24 Observations from Texans at Cowboys

The Texans finished 4-0 in the preseason and that had never happened before. Is it a precursor of things to come? Nah, but the wins are much more fun, no matter what, to celebrate than the losses, that’s for sure. What happened on Thursday night, what makes observations the next day? Well, here you go.

  1. Twenty-seven Texans suited up but never left the bench, including Derek Newton, who should be back at practice this upcoming week, in preparation for the Chicago Bears. That’s a GREAT thing.
  1. After the game, I asked running back Kenny Hilliard when was the last time he had 20 carries in a game, much less 29. He got the answer right when he said back in high school. The most times he carried it in a game at LSU was in his freshman season at Arkansas - 19 times. He hammered it 29 times on Thursday night. He made some runs he wouldn’t have made back in 2015. He’s seeing the holes quicker. His feet are quicker. He put on some really good tape against the Cowboys. He said and this is so true - he got stronger as the game wore on.
  1. As an aside, he knew the exact game and year when he had 19 carries against Arkansas. That’s impressive recall.
  1. The running back cuts are going to be ultra-difficult, made even tougher by the performance of Akeem Hunt this preseason. The second-year man out of Purdue scored two touchdowns, including a run on 4th and goal from the three. That was a man’s run. Cowboys defensive tackle Lawrence Okoye made contact with Hunt at the two-yard line. Quick note, Okoye is 300 pounds. Hunt kept his legs churning and carried the big Cowboys defensive lineman into the end zone.
  1. I nearly jumped out of the booth when Keith Mumphery got deep on the Cowboys secondary for his long touchdown. He may not get many opportunities to do that in 2016, but he capitalized on the one chance he had against the Cowboys. I know that he wanted to make a big play in this one and he finally got his chance. If you can see the picture of him scoring, though, it’s priceless. Think Usain Bolt picture at the Olympics.
  1. The story on that touchdown though was quarterback DeAndre Hopkins standing right up in the face of pressure and delivering a dime down the sideline to Mumphery. The Cowboys ran a stunt and when the defensive end looped inside, he had a clear path to Weeden. As that defensive end was making contact, Weeden launched deep. That was the most impressive throw of the night.
  1. I told Bill O’Brien after the game that I thought that he would line up in two running backs and three tight ends the entire game. He chuckled at that one, which shows what winning does, right? I kid, I kid, but his response was telling. He wanted the young players to see goal line alignments from the defense. It’s something that they hadn’t had a chance to see so he wanted them to experience that situation.

8, He did allow his two quarterbacks - Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden - to load up and make some throws, though. Both made some strong throws and good decisions, to be honest. Weeden did have the one pick-six which he’d like to have back, but other than that, the two threw it well and spread the wealth throughout the night. Ten different players caught a pass, led by Cecil Shorts and Akeem Hunt, with four catches each.

  1. The two quarterbacks finished 21-of-31 for 235 yards, two touchdowns and that one pick-six. Here’s the biggest number though – 56 percent. The Texans were 9-of-16 on third down and held the Cowboys to 20 percent (2-of-10) on the night, not to mention 0-for-2 on fourth down.
  1. By the way, I did mention on the broadcast that Bill O’Brien was calling the game sort of like a 20-something playing Madden. He went for it on fourth down four times. You do that in Madden, not an NFL game, but he did that on Thursday night. I loved it. He never hesitated either when it came time to go for it on fourth down. In total, the Texans converted 11-of-20 on third or fourth down. That’s solid. You win a lot of games doing that, that’s for sure.
  1. Man, did Max Bullough lay a lick on Jameill Showers. He tattooed him as Showers was scrambling to avoid Terrance Mitchell and Charles James for the first down. Bullough cleaned him up on the hit and the ball popped out. James was on the ground and…oh look the ball. That’s literally how it happened and the Texans were able to capitalize later in the drive.
  1. Rookie defensive end Joel Heath put some excellent work on tape tonight from his defensive end position. The last time Heath was in that building, his Michigan State Spartans were getting it handed to them by Alabama 38-0. So, he played like he wanted to erase that last memory of the 2015 season. He got pressure a couple of times with his long arm/stab move, just powering offensive linemen right into the lap of Showers, the Cowboys quarterback. He also ended up with a sack on the night.
  1. Cornerback Robert Nelson had a solid game and put one wicked lick on a Cowboys tight end. After watching the replay a few times, I’m not totally sure that the penalty was warranted, but it was a little high and that’ll always draw a “defense-less receiver” flag. Regardless, Nelson was in perfect position in coverage throughout the night. He led the team with four tackles and passes broken up.
  1. Safety Antonio Allen’s pick was a thing of beauty. I didn’t think he was going to hang on to it. The beauty of the play, though, was the break on the ball. He saw the route by tight end Gavin Escobar and took off like a shot. He darted in front and then made the juggling catch. Everyone in the booth took a collective breath at that moment, knowing that the Texans would finish this one off with a win.
  1. Linebacker Shakeel Rashad came within inches of a safety late in the game. In fact, it was initially called a safety when he sacked Showers in the end zone. But, the Cowboys quarterback just got the ball to the half-yard line before his knee hit the ground.
  1. Later in that drive, Showers went to make a throw on fourth down and missed his receiver on the sideline. Linebackers coach Mike Vrabel made the “interception” on the sideline. As he did, secondary coach John Butler ran over and, doing as he coaches his secondary players to do, swatted the ball away for the coach’s PBU. It was his first on the season. I just happened to see that whole thing unfold from the booth and I got a chuckle out of it for sure.
  1. Back to Rashad for a quick second, he’s made a few plays in this preseason and I can’t be more proud of the guy. I’ve told the story before - his older brother played briefly for me many eons ago when he was a freshman at Episcopal High School in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s been a bit nerve-wracking watching him play, wanting good things to happen for him, selfishly, of course. No matter what happens this weekend, I’m proud of Shakeel and I know my friends back in Jacksonville are as well.
  1. This was the most active I’ve seen defensive end Devon Still all training camp/preseason long. He generated pressure upfield, pursued down the line and was generally disruptive throughout the time he was in the game in the first half.
  1. Cornerback Charles James finished the night tied for third on the team with three tackles and contributed two on special teams as well. He didn’t get the attention he got last year in his fight for the team without Hard Knocks documenting his every move, but he was consistently strong throughout training camp, especially so in this win over Dallas.
  1. When quarterback Tom Savage left his feet after a scramble early in the game, my heart was in my shoes. I wanted to yank him up to the booth and tell him to “SLIDE” after what happened last year.
  1. Getting out of the preseason relatively injury free is the goal of any NFL team and once the final gun went off, figuratively speaking of course, I let out a huge sigh of relief. Hopefully, Akeem Dent is going to be okay as he walked off the field on his power after a hit he put on a Cowboys pass catcher.
  1. Duane Brown’s return, whenever that happens, will be a significant boost for this offensive line, but getting Derek Newton back this week will be a definite shot in the arm for that unit. I will say though that Kendall Lamm did some really solid work at right tackle in his stead. Had Nick Martin not gotten injured, Brown’s injury would’ve been the only one that set this team back and, hopefully, only for a few games. All in all, though, considering what some teams experienced in the preseason, the injury situation isn’t all that bad.
  1. Oh yeah, number 99 comes back next week too. #Pumped.
  1. Punter Shane Lechler might be 40, but he’s better than ever. He only had three punts, but two were pinned inside the 20-yard line. The only one returned was for five yards. That’s been a pleasant aspect to the preseason that has to carry over to the regular season - the return coverage units have been outstanding. Let me repeat that - the COVERAGE UNITS MUST BE THIS GOOD IN THE REGULAR SEASON.

Well, that’ll do it for the 2016 preseason. The Bears are next and it counts. For reals. See ya then everyone!

Check out some photos as the Texans close out the preseason against the Cowboys.

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