First Glance: Texans at Cowboys

At 6 p.m. CT Saturday night in Arlington, the Texans face the Cowboys in the third game of the preseason. Both teams are 1-1 so far in August, and here are five things to watch when they kick things off at AT&T Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.

1) Who sits, who plays: We’ve not seen much of the starters in the 2019 preseason slate of games, and that will likely continue Saturday night versus Dallas. Against the Lions, quarterback Deshaun Watson, receiver DeAndre Hopkins and the offense looked sharp last Saturday night on the game’s opening 11-play drive. Watson and Hopkins were finished for the night after that possession, and if they play against the Cowboys, expect more of the same.

“It will be similar to how we used them in the Detroit game – not much,” head coach Bill O’Brien said. “Some of that is a play count, so it depends on first team goes out there, is it a three-and-out? Is it a long drive? It’s not an exact science, it’s just kind of a general idea of how much we want them to play and then we’ll go from there.”

A fair chunk of starters might not play, but it’s likely Watson will. He intends to make the most of whatever amount of time he’s in between the white lines.

“Every chance you get to play and step on that field is very important,” Watson said. “It’s more reps, so more reps is more experience, and more experience is more confidence and more opportunities for you to improve and get better, and get ready for the real action.”

2) Looks at left tackle: Watson had plenty of time to throw last week against the Lions, and the starter at left tackle in that game was Roderick Johnson. He was there in place of Matt Kalil, who started at Green Bay in the preseason opener. Kalil’s reps have been managed, and Johnson has played capably in his absence.

He joined the squad in the summer of 2018, but according to O’Brien, has improved by “light years” since arriving in Houston. Johnson was very matter-of-fact in describing what he’s done to get better.

“Just honed in mentally and physically, and got my mind right for OTAs,” Johnson said. “Taking it day-by-day.”

Johnson’s pounced on the opportunity he was given.

“He's gotten a lot of reps,” O’Brien said. “With us managing Matt throughout training camp, he's gotten a lot of reps. He's definitely one of our more improved players, and the key is to keep improving.”

3) Nick of time: Center Nick Martin returned to practice this week, and could suit up against Dallas. A leader up front for the Texans, his return was a welcome sight to the team, including the defensive players.

“Nick just got back out there and the center’s an extremely important part of the offensive line,” defensive end J.J. Watt said. “So it’s good to have him back out there communicating with the guys.”

Martin described one of the main things he’ll work on during his time in a preseason game, and said it’s all about replicating what he does in the regular season.

“Your routine,” Martin said. “Nothing changes. Year-to-year, you have your routine written down and you follow it, you tweak it, and that’s really the big thing for me.”

O’Brien was glad to have the fourth-year pro back in the fold this week.

“He's a leader, he communicates well,” O’Brien said. “It's really important for us to have him out there. He's an important part of what we do offensively, so it was good to have him back."

Zach Fulton started at center the first two games, but moved to left guard during practice this week. He started 13 games at right guard in 2018.

4) WR not named Hop/Fuller/Carter: The Texans are comfortable with All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins and the explosive Wil Fuller, V. Keke Coutee missed the last week or so with an injury, but DeAndre Carter stepped right in and produced on offense, and also was a factor in the return game.

Behind that crew of pass-catchers, there’s a fierce competition for remaining roster spots. Vyncint Smith has been productive in the run-up to his second NFL season, and caught a touchdown pass last week versus Detroit. Undrafted rookie Tyron Johnson’s made a strong case as well, as he was open deep multiple times last week, and also had an impressive 38-yard kickoff return.

In his second year, Steven Mitchell, Junior has seen quite a bit of time in the slot, and he caught three passes last week for 36 yards.

The group as whole is a dynamic bunch, and the contest with Dallas affords another chance to make a big impression on the coaches.

5) Safety first: Safeties Justin Reid and Tashaun Gipson didn’t practice this week, so numerous safeties got a chance for extra reps. The Reid/Gipson combo probably isn’t going to play against the Cowboys, so look for what Jahleel Addae, A.J. Moore and Chris Johnson can do with more reps.

Johnson’s an undrafted rookie who found himself starting next to Addae last Saturday. O’Brien described what he’s seen so far from the North Alabama product.

"He's been good,” O’Brien said. “He's played a lot on special teams, he's a good guy, he's very smart and he made a couple good tackles on special teams the first two games. He's gotten better. So, we'll see. He's done a good job though."

Check out the best preseason Week 2 images from Texans team photographer Zach Tarrant. Presented by Houston Methodist.

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