Bah. I wasn’t looking forward to short evenings, cool breezes, and Sundays devoted to arguing the merits of helmet-to-helmet collisions. Serving as an internet bystander to National Anthem debates and catch rule complaints. Wasting Sundays, which have become my favorite day of the week.
But then yesterday happened. Then I did some fantasy drafts, I read the Football Outsiders Almanac all weekend, I saw J.J. Watt make a tackle and Martinas Rankin protect the second-string blindside. Now I’m back. I take it all back. Death to the summer. I’m all in.
Here’s what I saw from preseason game number three against the Rams.
—Last season Bruce Ellington had 3 drops on 57 targets. He only had 29 catches on those 59 targets, but the drops weren’t the issue. This preseason, he’s had some slippery fingers. I couldn’t tell you the exact number. I ain’t no nerd. But I feel like he’s already reached last season’s number this preseason. With Keke Coutee still young and rusty, Ellington is the default slot receiver. He’s a last read, first down safety net for Deshaun Watson. He needs to make these catches.
—I told myself I missed watching J.J. Watt play football. From 2013 to 2015, Watt was the best part of being a Texans fan. No matter how putrescent the team was, no matter how many banal 20-13 hungover football one possession games were won, no matter how low the ceiling was, there was Watt playing all-time great football. I told myself this, but it was just a thought. It wasn’t a feeling. Then I saw him run on the sideline. I smiled. I felt something. Then I saw him take on the outside half the offensive tackle, extend him with one arm, cut back inside while slicing fingers off, and make the tackle. Please, please, give us 16 Watt games. I want to feel more things.
—Aside from health, this is the fear for the Texans’ defense. If they choose to play off-man coverage, teams like the Rams will pinch, poke, and twist their way downfield. Johnathan Joseph doesn’t have the speed to break on the ball like he did. Kareem Jackson doesn’t have the speed to make up for his footwork. Kevin Johnson hasn’t shown either in two years. No one knows if Aaron Colvin is good or not. These types of routes are going to be there when Houston plays off. It’s going to mitigate their rush. Teams are going to throw them into tighter coverage, which will put more pressure on the safeties.
I think this is what Houston would want. I’d rather Tyrann Mathieu, or Jackson, or Justin Reid help cover deep than let teams running game become their passing game. The goal of Houston’s secondary isn’t to lock down receivers; it’s to cover for four seconds, or however much time it takes for Watt/Clowney/Mercilus to get there.
—Lamar Miller has been a disappointment in Houston. He bulked up and lost speed. Running inside zone between the tackles hasn’t suited him. He has been a commendable receiver, though. Last season, he caught 80% of his targets, averaged 8.2 yards a catch, and had a receiving DVOA of 42.7%, which was second in football. That little comeback route in the center of the zone he caught and turned up for a first down was pretty. Hopefully, like last year, there’s plenty more of it this year.
—Deshaun Watson wasn’t tackled. He was shoved into the crust of the Earth like Colt McCoy. Ndamukong Suh is like one of those guys from a 2000s skateboarding video who takes off his shirt at the beginning of the fight, pushes one guy down, clenches his fists, and then cackles while everyone else runs away to save their pink polo shirt.
—Both Watt and Clowney are going to be chipped and doubled on the edge. When this happens, they usually won’t have enough time to travel through the pocket and hiss at the quarterback. Instead, this is going to be their best option. Quickly get around the chip, attack the blocker, read the drop back, and then go from there. This was a great play to bat the ball at the line of scrimmage. Like Ellington, Joseph needs to make this catch.
—This was a great pass protection by Juli’en Davenport. He looks much stronger in pass pro this preseason than he did last season, and he hasn’t lost any quickness either. His punches are neutralizing defenders. Defenders evaporate there. The one problem he’s had is hand placement. He grabs onto the shoulder pads too often. That’s holding. You have to hit the chest. The play after he was hit with a holding penalty.
Additionally, with Watson’s mobility, everyone on the offensive line needs to understand when to let go and let Watson take care for himself. Tom Savage isn’t back there. Watson is a big, fast boy. He can take care of himself when pressure comes. Holding on and refusing to let go negates Watson’s creativity and the plays he can make outside the pocket and up the field.
—On the interception, it looked like Kareem Jackson was playing the shallow zone of Cover Two. He did a great job peeling back to pick up the crossing route and holding on after colliding with Benardrick McKinney. Regarding tackling and helping limit yards after the catch, the screen game, and the run game, there’s no doubt Jackson will be better at safety. He’s always been a great tackler. Last season he finished 13th in yards after the catch allowed, 8th in fewest yards allowed per tackle, and missed only nine tackles all year per Football Outsiders.
The vision is different, though. Cornerbacks play with one eye on the receiver and the quarterback by using their peripheral vision. Safeties have to play with two eyes facing the quarterback to read the entire field. It’s a different game. Plays like this will help me, as someone who likes it when the Texans win, go to sleep comfy and cozy on an August night.
—Oh! My heart. It hurts that Rankin lost training camp and the first two preseason games due to a foot injury. As a rookie, he’ll need a bit more time than a week to get acquainted with the offense and professional football. On Brandon Weeden’s interception, he was hit by pressure by the defensive end right away. Rankin, I’m guessing, was thinking that he had the inside gap instead of the end on his own, stepped down, and allowed the end to run right past him. Other than that, Rankin had a great game. He was strong and aggressive at the point of attack. He met defensive ends head up when he didn’t startle at the line of scrimmage. His lateral movement to pick up stunts was beautiful. This kid is going to be really good. Damn, I’m turning into something I never wanted to become.
ANYWAYS, it’s looking like it’s going to be Kendall Lamm or Seantrel Henderson at right tackle to start this season, and it’s going to be bad. Hopefully that lasts for a week or two max and Rankin is able to take over.
—I <3 this man.
—I’m pissed I didn’t watch this game until after our BRB fantasy keeper/dynasty/idontknowwhattocallit draft. I really want John Kelly now.
—Joel Heath had some vicious bull rushes this game, and he did a great job finding the ball well. Christian Covington is the starting defensive end opposite of Watt, but that can always change. Covington has been up and down and hasn’t delivered in the past when he was given this precious opportunity.
—Kill the gold trim on the Rams’ jerseys. Until that happens, I can’t care about this team and what they do.
—Vyncint Smith made some enormous plays this preseason. It sucks he’s a “Hard Knocks” story without the HBO cameras around. He was the one UDFA I was rooting for. Hopefully he latches onto a practice squad somewhere.
—I’m so glad Bill O’Brien went for it on fourth down in the red zone twice and for the two point conversion later on. Hopefully O’Brien makes more aggressive decisions and goes for it fourth down when the games actually matters, even though nothing matters. I have the intellectual capacity of a 13 year-old A.J. Soprano.
That’s what I saw from this one. Now that the dust has settled, provide your thoughts, feelings, and analysis in the comments below.