It wasn't the way anyone wearing Deep Steel Blue, Battle Red and Liberty White wanted to start the season. There's little question about that.
But, mark my words, if the Arizona Cardinals are reasonably healthy this year, they'll be a playoff team. They should've been last year. Enough about the Cardinals, though, let me get into what I saw from my sideline spot on Saturday night.
1. I always worry about tackling and special teams in pre-season openers and season openers. There were a handful of missed tackles, but one troubling aspect was players easily caught flat footed and unable to even get a hand on the ball carrier. I noticed that throughout the night from the first string to the last.
2. ILB Max Bullough was consistently around the football in the second half. I'm not sure that he didn't have double digit total tackles in the second half alone. It felt like he and fellow ILB rookie Chris Young made a number of short yardage and no gain tackles.
3. Arizona completely dominated the edge after Brooks Reed and Jadeveon Clowney left the game. The Cardinal running backs had downhill running lanes on the perimeter throughout the last three quarters of the game. If there's a major concern on the defense, it's that. It can't be that easy.
4. The interior of the defense wasn't bad against the run but generated little pass rush when only four rushed the quarterback. NT Jerrell Powe held his ground at nose, while DE Jared Crick played an extraordinary game. I called his name a number of times to Marc Vandermeer in the booth. DE J.J. Watt played all of one series but destroyed G Jonathan Cooper in the process to register a sack.
5. When referee Tony Corrente and his officiating crew came to NRG Stadium a couple of weeks ago to show and explain the NFL refs video, I just knew that the preseason would be littered with flags. 23 total flags thrown on Saturday night, with 13 for the Texans. The killers were the ones thrown early in the game for illegal hands in the secondary. However, that's going to be a major point of emphasis for officials during the preseason so the Texans secondary needs to adjust quickly.
6. One thing Arizona did that I wish more teams did was attack a perceived weak spot. It attacked Brandon Harris' side of the field throughout the first drive, in particular. After QB Carson Palmer completed his first third down pass to a wide open WR John Brown, the Cards went back to that route another couple of times in similar situations, i.e third down and ten plus. In the second quarter, S Shiloh Keo left the field with a leg injury and QB Drew Stanton threw right at his replacement. Arizona head coach Bruce Arians has that team dialed in.
7. It was odd to see the Texans running anything other than zone stretch considering that was the majority of what they ran for eight seasons. That said, the inside power game was effective for a bit early in the game. That was one aspect with which I thought the OL would struggle given the inexperience in that run mode, but it actually was one of the better aspects of the offense on Saturday night.
8. The recipients of some of that blocking up front were Jonathan Grimes and Alfred Blue. The former finished with 39 yards on ten carries and ran strong inside. Blue showed burst to the outside and averaged six yards a carry on five carries. The only negative, honestly, was Blue's inability to hang on to the ball in the passing game. He's been a much better receiver during training camp but last night he had a couple of key opportunities to make a third down catch and couldn't. Regardless, as I've noted a ton in training camp, I have little worries at this position, especially so when Arian Foster comes back fully healthy.
9. Throughout training camp, I've heard the coaches, in particular Bill O'Brien, constantly tell players to "stay up, stay on your feet". The offensive line needed to heed that call vs. Arizona as there was plenty of diving and lunging at defenders, instead of sticking and driving.
10. Heading into Saturday's game, I don't know how many times I was asked my biggest concern for this team currently. Each time I answered the same exact thing - the offensive line. Brandon Brooks' injury, Cody White's ailment and Will Yeatman's concussion have truly hamstrung this OL. There's no continuity at the moment and it truly reared its ugly head on Saturday night. Xavier Su'a-Filo played more at left tackle than at left guard, which should be his focus. Alex Kupper was overmatched at times at right guard with the starting unit. Now, White's not coming back, but Brooks and Yeatman will. Hopefully. It's just a matter of when. Yesterday was too late.
12. I thought rookie CB Marcus Williams competed and played hard. He drew a pass interference penalty but it was one of the only times, if not THE only time, that a Texans defensive back truly challenged a receiver. I wouldn't have thrown the flag but I'm biased. He also made a textbook open field tackle; it might've been the only one of the night. I mentioned this a bunch about Williams when asked - when the lights go on, he'll show up.
13. This is about the time where I NEED to remind everyone that it's not time to panic. Furthermore, it wouldn't have been time to proclaim a Super Bowl with a win or clean performance.
14. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't have a night to remember but nothing went right for the offense as a whole. He did get the offense moving at the end of the first half when the Texans went up-tempo. But he didn't make a good decision throwing the ball back across his body on the interception to end the drive. I will say Cardinals OLB Marcus Benard made an unreal one handed catch but it still was a backbreaking turnover. That play was just symbolic of the entire night, a rough one.
15. DJ Swearinger had the no doubt hit of the night. Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott used to call it a "WOOO" lick. Why "WOOO"? What's the first sound out of your mouth when you see a hit like that? Exactly.
16. It's always telling how much practice emulates real life, i.e a live game situation. A QB can't get a play run on time in practice gets a delay of game at the worst moment in a game. A DB that consistently grabs, hits and shoves receivers in practice will invariably get a pass interference in a game. Sometimes situations in games will preclude those things from happening, but that didn't happen on Saturday night. The accountability factor will be through the roof this week in practice/games vs. Atlanta.
17. P Shane Lechler hit bombs for punts. I needed to end on a good note and wipe the memory of this one. We all do.