Harris Hits: Preseason Week 1 at Green Bay

The end result was far from important in this first preseason game as the Texans lost 28-26 to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Regardless of the night’s result, it was a highly productive week for the Texans against the Packers, minus a few nicks and bruises suffered during the game. Here are my observations from the first preseason game for the Texans.

A myriad of players didn’t see the field for the Texans on Thursday night. On offense, DeAndre Hopkins, Deshaun Watson, Will Fuller V, Lamar Miller, DeAndre Carter (still on PUP) and Kahale Warring were held out. That doesn’t include tight end Jordan Thomas who has been out for a bit with an injury suffered back in the first week of training camp. Furthermore, on the defensive side of the ball, J.J. Watt, D.J. Reader, Carlos Watkins and Zach Cunningham all sat this one out.

Two players that consistently showed up on Thursday in the first few series of the game were linebackers Dylan Cole and Brennan Scarlett. Cole had perhaps the tackle of the night when he stuffed a Packers running back for no gain on an inside run in the first quarter. Scarlett flew around the field all night long at his outside linebacker spot. He disrupted a designed screen, jumping out in the passing lanes to keep Packers quarterback Deshone Kizer from finding his intended target.

Joe Webb III had a night. Some of it was great. Some of it was not so great. He threw a couple of errant passes that ended up as interceptions, but he made some typical Webb magic happen on scrambles that set up the first Texans touchdown. He finished the night with 286 passing yards, a preseason Texans record. He got everyone involved in the passing game as well. Fourteen different pass catchers finished with a reception. Webb didn’t work with these groups for the most part throughout camp but stepped up when AJ McCarron hurt his hand during the second joint practice with the Packers.

One position that was definitely going to have my attention was the running backs. And, this group had plenty of opportunity to prove its mettle on Thursday night. Veteran Taiwan Jones got the start and flashed some of his speed early in the game on a beautiful run up the middle but he got popped and fumbled the ball to the Packers. Jones came right back on the next series and picked up a first down on a catch out of the backfield, in addition to three carries on the drive.

Down inside Packers territory, rookie Damarea Crockett came into the game and scored the first touchdown of the year, powering the ball in from the one-yard line to tie the game at 7.

What stood out to me on that drive was Crockett’s pass protection. On the first third and long of that drive, Webb dropped back to pass and the Packers brought the nickel Chandon Sullivan off the edge on a blitz. I saw it coming and, out of fear, screaming “JOE, THROW IT!” But, out of the middle came Crockett and he blocked Sullivan out of the picture, allowing Webb to sprint forward and pick up 13 yards. Running backs coach Danny Barrett was fired up for his rookie on that one. A few plays later, Crockett saw inside linebacker Curtis Bolton blitzing in the A gap but he couldn’t maintain the block. Luckily, Webb made up for it, making Bolton miss then picking up the first down on the scramble on one of the best plays of the night. On the next series of downs, Crockett again picked up an interior rusher to allow Webb time to complete a pass to Jordan Akins. Those are the type of things that will determine a rookie’s role on this roster or spot on this roster. The more consistent Crockett can be in pass protection, the more carries he will get. No block, no rock... words to live by.

Crockett’s touchdown run was all power. He was hit at the line of scrimmage by a Packer defensive tackle, but he ran through his tackle with enough momentum to squeeze into the end zone for that touchdown.

He got a really nice block from rookie offensive lineman Max Scharping who knocked Montravius Adams off the ball to give Crockett some space to wiggle into the end zone for the six.

All in all, the running backs averaged over 4.0 yards per carry. They ran a combined 23 times for 91 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Karan Higdon ran with some power and great balance, so he was impressive in his NFL debut as well.

One rookie really stood out on defense - safety Austin Exford. He had a tremendous hit in the hole down near the goal line to keep a running back out of the end zone. Then, he ran one down from the backside on the goal line to keep him out of the end zone, which set up a fourth down attempt. He’s made an impression on this coaching staff in numerous ways this training camp. The growth that he’s shown over the past 14 days has been really important for this defense.

The coverage was up and down throughout the night. Packers wide receiver Jake Kumerow was tough to stop on dig routes in the first half due to his size. Part of the problem, though, was that they kept drives alive with seven of 13 third down conversions. The best Packers drive of the night was a 10-play drive for 75 yards and a touchdown and it was a drive that featured three third down conversions. The final one was a 14-yard touchdown throw on 3rd-and-4 from Deshone Kizer to Darrius Shepherd. But, all in all, the Packers generated only 142 yards passing. Consequently, there were some bright spots with sticky coverage at times, but it can certainly improve.

Rookie receiver Tyron Johnson gave Green Bay fits. He made an adjustment on a Webb underthrow on 3rd-and-9 and came back to the ball to make a 44-yard catch. He then drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone late in the game which allowed the Texans to punch it in from the one-yard line on the next play. He made another key catch earlier in the fourth on the Texans sideline, but it was negated by offsetting penalties. He was excellent in his NFL debut.

The Texans punted one time all night. Their drive chart went as such: INT, Fumble, TD, FG, INT, TD, FG, Punt, TD. That’s... eclectic? Is that the right word? It certainly was exciting, but I’ll take a little less excitement and fewer turnovers.

The offensive line has been a key focus and under the spotlight since last season ended. I thought, overall, it functioned well. The first unit hadn’t worked with Webb at all, so there was going to be some adjustment period, to say the least. I do like the way they hit people in the mouth and there were a few times when Webb had an ultra-clean pocket. The best thing is that Detroit is as good up front as any team the Texans offensive line will face in 2019 and it gets to see those dudes for a whole week.

First round rookie Tytus Howard moved between left guard and left tackle and admitted that he had some nerves for his first NFL game. Watching back after the game, there was some good and some needs work. The potential is certainly there to be really good, even as a rookie. The shock in his hands and the pop in his pads are intriguing. Each week he should take another step and another pair of joint practices with the Lions will help significantly. Now that the first one is over, he can settle down and settle in. His pad level got a little high and that can hurt him. But, man, he packs a punch, that’s for sure.

Webb started two drives with excellent throws to the tight ends. He threw a laser shot to Darren Fells to start the game and then later in the quarter, he threw a bootleg wide open to Jordan Akins for a first down gain. Throughout the week in Green Bay, Webb made some big time throws and with more time with the twos against Detroit, he should throw it even better next week.

Outside linebacker Davin Bellamy didn’t get to the quarterback much in the pass game, but he did a solid job setting the edge against the run.

It’s been a great week but I’m ready for 100 degrees and no more cheese for a while. See you next week, everyone.

Houston Texans take on the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field for the first game of the 2019 NFL Preseason.

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