It wasn’t pretty, to say the least, but a win is still good to get, especially in front of the NRG Stadium crowd.
Here are my observations from a wild, relatively speaking, 16-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
1. The Texans first offensive drive with Deshaun Watson at the helm couldn’t have gone much better. Watson was 5-for-8 on the drive and as Coach Bill O’Brien pointed out to me at halftime, he should’ve been 8-for-8 with perhaps a few drops. As such, a few of those plays stand out.
2. The first was Bruce Ellington’s 37-yard catch and run. On that play, the 49ers ran a little game up front and linebacker Brock Coyle came free in the middle. But, with Coyle bearing down on him, Watson threw an absolute dart before Coyle could sack him. That ball had some juice on it too. Consequently, Watson’s quick release helped him avoid a sure sack.
3.Later in the drive, Watson targeted Ellington on an out to the sideline. It wasn’t Watson’s best throw as it was behind Ellington a bit, but not entirely off target. So, when Ellington was unable to hang on, Watson started tapping his chest as players came back to the huddle, claiming it was his fault, not Bruce’s.
4. The last play of the drive was really interesting. It was fourth and one and Ellington was aligned in the slot on the right side. He didn’t even run a route. He just eyed the coverage and safety Jaquiski Tartt widened out to split the difference between Ellington and the outside receiver. As such, Ellington just turned around at the goal line and hoped that Watson would see him. He did and threw a seed right between the 1 and the 2 on Ellington’s jersey for a touchdown.
5.I don’t know if we would’ve seen more of Watson had the Texans not started with an 11-play touchdown drive, but it was enough. Number 4 showed a bit of everything on the drive too. Toughness in the pocket on the rush. Quick release. Zip on his throws, especially to the deeper intermediate areas on the field. Touch, especially on the throw to tight end Ryan Griffin on the sail route to get the ball inside the ten yard line. Leadership as he delivered a little bit of, uh, aggressive counseling on the third down play inside the five yard line. It was a good night, to say the least.
6. Here’s one other promising note as it pertains to the offense: zero sacks. The Texans offensive line protected the quarterback fairly well, yielding no sacks for the second consecutive week. Sure, it’s preseason and all, yet it’s a promising start for a unit that has been a focal point for most fans/analysts for a while.
7. Cornerback Kevin Johnson left the game with a concussion after taking a nasty fall while covering 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin. Obviously, we all want Kevin to bounce back and get well as soon as possible, but it’s tough because he’s had such an excellent training camp. He’s one of the most important players on this defense in 2018, even among the stars on that side of the ball.
8. Rookie outside linebacker Duke Ejiofor didn’t have as much of a havoc wreaking night on the pass rush like in Kansas City, but he made three tackles on special teams (two on kickoff and one on punt). I’ve said this countless times over the years; the special teams aspect is always important when it comes to determining the 53 man/46 gameday rosters. But, this year it feels more important than ever and Ejiofor took that to heart with his play on coverage teams on Saturday night.
9. Like Kevin Johnson, receiver Sammie Coates left the game with a concussion after a strong start. Quarterback Brandon Weeden targeted Coates seven times in one quarter, connecting on three of them for 32 yards. Coates made his first catch with some fine toe drag swag on the 49ers sideline. He skied to get the rock as well, snatching it with his hands. I bring that up because Coates’ challenge in camp was to catch the ball consistently. He has done exactly that from day one of camp.
10. The penalties...oh my gosh, the penalties. 23 on the night. I watched the Vikings-Jaguars game earlier in the day and at some point Paul Allen, the Voice of the Vikings, said that he couldn’t believe that there had been 20 penalties in that game. Yes, it’s preseason, but it got to a point where we were looking for a flag on nearly every play in the second half.
11. Oh man, how have I gotten this far without discussing Joe Webb III, football playing dude. Yes, he took snaps at quarterback and he made the game winning throw, but I just love the fact that Webb can do anything, and everything, on a football field. That touchdown throw, though? That drive? He went four of six on the drive and delivered a dime to Vyncint Smith for the game winning touchdown. When we had GM Brian Gaine on radio with us at the Greenbrier, we asked about Webb III specifically. Gaine brought up one interesting note beyond the jack of all trades/special teams contributions. He said in the blizzard game against the Colts, one that the Bills had to win to get into the playoffs, Webb III made a brilliant 34-yard throw to Deonte Thompson to put them in position to score and win that game. He showed that exact kind of moxie at the end of last night’s game for sure.
12. Speaking of Vyncint Smith, what a moment for a rookie, huh? He had his first catch earlier in the game on a quick screen, really to just get him a touch. Then, he makes that catch for a touchdown to end the game? Just awesome.
13.The defense’s ability to generate another pair of turnovers, a pair of interceptions, was a great sight. Considering how that unit struggled to generate turnovers last year, three in two games is a nice start, preseason or not.
14. Cornerback Johnson Bademosi had his first off a deflected pass and Davin Bellamy had his first off of a deflected pass as well in the fourth quarter.
15. One play that is just seared in my mind from the game was a Zach Cunningham tackle in the first half. The 49ers ran a toss play to the right side. Cunningham was the backside linebacker on the play and as soon he diagnosed the play, he took off like a shot. You talk about sudden? Wow, Cunningham closed on the ball carrier faster than anything I’ve seen in a while. It’s funny too because I got a tweet from a fan/follower back OTA/minicamp that wondered aloud whether Cunningham adding weight was going to make him slower in 2018. I gently implied that the theory was laughable and this was exhibit A why. #41 is going to be fun to watch in this defense in his second year.
16. Cornerback Andre Chachere has flashed in training camp and he made a big play on third down near the end of the first half. 49ers sure handed slot receiver Trent Taylor ran his route right to the first down marker and appeared to have a catch that would’ve given the 49ers a first down. But, Chachere stayed in Taylor’s hip pocket and ripped at the ball when it arrived to force the incompletion.
17. Three different Texans registered a kickoff return but it was the one that didn’t count that was the most impressive. Running back Troymaine Pope picked up an eight hop ground ball and dashed 58 yards up the middle of the field. Alas, it was called back for offsetting penalties but important for Pope to show more layers of his overall skillset.
Well, that’ll do it. The start of the regular season is just three weeks away and it’ll be here before we know it. See ya next week from the City of Angels, Los Angeles.
Check out photos of the Houston Texans as they defeat the San Francisco 49ers in their home-opening preseason game.