It wasn't the prettiest night for the Texans on a number of different levels, but we'll trudge on to the next one.
Here are my observations from Saturday night's loss to the Broncos.
- The Broncos' first offensive play was a smoke screen to Demaryius Thomas and CB Kareem Jackson made a textbook tackle on him for little to no gain. But, the one thing that stood out was that the Broncos were in an empty formation and QB Peyton Manning was in the gun. He actually made a run, play action fake before he threw the ball, again with no back in the backfield. Defenders will freeze for a split second out of instinct but it worked against Peyton as it gave Jackson the extra time to attack Thomas for no gain.
- Rookie corner Kevin Johnson took the challenge of Demaryius Thomas head on and it wasn't as if Peyton Manning shied away from it. Johnson knocked down the first throw to Thomas, gave up a completion on the second and then was in Thomas' hip pocket on an incompletion on the third. Other than the one completion and a questionable holding call, Johnson played very well in his second outing as a Texan.
- The Texans ran power a few times on the first drive and it didn't look all that bad for the most part. The first time Alfred Blue powered through LB Brandon Marshall for a significant gain. On the second one, he had a massive hole about to emerge but the kick out block missed Broncos OLB Von Miller as LG Jeff Adams had eyes, wrapping around, for the linebacker. That play could've popped if Miller had been just nudged out of the way.
- I noted last night on the broadcast and perhaps last week in my game observations, the loss of Arian Foster truly shows up in the outside zone running game. Not that he can always gets the edge, it's the cutback or cut up runs back behind the center where Foster flourishes. The outside zone on the first offensive drive went for a loss that put this offense behind schedule.
- Last week, QB Ryan Mallett got called for a penalty, inducing the defense with his head movement, but last night, he stole five yards on third down with the hard count on the first drive. As he said in the San Francisco game, captured on Hard Knocks, "Hey, I learned that ---- watching Brady." I guess he learned that one too.
- There's a logjam at cornerback, we know that, but Charles James II used last night's opportunity on special teams to make a statement that he doesn't want a new zip code at the end of pre-season. He made two brilliant special teams plays, making a sound open field tackle on the punt and then downing the ball inside the five later in the first half. He's quickly become a team favorite, a fan favorite and a coaching staff favorite too.
- The return of Gary Kubiak to Denver meant a return to the outside zone run game and, in particular, cut blocks on the backside. The Texans defensive line and outside linebackers took on those blocks all game long and struggled a bit against it. However, DE Jared Crick got cut down on one play and as he was on his wallet made a tackle for no gain.
- Whitney Mercilus typically wins with his pass rush up the field, but a great sign was pressure he put on Peyton Manning beating rookie tackle Ty Sambrailo inside with a strong rip with his outside arm. A few more snaps for Mercilus in that game and he'd have ended up beating Sambrailo for certain.
- Then, on the very next snap, a three step throw, Mercilus beat Sambrailo with a quick inside move, leaving the rookie OT holding on for dear life. Stressing the holding on part. Manning got rid of the ball just in the nick of time.
- If there's a rookie standing out more and more each week, it's the former Rice defensive tackle Christian Covington. He continues to get more and more reps with the first group in sub-package stuff and even was on the field in the first quarter in base over the nose. He's a tasmanian devil chasing the ball all over the yard and even on the play he was high/lowed, he still helped on the tackle.
- 'Eddie P' is making plays. I told him he's Eddie P. when he's making plays and Eddie Pleasant when he doesn't. Excellent pass break up on Manning's third down throw across the middle in the 1st quarter.
- Benardrick McKinney likes playing this kind of game much more than covering tight ends in man coverage like last week. He played off the block of veteran guard Louis Vasquez to make a stop early in the game. He went in during the second quarter and put a brace on his knee after that drive. The young man was tough and went back out and played the rest of the half.
14. Guard/Tackle Jeff Adams got more snaps at tackle than he did at guard, but he seems to be more comfortable at tackle than guard. He made a key block, blocking down on Von Miller when he knifed inside on a Jonathan Grimes run seven yard run in the first half. He needs to get a bit more pop at the point of attack no matter where he's aligned.
- If you're a rookie on this team, no matter where you were drafted or whether you weren't, you'd better start doing the little things on a play in, play out basis. Getting lined up properly, knowing whether you should be on the field on special teams and showing full effort blocking as a receiver in the run game are just baseline requests and shouldn't be an issue. They are for some of the youngsters currently.
- Hated to see short yardage struggles again in the run game and I know it has to infuriate Bill O'Brien because if there's anything that he values more than anything it's toughness and winning the physical battle and the Texans are losing that battle too often at this moment.
- With the return of Jadeveon Clowney this week to practice, the young outside linebackers really stepped up their game on Saturday night. Kourtnei Brown made the most athletic play of the night with the pick six that put the Texans ahead. Jason Ankrah redirected on a naked bootleg to bat down a Brock Osweiler pass. Lynden Trail made a number of different athletic plays during the night. Carlos Thompson came up with a tackle for loss on an edge run his way. They all needed to step up in a big way and did. Of course, as linebackers coach Mike Vrabel will tell them it wasn't perfect but that group, of any group, shined on Saturday night.
- On the first Broncos touchdown, I've heard many people mention there was no safety help over the top and there wasn't. But, that may have been based on the coverage and by design. There was no play action, it was a straight dropback. Watching it back over and over, I'm not sure what the exact coverage call was, it appeared that it was quarters versus a 3x1 set. That often means that the backside safety, in this case Rahim Moore, is responsible to rob the middle or poach the number three receiver, in this case Broncos tight end Dominique Jones. That would take him out of the middle of the field. But, before we lose our minds about the safeties not being there or A.J. Bouye getting beat, PLEASE understand that no one has any idea what exact coverage was played and more importantly what adjustment the secondary guys made once they saw the formation. When it comes to coverages in the NFL these days, especially zone coverages, it's not as clear cut as it appears.
- I'm not exactly sure what Bill O'Brien said to his offense after he took a time out just after the Broncos first touchdown but it didn't look like a conversation that I wanted aimed at me. I've been there; those aren't fun.
- The more I watch Jonathan Grimes make plays in every situation, the more convinced I am of what I talked with Marc and Andre about before the game. Andre asked who my running backs would be on the 53 man roster and I mentioned that I don't know how Grimes couldn't be part of it. He made significant plays in both the receiving and running games throughout last night. He was one of the most impressive Texans on offense on Saturday night.
- Just after I typed that, I saw Chris Polk step up in pass protection and completely stone a Broncos linebacker shooting through the A gap. Wow! That's impressive.
- Late in the first half, a well-executed Broncos blitz essentially ended the Texans best drive of the half. They overloaded the left side, forcing the Texans to slide the protection that way and then brought the nickel corner off the edge unabated to quarterback Brian Hoyer for the sack. Hoyer saw the blitz and wanted to get rid of the ball but it didn't seem as if his hot route was aware of the blitz and didn't cut off his route early enough. Tough way to end that drive that had some possibilities.
- A ton of credit goes to safety Quintin Demps for staying in shape while he was out of training camp to be able to step right in and not miss a beat with this defense. He had a couple of big time pass break ups during the game and that's with only having one day of a padded practice. Tremendous pass break up on 4th and one in the fourth quarter.
- Corners, crack and replace. Crack and replace. Can't let your safety get hammered and then not replace him in run support. Can't, CAN'T happen. They're coached better than that.
- QB Tom Savage had pressure in his face all night and I know he woke up on Sunday as sore as he's been, the knee injury he suffered at Indianapolis notwithstanding. He stayed strong in the pocket, one that was enveloping him much of the night. The best throw he made may have been the one down the numbers to TE Khari Lee. Then again, the dime he dropped on EZ Nwachukwu deep down the left side of the field was a gem too.
- Watching Brown's pick six back on replay, what a play he made. QB Brock Osweiler read the play perfectly and it didn't seem that Brown could be a factor in the play. But, his ability to get just far enough away from the offensive line and snatch the ball out of the air was impressive.
- The fourth down throw in the end zone from Savage to Nwachukwu was clearly pass interference. Blatant miss. Just after the play, the video board showed the play a few times and as the refs were walking toward Bill O'Brien, he was pointing up there to the board. But, just as he got their attention, the board changed graphics and he lost his case, so to speak. However, on the very next play, QB Trevor Siemian found TE Marcel Jensen for a questionable low catch. This time, the video board showed it over and over and over until the red challenge flag was thrown. The play stood, but the ability for O'Brien to see the replay up on the video board was a huge assistance.
- On 3rd and three with four minutes left, Savage tried to find WR Travis Labhart on a pivot route right at the first down marker. Just after the incompletion, you can see Bill O'Brien pointing at something out on the field and it appeared he saw an open receiver downfield that Savage may have missed. Can't tell on replay if that was the case but O'Brien clearly saw something on that key third down play.
- The pass interference call on Darryl Morris was highly questionable, as was the one on Kevin Johnson earlier in the game. I thought the penalty was on Kurtis Drummond for the hit at the end, which seemed more valid than pass interference. That set up the Broncos game winning TD to Corbin Louks.
- Savage completed five passes on the final drive, including darts to Keshawn Martin, who flashed on that drive after dropping a pass on the far sideline to start the drive.
- Rough ending with the sack and then Khari Lee being ruled in bounds as the clock ran out.
But, the 14-10 loss is in the books and it's on to New Orleans next Sunday to play Drew Brees and the Saints. See ya' then, everyone.
View the best cheerleader photos from the Texans-Broncos game Saturday night at NRG Stadium.