The Saints have been to Houston twice in the last nine months and are still looking for their first touchdown. They've scored 15 points in two games, but the Texans defense hasn't allowed the Saints into the end zone. As such, the defense was certainly the story on Saturday night, but the NRG Stadium faithful received a glimpse of this team's offensive future as well. That unit experienced an overhaul in the offseason and the fruits of that labor were front and center in the 16-9 win. Here are my observations from the game on Saturday night.
- There were so many stars, if you will, on Saturday night. Brian Cushing was outstanding in a quarter and some change of game time. Johnathan Joseph picked off Drew Brees (again) to give the ball back to the offense in the first quarter. But, if you went home to loved ones and they asked about the game, presumably, the first person you mentioned was Jadeveon Clowney. Three years into his pro career, Clowney is still a mystery to most out there, but all of us that have been in this building have been saying "it's coming, just wait and see." I think the way I said it was a bit more non-FCC rated, but you get the point. He was the national story for sure.
- After the game, I went to see Texans TV star Drew Dougherty in his office and we were talking about Clowney having the game that we expected to see. We both follow all the teams throughout the league so we see all the great plays by new players or returning injured players. Jacksonville had a video of Jalen Ramsey making a tackle. Indianapolis had an Andrew Luck to Phillip Dorsett completion on video. Each time we saw one of those our feeling was "dadgum it", but I KNOW when those in the AFC South saw what Clowney did to the Saints number one offensive line, there was more than just a dadgum it feeling. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media tweeted "Holy cow, I thought Jadeveon Clowney was going to eat Drew Brees. That was burst we've only seen flashes of." That's true for most NFL media types; they don't know what we've seen and have said was coming. He ran right over tackle Zach Strief on his first pass rush, completely ran right over a 320-pound man. He whipped Andrus Peat for his sack. Then, later in the game, he ragdolled Tony Hills for a tackle for a loss. It got people's attention without question, now he needs to make that type of game a regular occurrence. When he does...I don't even want to go that place in my brain right now. I've reserved that exalted spot for salted caramel desserts, outstanding brisket, 24-hour football on television and a kiss from my wife.
- The first play of the game, the Saints were playing man free against the Texans empty set. Receiver Braxton Miller popped wide open across the middle. He completely shook rookie defensive back DeVante Harris but Brock Osweiler didn't see him and threw to DeAndre Hopkins who got mugged (no call) by cornerback Delvin Breaux. If Brock had seen Miller, the former Ohio State star would've been running for days with only one guy, free safety Jairus Byrd, with a chance to tackle him.
- After a three and out, special teams star Brian Peters dislodged the ball from punt returner Marcus Murphy and it was recovered by Jonathan Grimes. It was the second straight week that Murphy had fumbled a punt, but in week one, he picked up his own fumble and sprinted for a long return against the Patriots. Alas, he wasn't so lucky on Saturday night.
- It was after that fumble that it truly seemed that Brock Osweiler settled in and became The Man for this team. He got sacked by a rejuvenated Nick Fairley on first down, but after that he went to work.
- On second down, Saints defensive back Delvin Breaux was ten yards off DeAndre Hopkins, so Osweiler took what they gave him for five yards. Then on third down, rookie tight end Stephen Anderson shook himself free from linebacker Danell Ellerbee and Osweiler threw a pellet for a first down. On the following set of downs, Osweiler threw a quick screen to Braxton Miller for 11 yards. Then he dropped a dime over the top of Saints cornerback P.J. Williams to first round selection Will Fuller for the rookie's first professional touchdown.
- Just in case you were keeping count, that was Hopkins, rookie, rookie and rookie for four straight completions. As I noted in our radio broadcast. that is a symbol, in some sense, of how this offense has truly been made over.
- On the screen to Braxton Miller, he had a huge convoy of blockers, but they weren't moving fast enough. Miller just ran one of them, guard Tony Bergstrom, right over.
- The touchdown throw to Will Fuller was beautiful. Fuller speeding away from cornerback P.J. Williams. The touch throw from Osweiler. I've seen Fuller make that type catch a ton of times throughout his college career and it warms the heart to know he's making that catch now for the Texans.
- One of the most significant stories on Saturday night was the play of the coverage units on special teams, both kickoff and punt cover teams. Charles James, Corey Moore, Brian Peters and the rest were exactly what this team needed, without a doubt.
- Brian Cushing is a football playing dude and he's locked in. He had six tackles and a pass breakup in about a quarter of action. He hammered C.J. Spiller on a second down throw to force an incompletion. He chased Spiller down to the sideline on a catch and run and I'm telling you Cushing was flying from the opposite side of the field to force Spiller out of bounds.
Again, seeing Cushing play that way excited many in the building, without question.
- In fact, the Texans defense dropped the hammer a number of times. Quintin Demps forced a fumble...uh, incompletion in the first quarter after nailing Brandon Coleman. In fact, Coleman took a couple of big sticks from the Texans defense. Demps was one. Kevin Johnson nailed the 6-6 receiver to force a pass breakup as well in the second half. All things considered, the Texans delivered some big shots on Saturday night.
- On that Coleman fumble/incompletion, I'm not totally sure what the officials saw to overturn the fumble. At the game, I was convinced it was a fumble. Convinced. Then, I watched the game late Saturday night/Sunday morning and watched it in slow motion. It was DEFINITELY a fumble. No question in my mind. He caught the ball with two feet on the ground and nearly got a third step, if you will, before Demps hammered the ball loose.
- On the first Texans offensive play after that controversial fumble/no fumble, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and tackle Kendall Lamm completely destroyed Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan, knocking him seven yards down field on a Lamar Miller six yard gain. Later in the second quarter Fiedorowicz worked together with left tackle Chris Clark on outside zone run that was textbook. Fiedorowicz stood up the Saints defensive end perfectly which allowed Clark to seal him inside then C.J. moved up to the second level and locked onto the linebacker, driving him four yards deep into the secondary. His blocking has improved each and every year and it's definitely an underrated, yet necessary, aspect of this offense.
- Defensive end Christian Covington has had a strong training camp, but I was a bit worried on Thursday that he might not play in the game after I saw him with an ice bag on his shoulder during the joint practice on Thursday. But, he showed up in a huge way on Saturday night. He never stops, playing with this endless energy that makes him so frustrating to block all game long. He worked a stunt with Jadeveon Clowney to get a pressure and throwaway by Drew Brees. He had a sack later in the game as well.
- Covington's sack on Luke McCown late in the second quarter occurred after he was held by guard Tim Lelito. Does Covington get two helmet stickers for that - a combination holding drawn/sack? I'm going to have to talk to defensive line coach Anthony Weaver about that one.
- By the way, teams are going to learn or should've learned that you don't put a single tight end on Whitney Mercilus (or any of these pass rushers). If you want your quarterback standing up by the end of the game, just don't. Mercilus ran right past a
seemingly disinterested and overmatched Coby Fleener to force a fumble by Brees. Unfortunately, a Texans penalty gave the ball back to the Saints but Johnathan Joseph made up for that penalty mistake with a pick of Brees a play later.
- A guy that was seemingly introduced to Texans fans on Saturday night was outside linebacker Brennan Scarlett. I wrote about him in my joint practice observations on Thursday as he returned to the field for the first time this training camp. He's an interesting guy having played for both Cal and Stanford in his college career. I watched plenty of him at Stanford last year and he was highly intriguing. In Palo Alto, he bumped inside a bunch on passing downs and rushed against guards and centers, but he rushed from the outside only last night. He got to the quarterback a couple of times. He had three tackles and a tackle for a loss. For his first week on the field, he made an impression for certain.
- The first play that defensive tackle D.J. Reader was on the field, he nearly threw Pro Bowl center Max Unger back into the ball carrier. He and Jadeveon Clowney formed a two man wall that Saints running back Mark Ingram couldn't get past. I've been so impressed with Reader's ability to hold up against single blocks, dating back to seeing him live for the first time at the 2016 Senior Bowl.
- Later in the second quarter, he split a double team to make a tackle for no gain. That's the game for a nose tackle or interior lineman. If you can beat a double team AND make a tackle?? Shut it down, folks.
- I've said a million times that a big hit can fire up the whole squad, but after Clowney's sack on Drew Brees in the second quarter, that entire defense was ready to run through a brick wall. Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson sniffed out a screen on third and 23 and tackled Ingram for a three yard loss with a perfect form tackle. It's contagious, to say the least.
- Johnson might be the only defensive back that I know that can play eight or nine yards off and make a tackle for one or two yards on a short pass in front of him. His transitional quickness breaking on the ball is highly impressive.
- Braxton Miller is learning to play wide receiver right in front of our eyes. Dude is a baller and a half. Oh, and his pregame shoes...if you follow me on Twitter, I noted that he had a pair of shoes with the slogan Don't Mess with Texas on them. People wanted a picture, but the words were on the inside of the shoe and I couldn't get a decent shot of each interior. I tried, but you'll just have to trust me on this one.
- Jaelen Strong's first catch of the game was on a crossing route when he beat man coverage, but the story on that play was the quick flip of the wrist from Brock Osweiler to get rid of the ball before being hit by linebacker James Laurinaitis. I've mentioned before how Brock is able to change his arm slot to get rid of the football. I don't know if that's a learned behavior or innate, but it's intriguing to see him do it.
- Cornerback A.J. Bouye has been a cover magnet during training camp, but perhaps the most impressive thing that I've seen from him was his run support tackle for a Mark Ingram one yard gain.
- There were at least two holding penalties generated by Jadeveon Clowney that weren't called. Let's just say that using the word "mugging" is being kind.
- Knowing Tom Savage the way I do, I know he wasn't happy about his night because he had that lateral fumble on a botched screen. But, his two minute drill work to put three points on the board before half was excellent. He nearly threw a pick to Saints rookie Ken Crawley on that drive, but Savage went 4-of-5 on the drive, completing passes to four different receivers along the way. That drive started at the Texans 16-yard line and Savage moved them to the Saints 28 in 90 seconds.
- 14 different Texans caught a pass on Saturday night. That can't happen during the season; I don't think it's mathematically possible. That said, it was a solid opportunity for all involved to make a play on the night.
- How impressive was the Texans defensive front? Saints head coach Sean Payton played his offensive line starters all the way into the third quarter. When that first unit was in the game, the Saints generated less than 60 yards of total offense.
- The Saints defensive line was no slouch on Saturday night either. The Saints defense held the Texans to 59 yards rushing and 2.5 yards per carry. Nick Fairley was a thorn in the side of the Texans for the amount of time he was in the game. When motivated to make a point, Fairley has always shined. In 2010 at Auburn, he was challenged by his coaching staff to be more than just a guy. He responded with one of the greatest seasons for an SEC interior defender in history. He seemed to have that kind of motivation last night and could be a factor for the Saints, now desperately in need of one with first round pick Sheldon Rankins on the shelf for a while with an injury.
- Linebacker Akeem Dent was tied for second on the team with four tackles against the Saints. He's seemingly been a forgotten man in the battle for an inside linebacker/special teams spot. However, Saturday night was a solid reminder of what he can do against the run, in particular.
- The ending of the game was a whole lot more dramatic than it should've been, but considering how much Bill O'Brien and the staff work on situations, I'm sure they all appreciated the opportunity to get some end of game/end of half work as they did. And, the win to boot.
That'll do it for this one. We'll have more for you after next week's matchup with the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday afternoon. See ya then, folks.
Check out the best photos throughout #TexansGameday vs. the Saints.