It's preseason, but a win is a win is a win, especially when it happens against that team up north. The Texans flew home with a 20-14 win over the Dallas Cowboys and, honestly, when isn't a win over the Cowboys a fun night? So, let's get into my Harris Hits for the preseason game against Dallas. LET'S GO!
What a way to start this game. The Texans won the toss and deferred their choice until the second half. So, when the Cowboys offense came on the field, the Texans defense made sure that the 'Boys offensive unit wouldn't be on the field long. It turned into a three and out, but on that third down, defensive end Jacob Martin relentlessly attacked Cowboys quarterback Garrett Gilbert as the Dallas signal caller eyed a bunch of covered receivers down the field. Martin worked past Gilbert, worked back to him and chopped at the ball to get it out of Gilbert's hands. At the bottom of the pile, fellow defensive lineman Charles Omenihu snatched up the pigskin.
The defensive line was really the story of this game. Martin's sack was one of FIVE on the night and it was Omenihu who finished with a pair of sacks to lead the way. Throughout Training Camp, Omenihu dazzled with his array of pass rush moves, whether he was lined up inside or outside. Furthermore, he was just an absolute menace. That Training Camp performance translated over into his first action in the preseason against Dallas. The Cowboys just couldn't handle his length and relentless nature and it resulted in a fantastic night for Omenihu - three tackles, two sacks, two tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits and one fumble recovery in less than a half of play.
Fellow defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker finished with a sack as well, this time while rushing from the outside. He just bull rushed left tackle Ty Nsekhe right back into the quarterback and jumped on the back of quarterback Ben DiNucci for the sack. From the beginning of training camp, I've talked about that duo - Walker and Omenihu - because of their ability to rush from inside just as well as from the outside. It's pretty simple math - compete well at a couple of different spots and you're that much more attractive to a staff trying to figure out a 53-man roster.
Then, in the fourth quarter, rookie Roy Lopez Jr. worked a wonderful stunt (like Omenihu for one of his sacks) to get free for a sack. The Salsa dance was just the cherry on the sundae. This defensive line created a ton of pressure with four man rushes. I mentioned that during the broadcast - I can't remember seeing a four man rush with such twitch and explosiveness from left to right, all four guys like there was at times on the field on Saturday night. There was a moment when I looked out there and saw four guys put their hand in the dirt that all had a chance to win one-on-one. That just hasn't been the case in the past as one or two guys were candidates to win, but not the full complement of rushers.
After Martin generated that first takeaway, the offense was blessed with a short field to try to put seven points on the board. Now, the offense didn't have the greatest night, but I liked one substantial aspect of its performance. First, running back Mark Ingram II powered through the middle to pick up just enough on a short yardage situation on 4th and one. Then, he followed that up with a short yardage touchdown run at the end of the drive. Oh, if I had a dime for every short yardage situation over the past decade that ended in, well, not a touchdown or a first down. Now, a 4th down got stuffed later in the game, but when the first group NEEDED to get seven to reward the defense after creating that first takeaway, it did so.
For the second time in as many games, the defense gave up ZERO points in the second half. Who won't take that?
It can be fairly easy to quantify takeaways, especially when one of the four turned into actual points on the scoreboard. But, think about these box score hero numbers - the Cowboys finished with eight more first downs, 88 yards more of total offense, converted 50% of their 16 third downs, while the Texans didn't convert one of the ten third downs they faced. The Cowboys ran 19 more plays. The Cowboys scored touchdowns both times they got in the red zone while the Texans scored touchdowns once in two trips in the red zone.
But…the Texans didn't turn the ball over once. The Cowboys turned it over four times (one fumble, three interceptions), one of which was a pick six for Texans defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr. The Texans had five sacks and the Cowboys had just one. The Texans won by six. Football isn't just about sacks and takeaways, but man, those big plays certainly tell the story of a lot of games.
Throughout Training Camp, defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr. has come up with a number of interceptions in all kinds of coverages. Trust me when I say that I saw that exact interception tonight about three different times in Training Camp practices. This one, though, was seemingly a little different because he was sort of shielded by the Cowboys receiver and the Texans defensive back scrum in front of him. So, Lonnie had to deal with that distraction and still held on to the ball for a pick. Then, he just took off like a bat out of hades for the end zone. Consequently, he wasn't letting anyone stop him from getting into the end zone.
Earlier in the game, Johnson Jr. collided with fellow defensive back Jonathan Owens on a Cooper Rush floater down the middle of the field. Defensive lineman Ross Blacklock broke free and planted Rush as he threw and that made the ball flutter for Owens and/or Johnson Jr. to vie for the interception. The collision forced the ball to the turf at the same time that Blacklock hit Rush in the helmet for a 15 yard penalty that kept the drive alive. Thankfully, Johnson Jr. was able to make it back to the game.
For the second time in two games, punt returner Desmond King II was absolutely electric on a punt return. This time, on the second to last play of the first quarter, King II kept his balance after taking an initial hit, squirted out the right side and picked up 24 yards to move the ball out to the Texans 45-yard line. Heading into this season, it wasn't completely clear who would earn the return job on punts and/or kickoffs, but King II has seemingly taken a massive leap to the front of the line on punt returns.
The Texans run defense wasn't quite at the level it was at Green Bay last weekend, but it was still strong. Dallas ran for just 3.2 yards per carry - 95 yards on 30 carries. What stood out to me the most was the way guys fit in the run defense. Each defender has gap responsibility but the secondary also has a role too. There were a few times that the secondary came up to fill open gaps and make a play on the running back. The chunk runs were a result of that gap discipline falling along the wayside and thankfully it didn't happen more often.
I really like what defensive back Eric Murray is doing for this defense, especially the way that he fits in the gap responsibility. He had an excellent tackle when he read, and fit the backside of a run by Tony Pollard.
Fellow defensive back Terence Brooks did much the same when he stepped into the secondary. He finished the game with eight tackles and the game-ending interception off the tipped pass by Shyheim "Coach" Carter.
Carter had a wonderful night with a pick and the tip I mentioned above. I mentioned last week the journey that Carter's been on since May yet he's just going out and making plays, two major ones tonight helped key the win.
I mentioned the defensive line earlier and the four guys that came up with sacks, but one guy who played tonight for the first time in the preseason was Maliek Collins. He didn't play but a handful of plays, but on one of his pass rush reps, he completely blazed right past the Cowboys right guard. He was so quick past him that the quarterback actually saw him and stepped up in the pocket to avoid Collins. From the first day that I saw him up close, I knew that twitch and first step could be dangerous and it was definitely on display on Saturday night.
As a rookie at a position where there are so many veterans with NFL pelts on the wall, Garret Wallow doesn't get a ton of acclaim for what he's done or is doing. However, I've watched him slowly and surely gain confidence, going out and making plays in training camp and preseason games. He's so darn smart and quick to the football. He finished with four total tackles and one tackle for a loss in this win. He made a special teams tackle as well on a return that looked like it had some promise before Wallow shut it down. The former TCU star just does the right thing all the time and I think I can say it best by saying that I trust him 1000% when he's out there leading the defense. I like what his future can be for this organization.
Earlier, I mentioned defensive lineman Ross Blacklock's unfortunate 15-yard penalty, but everything up until the hit was just sublime. He completely worked the Cowboys left guard with a head fake swipe/arm over that was nasty. I've seen it really change for Blacklock this Training Camp and this was the result of that work. Now, the hit on Rush? He won't let that happen again.
Running back Mark Ingram II got his first game action in 2021 and told me how important it was to get those juices flowing in game action. Throughout Training Camp and this game, I haven't seen a lack of juice or burst at all from Ingram II when many surmised that's what would happen. I LOVE having him on this team and his burgeoning friendship with Phillip Lindsay, among others, is a really cool thing to watch on a daily basis.
One thing Coach Culley mentioned in his postgame presser was something I pointed out during the broadcast. Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn didn't hold back his scheme. There was no holding on to blitzes or pressure schemes for the regular season. Coach said that it was great for the offense to have seen those type pressures in game action and it's going to be something the offense works on plenty this week in practice.
Receiver Jordan Veasy has shown up from the first day he arrived about three days into Camp. Now, I don't mean that he was physically at each practice, which he was, but he's made his presence known throughout the past month. He had two solid special teams plays last week and had two receptions against the Cowboys to tie for the game lead with fellow receiver Chris Moore. It's going to be a tough cut at the receiver position for sure and Veasy has complicated that decision even more...and that's not a bad thing in the slightest.
As I mentioned earlier, the Cowboys threw the kitchen sink at rookie quarterback Davis Mills, but the young man still performed well. He completed ten of 16 passes for 115 yards, accounting for 87.8% of the Texans passing yards on the night. He threw a couple gems throughout the night. He drove a dig route to Veasy for a first down to start one drive. He put the perfect amount of touch on a deep over route to Keke Coutee for the second longest gain of the night. He also hit Chris Moore for the longest gain of the night on a deep over route. Had he put that throw out of Moore a little bit, it may have gone for a touchdown. Nonetheless, Mills avoided the turnovers in the face of intense pressure throughout the night. Solid step in his maturation process.
The run game will need work this week in practice and leading up to the opener against Jacksonville. Even though, the Texans offense picked up a couple of key short yardage opportunities in the first half, there was little success later in the game, minus quarterback Jeff Driskel's 23 rushing yards in the fourth quarter.
Punter Cam Johnston? Stud. He's going to be a major weapon for this team in the near future and his cover units have done a fairy solid job as well. Six punts, 51.5 yard average and 49.2 yards net...that's just extraordinary.
Alright, we're about to land in Houston. There's work to do for every facet of this team, but the progress is there for all to see. See ya soon and thanks for reading.
Check out game action from Texans Preseason Game 2 in Dallas.