The Texans and their fans walked out of NRG Stadium on Saturday night with a little extra hop in their step after win No. 1 of the 2019 season. Now, we won't know exactly whether goal No. 1 was reached - full 100 percent health - but there was plenty to feel good about on the night. Here are my observations from the 30-23 win over the Lions.
I didn't expect Deshaun Watson or DeAndre Hopkins to play and said as such on the pregame broadcast, but in retrospect, I'm so glad I was wrong. Watson and most of the starters were on the field for one drive. Eleven plays, 75 yards. Watson went five-for-seven. The offense converted a fourth-and-short. It was efficient in the red zone. Watson spread the ball around, hitting three different pass-catchers with his five completions, including Hopkins' touchdown grab. Most importantly, the Texans stuck it in the end zone. When Bill O'Brien drew up the optimal situation for QB1/WR1, this was exactly what he had in mind. Every coach wants THAT drive for his starting unit in a preseason game.
Here's one other reason Texans fans had to feel good about that lone drive - Watson wasn't touched but on one play and that was after he saw daylight and scrambled out of the pocket on third down. He threw seven times and had AMPLE pass protection on each of those seven attempts. Now, I'm not putting anyone in Canton because the Lions had some serious defensive line talent sitting this one out and they didn't blitz or so show much in the way of creative pressure. However, the progress of this offensive line/tight end group in pass protection was evident against the Lions all week long. I've got all my fingers and toes crossed hoping that rookie Tytus Howard is going to be okay as reports noted he left the game with some sort of injury. He and fellow rookie Max Scharping are seemingly rounding into shape with a big one coming up on Saturday against the talented Dallas Cowboys front seven. That said, the Thursday practice session with the Lions and Saturday night's game were as good as the protection has been throughout training camp.
Speaking of optimal game appearances, outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus had one just like the first offense did. He came in for three plays. He racked up a sack and a forced fumble on the second play and his night was over after the next snap. Pretty efficient to say the least. On Pace Guy would tell you he's on pace to have 160 sacks this year or something of that ilk. Regardless, Mercilus has returned with a vengeance. From the first day of OTAs through last night, he's been one of the top three most impressive players on this roster.
Fellow outside linebacker Davin Bellamy took his game up a notch on Saturday night as well. He skied to bat down a pass and recovered a fumble that set up the Texans final score of the first half. He made one heck of a play on a zone read as well. Lions quarterback Josh Johnson stuck the ball in his running back's belly and read Bellamy. The former Georgia Bulldog defender closed on the running back for a quick second and then exploded back out to tackle Johnson for a loss.
Mistakes are going to happen in the game of football but how you respond to them will tell your football story. Quarterback Joe Webb III and receiver Steven Mitchell showed exactly how to bounce back from horrid mistakes. Webb III threw an interception that will make him cringe when he sees it on film this week. The tough part was that he had just thrown one of his prettiest passes of training camp/preseason on the play prior. He lofted a pass to the corner or the end zone for his big tight end Jordan Thomas for an apparent touchdown. Unfortunately, holding negated the score. On the next play, Webb III threw that drive-killing pick to Lions safety Andrew Adams. But, Bellamy recovered a fumble with just under two minutes to go in the half, giving Webb III and company new life. So, what did he do? He threw a deep ball dime to Vyncint Smith a few plays into the drive to give the Texans a 17-10 lead heading into the half.
Mitchell coughed up the rock after he made a short catch in the flat, fighting for the first down. Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara sprinted over to finish the tackle and he happened to dislodge the ball and rookie safety Will Harris scooped it up and ran it all the way in for a touchdown. The very first play after that fumble, Webb III went right back to Mitchell on a corner route for a 28-yard gain. Three plays later, Mitchell drew a defensive pass interference penalty that accounted for another 36 yards on the drive. That's going to be a great lesson for Bill O'Brien to show his team - a mistake doesn't define you... your response does.
Rookie Charles Omenihu can play up and down the line of scrimmage but he got some valuable edge time in the two minute drill late in the half. He threw a strong rip under move on the Lions left tackle to get his hand on Johnson that helped force an inaccurate throw. A few plays later, he chased Johnson out of the pocket who again missed his target due to Omenihu's pressure. Then, on the very next play, he got hands on Johnson with a swipe/rip move that forced a Derrick Baity interception just prior to the end of the half. He didn't register a sack or a tackle for a loss, but those three plays showed much more than what the box score did.
Linebacker Peter Kalambayi finished with five tackles but I thought he played well leading the defense for most of the night. He read plays well, shot gaps when he read run and tackled well. His stop on the Lions second play of the second half was inside linebacker play personified as he read zone, stepped up into his gap and stoned the runner for no gain. He also drilled a kickoff returner with the hit of the night... well, the defensive hit of the night.
The hit of the night was tight end Jerell Adams' stiff arm on a poor Lions defensive back in the second half. On 3rd-and-1, Adams caught a Webb III pass in the flat and turned up the field with one Lions defender in sight. He completely pie faced that defensive back which must have scared the other defensive back who was about five yards away. He tried to shove Adams out of bounds with the weakest shoulder tackle you've ever seen. Consequently, Adams ran through that defensive back like he was a toll booth on the Sam Houston Tollway. Adams then sprinted forward to complete the 30-yard gain.
As an aside, trying to figure out the tight end situation is going to be a nightmare. I mean, is there such thing as a good nightmare? Quite frankly, the tight end group has been outstanding. Rookie Kahale Warring hasn't been able to do much due to injuries in camp, but Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas, Darren Fells and Adams have been outstanding. The Texans can't keep five on the roster and that's a shame because they all deserve a spot on the 53.
Receiver/returner DeAndre Carter made his preseason debut this week in practice and it couldn't have come at a better time. With Keke Coutee banged up in the first preseason game, Carter stepped into that slot role and gave the Texans offense a shot in the arm. It started in practice as he was a key factor all day on Thursday vs. the Lions and then he had two key catches on the first drive that yielded first downs for the Texans offense.
How good was the defense in this game? Take a look at the Lions offensive drive chart in the first half: Three and out, three and out, three and out, gave up one first down on a defensive pass interference (field goal), three and out, fumble and interception. Four three and outs, two turnovers forced, 0-7 on third down and only three points given up - that's pretty darn good.
One of my favorite plays of the night was seemingly a simple breakup. The Lions had a third and long and Johnson eyed his receiver on a corner route against the Texans cover two. Cornerback Bradley Roby sprinted back into the lap of the receiver and broke it up. Seemed pretty straightforward, right? For me though, this one goes back to a moment in practice about two weeks ago. Similar to the Lions, the Texans first offense was in a hole against the first defense and faced a third down and long in a two minute type situation. Watson threw to the same area of the field behind Roby for a completion to Hopkins. This time, though, Roby sunk into the receiver's lap and was able to make the play in a similar down/distance/coverage situation. Roby will be a huge factor on this defense making plays like that one in 2019.
I'll finish with the player that made perhaps the biggest splash on the night - running back Buddy Howell. We've talked about running backs on this roster since the beginning of time it seems but Howell has been sort of overshadowed by the Duke Johnson Jr. trade and the two undrafted rookies that have had solid camps. But, in the fourth quarter last night, Howell went to work. He carried the rock 15 times for 84 yards and the Texans final touchdown of the night to ensure the victory. The Texans claimed Howell off waivers last year and he excelled on special teams in 2018 but didn't play one offensive snap during the season. When given the opportunity last night, he showed he could definitely play that position. Howell reminded everyone that there's another running back from south Florida that can run the rock in this Texans running back group.
There were a lot of things in this one to get excited about but it's time to move on to Dallas in Week 3. Can't wait! See ya then, everyone.
Houston Texans take on the Detroit Lions at NRG Stadium for the second game of the 2019 NFL Preseason.