It was only a preseason game, but for the first time ever, the Texans are flying home from Providence/Boston/Waltham with a win over the Patriots. The good guys beat the Patriots 20-9 on a wonderful opening night for the DeMeco Ryans-coached Texans. Here are my Harris Hits from one heck of a night in Foxboro, MA.
The story of the night had to be rookie WR Tank Dell. Five electrifying catches for 65 yards and a tuddy. My goodness, folks. I can't tell you how many times I've seen Tank play. Two or three in person at the University of Houston. I saw his week at the Senior Bowl (which was only a couple of days, really) and I've seen every single training camp practice. I knew he could truly explode on the scene but I didn't want to be too presumptuous or get cocky. But, after this one, it's hard not to think about him being even more of a factor for this offense than even I thought earlier in training camp. He was outstanding in so many facets and he should've scored more than just the one time. He was open on a deep dig route in the first quarter, but the ball was low. If that ball is thrown to a point where Tank can catch and run, it would've been a track meet that he wasn't going to lose. The backside cornerback was nowhere to be found on that play, so Tank would've walked away from the entire defense at that point. Early in the second quarter, he had Patriots CB Jack Jones beat by two steps deep down the far sideline, but QB Davis Mills couldn't connect with him.
Eventually, Mills found Tank and found him in the easiest way possible. Quick slant v. Off coverage - just get him the ball and watch him…OH MY GOD, he IS that fast! He blew upfield, eliminating angles and picked up 15 yards. The play that really got me, though, was the crossing route a little later in the drive. When he caught that ball, he was not even in the middle of the field. He then beat one defender and then threw a hesitation move on another. It was after the hesitation move that I lost my collective you-know-what. He froze that defensive back and without missing a beat, turned the corner and ran inside the ten yard line. Well, he didn't just run, he left the defender in the dust AND picked up yardage before stepping out of bounds. That acceleration is what guys like T.Y. Hilton and DeSean Jackson had and those dudes were SPECIAL.
Tank's TD catch will be the stuff of legend, years down the road. I think he expected Davis to throw him a lob fade to the back corner of the end zone, but Davis threw a back shoulder rope. That's why, in my opinion, Tank didn't corral the ball initially. He spun around and slowed it down enough to eventually haul in the pass for the Texans' first TD of the season and Tank's first in the NFL. As I wrote back at the Senior Bowl, he just does everything at a completely different rate of speed than anyone else on the field.
The local and national pundits will dissect the four pass performance for QB C.J. Stroud every which way. I won't. As we drove up to Gillette Stadium Thursday afternoon in preparation for the matchup with the Patriots, I told myself that whatever happened for Stroud, good, bad or otherwise, there was a strong body of work already established through eleven practices of training camp and four weeks of OTA/minicamps in the offseason. Therefore, it made no sense to overreact, one way or the other, to whatever was going to/did happen in a short outing in his first NFL action. This preseason game was just the first opportunity for many to see him in this Texans offense. As such, I won't lose sleep over just four passes without a ton of key personnel (on either side of the ball, actually) on the field. One thing we've learned about Stroud is that a rough day usually hasn't been followed up by another rough day. The progress he made in week one of OTA to week two of OTA or day two in training camp to day four in training camp was impressive and extensive. I'll hang my hat on that trend, hoping for a sustained positive outing next week against Miami.
I will, though, pay heed to the performance of the Texans middle linebackers, though - Denzel Perryman and Henry To'oTo'o. After the Texans signed Perryman, I got some of his film from his time with the Raiders and it was clear as day how fast and explosive to, and through, the ball he was..and still is. He threw a beautiful coffeehouse pass rush on the Patriots on the first third down of the game for his first sack. My goodness, everyone met at the quarterback on that play, but Perryman's speed and guile got him to Patriots QB Bailey Zappe first. On a subsequent drive, he ran down a Patriots running back for a play that I was certain was going to pop for a first down. He shut it down for a one or two yard gain.
The rookie from Alabama stepped into the lineup for Perryman and the defense didn't miss a beat. To'o To'o sniffed out the ball on nearly every single play. I remember him missing one tackle that was cleaned up a yard or two later. That was it. He put his body through some ball carriers throughout the night. He led the Texans in tackles with five and the two mike backers teamed for nine tackles on the night. The first big play that he made was absolutely brilliant. The Patriots caught the Texans in man coverage and tried to pick off To'o To'o to throw to the running back up the sideline on a third and two. To'o To'o sprinted through the pick and tackled the back short of the first down.
QB Davis Mills and Case Keenum took advantage of the Patriots defense after they arrived in the game. They both threw the ball well, completing 18 passes for a high percentage. The three QBs have been accurate with the ball and the offense has improved throughout training camp. Thursday night, that continued for the most part. Both threw a touchdown and led the operation well. There was just one procedure/formation penalty for the offense that I can remember, then again, it's dark thirty on this plane on the way home.
I loved seeing Mills throwing off platform as he did to pick up a key third down on his first series. Not to mention, he was rolling hard left and threw back across his body to TE Mason Schreck, who had a solid receiving game against the Patriots (two for 17 yards).
I don't know what the Texans call it, but Keenum's touchdown to Alex Bachman is, was and always will be one of the staples of the West Coast offense - Sprint option. With Johnny Johnson III running some interference in tandem with WR Alex Bachman, QB Case Keenum executed sprint left option to perfection. He rolled hard to his left and as he did, Bachman drove up and then out to the pylon. Johnson created enough interference as Bachman got a step on his defender and Keenum put the ball one yard out of bounds. Bachman reached out, snagged the pass, dragged his feet and had his first TD as a Texan. So beautiful. That one play has created some of the greatest highlights in NFL history and it helped give the Texans their final score of the night.
One of the biggest surprises for the Texans defense was DL Khalil Davis. It wasn't so much that I was shocked how instrumentally effective he was against the New England offensive front, it's that he JUST got to Houston, what, three or four days ago? He made a huge stop on the Patriots' two point attempt after their only touchdown. He's stout and thick and he more than held his own at the line of scrimmage throughout the evening.
The second quarter was given a huge jump start by Macclenny, FL's finest Mike Boone. The former Cincinnati Bearcat RB reeled off consecutive runs of eight yards and 12 yards early in the second quarter which seemed to give the offense some life. Even though the Texans fumbled a toss play a few plays later, Boone already set the offensive wheels in motion. Boone flashed some juice, getting small between the tackles to shoot through into the secondary.
The defensive team speed was so impressive on this night. That unit closed on the ball and tackled well throughout most of the game. Linebacker Christian Harris had one heck of an open field tackle on the first second down of the game. Open field tackling is such a toss up in the first action in the preseason because no one tackles in training camp, honestly. Harris held the receiver four yards short of the first down and that allowed DeMeco and the defensive staff to bring heat after the sudden change situation for a sack on the next play.
Seeing DL Hassan Ridgeway (huge) tackle RB J.J. Taylor (very small) was like seeing a dad tackle his son at a weekend BBQ football game. Ridgeway just swallowed him and it was like Taylor disappeared. Then, on the next play, Ridgeway burst through and helped create a TFL with his power/penetration.
I thought both Jonathan Greenard and rookie Will Anderson Jr. were incredibly disruptive in all facets from the edge. That was really fun to watch. All of the defensive ends, honestly, were productive. Chase Winovich had a sack returning to the location where he was drafted. He looks better and better every day since returning from injury. I can't stress enough that the Texans just can't have enough edge DUDES on this team. Throw in Jacob Martin who has been fantastic in camp and there's some pass rush/setting the edge possibilities for certain.
Second year DL Kurt Hinish was equally impressive all night long. He forced interior pressure on his pass rush with power. He was excellent with his hands to get free with a TFL. I loved seeing his progress since missing a few days with injury earlier in training camp.
FB/TE Andrew Beck had a couple of nice insert blocks to open holes for Mike Boone and company. That was nice to see for sure. What wasn't nice was seeing him on the turf after a special teams play. My heart was not feeling that at all. Hopefully, Beck will get back to work soon.
Alright, that'll do it. That was a fun, cathartic night and a dry one, for the most part. And, that's a win for your trusty sideline reporter. See ya next week, everyone!!