Two seasons ago, in my first game down on the sideline, the Texans were throttled by the Cardinals 32-0 in Glendale and it was probably worse than the final score actually indicated. It was such a rough night on so many different levels so, as we flew home that night, I wondered when/if the Texans would/could get on the same level as the Cardinals. It's only the third game of the preseason, but the stark difference from 2014 and 2016 was evident on Sunday afternoon at NRG Stadium. Here are my observations from the day.
- I've heard from some people over the past two weeks that thought that inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney wasn't impressive in their eyes over the first two weeks of the season. I haven't quite seen it that way. Sunday was confirmation that he was on his game, especially early on. He sniffed out a screen on first play of the game and tackled David Johnson for no gain. Then, on the next play, Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati pulled on a power play with McKinney in his sights. McKinney shocked and shed him and made the tackle on Johnson.
- I told Andre Hal after the game that he's a ball magnet. Somehow, some way, the ball is going to find Hal. That was the case on the interception. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork tipped the ball, but instead of making the ball flutter or turn end over end, the ball maintained a perfect spiral. Luckily, it spiraled directly to Hal.
- Five turnovers on the day. Good day.
- Brock Osweiler's first throw of the day was a disaster, a dirt diver at Lamar Miller's feet. The next 12 throws? Outstanding. He was 11 of 13 with that miss to Miller and the only other incompletion may have been his best throw of the day. Wide receiver Will Fuller couldn't hang on to that one, though. And, that would've been a touchdown too. Regardless, Osweiler was on point throughout the afternoon.
- Osweiler's best play came at the most needed time on 4th and three on the first drive after the Hal interception. His pocket presence allowed him to keep the play alive. Cardinals defensive end Markus Golden tried to beat right tackle Kendall Lamm up the field. Osweiler sensed that he had an opening to get underneath Golden and run for the first down. But, Cardinals linebacker Deone Bucannon redirected off his coverage and moved toward Osweiler. So, the Texans gun slinger pulled up and hit Braxton Miller for a 18-yard gain and a massive first down. Osweiler's eyes never left downfield and it paid off.
- Lamar Miller's touchdown run was courtesy of Jay Prosch and the left side of the line. Guard Xavier Su'a-Filo put star defensive end Calais Campbell on his back. Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz was a man on that run too. He knocked Pro Bowl defensive end Chandler Jones two yards into the end zone, then he comboed off to linebacker Kevin Minter, knocking him out of the hole. Left tackle Chris Clark stayed on Jones and eliminated him from the play. Tight end Stephen Anderson rode Deone Bucannon ride out of the play. Prosch turned safety Tyvon Branch out of the hole. That was the best short yardage execution
the Texans have shown in a while.
- The Texans secondary/linebackers will kick themselves when they see the first play after the touchdown. Cardinals tight end Daniel Fells popped wide open across the middle and that was a simple communication issue, that's all. Can't happen, but it did on that play.
- The Cardinals right side of the line struggled with Whitney Mercilus on the Cardinals scoring drive. He was in Carson Palmer's face twice on the drive.
- Man, Braxton Miller wanted SOOO badly to return his one kick return. He started on his way out, although Keith Mumphery was saying NO. Eventually, Miller took a knee, but he wanted to. Badly. He still found a way to impact the offense with his tied for team high three receptions.
- DeAndre Hopkins' stop-on-a-dime catch and run was something we don't get to see him do a ton. But, he made three Cardinals miss as he juked and jocked for a first down on 3rd and 11.
- Other than a missed blitz pickup, the pass protection was solid for most of the night. Chandler Jones threw a wicked dip/rip for a sack. But, all in all, the Texans did a relatively adequate job protecting Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden.
- Quarterback Tom Savage took some shots in the second and third quarters, but he made the Cardinals pay as he delivered dimes, especially his touchdown to Jaelen Strong, as he took the hits.
- For the second consecutive week, Savage led the team on a two minute drive for points. He threw a backshoulder ball to Strong for the touchdown to end that drive. Earlier in that drive, Strong took a shot to the rib cage and I thought he was going to be hurt. But, he popped right up, stayed in the game and made that touchdown catch.
- Kicker Nick Novak had another impressive outing. He knocked home a pair of field goals and all of his extra points. Kai'mi Fairbairn's injury has limited him from workouts and games, which has allowed Novak to shine in his place.
- Cornerback Kevin Johnson's awareness and ability to break on the ball is nearly without peer. He was playing off of speedster J.J. Nelson on a curl route. With Nelson's blazing speed, most corners have to play off coverage so as to not get burned deep down the field. But, Johnson is so quick to transition that he can play "off" to help protect against the deep ball yet transition on shorter breaking routes.
- Safety Quintin Demps put a huge lick on Cards running back Chris Johnson. Whooo! It happened on the Cardinals side of the field but I saw Johnson's helmet come flying off during the play. Then when I saw the replay, I saw Demps come in and pop him. There were some good shots in this game, but that one, wow, that was a hit.
- Sometimes Jadeveon Clowney does something, or a few somethings, plural, that seem to defy convention of a normal human being. Late in the first quarter, the Cardinals ran a power play that bounced to him. He took on three different blockers on the play and it seemed he was out of the play, especially with a speedy guy like Chris Johnson running the rock. But, Clowney fought through all three blockers and then ran down Johnson for only a four yard gain. I say only because that play should've been ten yards at a minimum.
- Later in the game, Clowney dropped in coverage and Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton scrambled when he got some pressure. Clowney stopped, redirected and sprinted at Stanton from the right side. That must have put the fear of you know what in Stanton who tried to get down immediately upon seeing Clowney. The thing is that Clowney closed on Stanton from about 15-20 yards away in about five strides.
- And...Clowney's inside move on Cardinals left tackle Rob Crisp? I'll put it this way when I saw it on the field, I let out a Ric Flair "WOOO" immediately. He does need to know time and place when to use it because it's so explosive and it gets him upfield so quickly that draws or delay runs can gash the defense. That cost him on a play later in the drive.
- What can you say about the defensive player tied for the team scoring lead in the pre-season John Simon? He's finding a way to make plays and that's making the outside linebacker position that much more effective. His pick six was a gem. Here's the thing and it just dawned on me as I watched the game back on replay - the Texans have been working on a drill throughout OTAs and training camp that mimicked that play nearly to a T. During individual periods in practice, one of the Texans staff members or a coach stood back as the quarterback with one of those red rubber balls we all used to use to play dodgeball back in the day. They threw those as the players attempted to bat the pass down or knock the pass away. Why a red rubber ball? They're much easier on the body/arms/hands than a pigskin, so it makes for the perfect practice tool. They rushed or approached from all different angles to get the feel of doing it in a game. With that work in practice as a guide, Simon timed his leap perfectly, tipped the ball, turned around to find the ball, perhaps the most athletic aspect of this play, and sprinted 60 yards with it for his second touchdown of the preseason. Simon's athleticism, combined with repeated individual work in practice, helped give the NRG Stadium crowd an energy shot and gave the Texans a 17-7 lead.
- I'm not exactly sure how to even describe safety K.J. Dillon. Here's why. It's as if someone put a quarter into the machine, wound him up and let him run all over the stadium. He plays the game like a four year old on three pixie sticks and a Mountain Dew chaser. At times, it feels like he's going to combust at any moment because he has no chill at all. He never slows down. He's always talking. Non-stop. I mean to anyone and everyone. The Cardinals sideline. The Cardinals on the field. His teammates. The crowd. I'm waiting for him to have a conversation with Marc and Andre through my mic on the field. He's a heat seeking missile. But, and this is a big but, he's improving and playing much better day after day. I get the feeling that the talking and energy fuels his play as opposed to pulling away from it. I saw that clear as day at the Senior Bowl. He got as pumped up about a teammate making a play on special teams as he did making a play himself on goal line drills.
- The Texans generated five turnovers and it should've/could've been six and another pick six. Cornerback A.J. Bouye made a tremendous break on a deep out in the first half and just missed catching that one and taking it to the house.
- Rookies aren't perfect and Will Fuller, just like DeAndre Hopkins or Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham Jr., won't catch everything thrown his way. But, he desperately wanted to make up for the drop on the deep ball in the worst way. I loved that Brock Osweiler looked him up later in the half for his touchdown catch. A drop like that can deplete a player's confidence in a heartbeat, but Fuller found a way to "get it back" in the best way.
- Speaking of rookies...how about the performance of Tyler Ervin? Juice, baby! You saw it on the kickoff return and trust me, there was some excellent blocking on the play. But, he finally got into the open and put a charge into the NRG Stadium crowd. Dude was flying too. But, here's the thing, it also jump started his confidence. He followed up the return with an 11-yard gain, the longest of the day for the Texans. He had a 20-yard catch out of the backfield. Then, he had a couple of blitz pickups on successive drives. Confidence can work wonders.
- Outside linebacker Brennan Scarlett had another strong ball game, putting up numbers on the stat sheet. He had two sacks, forced a fumble, had two tackles for a loss and two quarterback hurries. That's impressive for a guy that's really only been practicing for a couple of weeks. I spent a paragraph or so on him last week so I will stop here. As coach says all the time, I'm not ready to send him to Canton (but he is playing well).
- Inside linebacker Reshard Cliett saw the most time on the field since he's been a Texan and made some plays. He combined for a half of a sack, a quarterback hurry and a pass defensed. Not sure how he fits into the inside linebacker mix, but he's starting to find his sea legs, if you will.
A few quick hits to finish...
If there was anything that had coach O'Brien more than mildly upset after the game it was a late hit in the second half that allowed the Cardinals to score seven instead of three...
Keith Mumphery's catch and toe tap that led to a first half was sweet...
Jaelen Strong took a big time shot in the back, but it didn't stop him from scoring a touchdown on a great backshoulder catch...
Tom Savage took a shot on that touchdown throw too...
Charles James had the one pass interference penalty, but he had a pass defensed and was second on the team with six tackles...
Seven of the 15 completions for the Texans were to players that weren't on the team in 2015...
I can't remember the last time the Texans scored 31 points in a half and I don't have the time to research so I'll just say it's been a long time.
That's it for now, folks. It was a fun Sunday afternoon. I got to talk to Erin Andrews twice. I met Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel.
Most importantly, the Texans finished with a 'W' with plenty of players making plays throughout the day. Looking forward to a trip to Arlington on Wednesday.
See ya then!
Check out the best photos during #TexansGameday vs. the Cardinals.