has been hiding thanks to the ball getting out of the QBs’ hands so quickly. Edge defenders have been able to get around and bend around him. He’s going to be bad once the season starts. Be that as it may, he’s the best option the Texans have at right tackle at this moment. I love Rankin right now. I’ll love him tomorrow. I’ll love him for the future. But this has been his first week of practice. Who knows how well he’ll hold up this Saturday and in the immediate future?

Another thing to watch for are stunts. Wade Phillips is a master at generating pressure with twists, loops, and crosses. Both tackles could see Suh and Brockers occasionally. Wade also loves to rush five whenever he gets the chance. There will be some armed forces communication along the offensive line as they deal with whatever that crazy old man throws at them.

4.) Will We See Something New?

All I’ve wanted to see this preseason is a glimpse of this new offense. Just a shadow, a wrinkle, something, anything. Instead all we have gotten is a bunch of quick passes out of the shotgun and some inside runs. Come on, Bill O’Brien. Do something cool. Do something fun. The offense as it existed last year needs dimensions added to it to stay fresh and crunchy instead of sweaty and wilted. If we are going to get even a glimpse of it, this would be the game. And, hey come on, you gotta give it a try with someone other than yourself. Please. Just give us something!

If we get a Joe Webb III-Deshaun Watson backfield, I’ll take back every bad thing I’ve said about preseason football.

5.) Where’s The Disaster?

The Texans have played the Rams twice in the past eight years. During those games, Matt Schaub got injured and fans actively cheered while he rolled around and held onto his foot. This was how the pick-six streak had to end, I guess. In came T.J. Yates, who of course threw a pick-six at the goal line to Alec Ogletree. Sometimes life can be such a bummer. That wasn’t the case on that day. It was one of those things where the universe connected together perfectly and delivered a sublime moment that’s impossible to forget. It was one of those special moments in my life that no one can take away from me.

The Texans lost 33-7 when they played the Rams last year after the Rams scored 21 points in the third quarter. As mentioned earlier, Woods caught a 94 yard touchdown pass. Tom Savage was strip-sacked twice, once by Donald and once by Ebakum. Goff also threw back-to-back touchdown passes, the second coming immediately after Ebakum’s strip sack. Ogletree had another pick against Houston; sadly, he was tackled at the goal line, and even worse, the refs called defensive holding on him, making the interception not count. Damn. I really wanted that one. Sometimes the universe falls just short of perfection.

Hopefully nothing bad happens tomorrow. Hopefully these two teams play hard and learn a lot about the squads they have and us fans, who are watching the game LIVE, have a pleasant Saturday afternoon watching this prelude to the novel about to unfold. But sometimes hopes and dreams are all things will ever be. The Rams-Texans match-up has a precedent of bad things happening to Houston.

6.) The Sixth Thing

This summer I’ve been reading a lot of Gerald Murnane since I finished Don Quixote, a book I could write a book about reading. This is from Stream System. Murnane writes about traveling through his own brain and examining his own consciousness. If you’re a writer thinking about getting a MFA, don’t do it. Read this book instead.

In his fifties, he could have said no more than that an endless series of images of water filled ruts beside country roads existed in a part of himself. He had come to believe that he was made up mostly of images. He was aware only of images and feelings. The feelings connected him to the images and connected the images to one another. The connected images made up a vast network. He was never able to imagine this network as having a boundary in any direction. He called the network, for convenience, his mind.

Enjoy the game tomorrow, everyone.