The preseason came to an end on Sunday night as the Texans closed out the game and the preseason with a 17-13 win over the New Orleans Saints. Here are my Harris Hits from the Texans second win in the 2023 preseason.
The first offense got two series and after the first one, I got a little worried that the offense might leave on a rough note. But, after a JOLT from Tank Dell on a 27-yard punt return, the offense took care of business in a hurry.
The Saints were in man coverage, so as RB Dameon Pierce swung out to the right side, Saints LB Jaylon Smith went with him. Brown flew up the sideline and took his defender with him. Schultz then ran a masterful route on Saints DB Alontae Taylor. Schultz ran hard to the flat, pivoted and returned back inside. In doing so, he left Taylor on his backside hip and Stroud threw to the spot, to a now open Schultz. He got a little pressure under his arm on the right side, so he left the ball a little high, but Schultz snagged it, got a key first down and a 13-yard gain to the 24-yard line.
Schultz SNATCHED that ball out of the air too. Stroud wasn't able to fully complete his throwing motion which forced the ball to be a bit high. But, man, Schultz wasn't about to let a golden opportunity pass him by. That route, too, wow. He had Taylor going in circles, not knowing whether Schultz was going inside or outside.
Another key on that drive was Dameon Pierce running like he was proving a point. He always runs like that but it felt like there was a message he was trying to send on Sunday night. He got some help on a key run on first down, just after Schultz's first down catch.
TE Teagan Quitoriano, LT Laremy Tunsil and LG Michael Deiter caved in the left side and Dalton Keene came across and kicked out Saints LB Jaylon Smith. Keene's block was more visible, but Quitoriano took the DE and knocked him five yards downfield. He and Tunsil pinned all the Saints on that side of the pile. Those blocks opened things up for Pierce to blow through a WIDE open hole, eye S Lonnie Johnson Jr and make his greeting to the former Texans DB. Pierce picked up 14 huge yards and put the Texans in goal-to-go territory.
Pierce was shot out of a cannon on that run. As soon as he saw the seam, he took off like a bat out of he—. Lonnie Johnson Jr really didn't want to make that greeting, but I'll give him credit, he got Pierce to the ground.
Finally, it was great to see the second drive end in a touchdown, the first C.J. Stroud drive that ended in a touchdown. Each of the other first round QB selections in the 2023 led touchdown drives this week of the preseason and after Stroud hit Nico Collins for a three yard TD catch, he'd done it too.
On the touchdown, the Texans came out in a 2x2 alignment. To the left, Quitoriano and Keene were in a Y wing situation, while WR Robert Woods and Nico Collins were in a stack alignment to the opposite side. Woods went in motion, creating a 3x1 situation to the field. On the snap, it turned into an old school, two man mesh route. Woods crossed back over to the opposite side, running mesh with Nico, who ran the same route to the opposite side. The key is knowing that most teams are going to be in man coverage on that play, so when the two routes "mesh" in the middle of the field, one, or both, of the defensive backs covering the WR gets picked off. And, that's exactly what happened. The Saints CB covering Collins was late and then hesitated when Woods ran interference. Stroud had plenty of time and floated one to Collins wide open for his first NFL touchdown. 7-0 Texans.
It was a great run/pass mix on that short drive and it gave the Texans the lead.
The Texans defense couldn't have started out better creating three three and outs early in the game. But, Saints veteran Pro Bowl TE Jimmy Graham turned into Superman once again on a Saints scoring drive. On the first great catch, Texans LB Christian Harris was DRAPED ALL OVER Graham and somehow Saints QB Jameis Winston snuck the ball into a six inch space and Graham won the wrestling match for the ball. It was GREAT coverage too.
On the second play, Graham literally ran at Texans DB Ka'dar Hollman, pivoted like he was boxing him out in basketball and then went up for the rebound. That was the route - run at him, box him out, turn around and catch it. There was nothing Hollman could do and that's how the Saints tied it.
The Texans run defense was much more gap sound and physical than it was last week against Miami. On the first drive of the game, the Texans gave up a couple of first downs. But, on a second down and five after those first downs, Texans DB Jalen Pitre knifed into the backfield and made a stop for no gain. An incomplete pass then ended the drive and forced a Saints punt. That Pitre stop was what the defense lacked in the loss to Miami last week and it'll be one of the major keys to run defense all year. Yes, we don't want Pitre leading the team in tackles again, but his presence is needed for sure.
His college teammate Grayland Arnold had an interception, but told me in the locker room that he'd remember the two that got away more than the pick. He was in position for a couple of takeaways but after darting into the end zone to register his interception, he couldn't quite hold on to another one on the final drive. That said, Arnold has been excellent in preseason games and has gotten better each and every day on the field throughout the entire training camp. He's a true baller for sure.
The guy who DID come up with the interception at the end of the game was recently acquired DB Cameron Dantzler. I was standing directly in the line of that throw and I thought "Damn, Haener completed another one; this is going down to the wire." But, out of nowhere, Dantzler darted in front of Saints TE Lucas Krull and came up with a snazzy interception. I mean, that was NICE!
I don't know how the numbers will eventually work out on the 53-man roster in the secondary, but it's going to be really tough to part with any of the guys in the secondary. On Sunday night, Shaquill Griffin played probably his best ball of training camp. He knocked away a Jameis Winston pass early in the game with pristine man coverage. The aforementioned Grayland Arnold was terrific. Dantzler had the pick to seal it and he's only been here a few days. This is going to be one of the toughest cuts on the squad.
After the Saints tied the game at ten with a field goal in the third quarter, QB E.J. Perry led a drive with a number of big plays.
The first one was a 3rd and six around midfield. Texans QB E.J. Perry, a Brown University alum, threw an absolute dart to WR Adam Humphries who froze a DB in man coverage for a key first down. That was a frozen rope throw by Perry and an excellent route by Humphries.
A couple of plays later, the Texans faced a 3rd and three. This time, Perry lofted one down the field to Xavier Hutchinson. The former Iowa State All-American wiggled free from illegal contact and leapt in the air to snag the pass from Perry for an electric third down conversion catch. That Hutchinson catch moved the ball down to the Saints 11-yard line and it was one of his team leading four catches on the night.
Then, the Texans went back to old school offset I formation and this time went even more old school with an isolation play (that may not be what the Texans call it, but that's in essence what it was). Dalton Keene is a MAN. Isolation is just isolating the FB on a LB and Keene absolutely blasted the LB right in the face in the A gap. LT Tyler Beach kicked out the DE. LG Keaton Sutherland and C Jarrett Patterson comboed on the NT and the backside LB. Keene drilled the playside LB on the iso and RB Mike Boone did the rest. He sped through the hole and then started spinning out of tackles and didn't stop until he was in the end zone with the game winning score.
RB Mike Boone was a DUDE all training camp long. Every day that fans were on hand at training camp, invariably, a fan would ask me about Boone's chances of making the team. They were asking me because they saw in those practices #22 continuing to make plays in both the run game and pass game. One thing I saw tonight that I loved was his catch-to-run efficiency, for a lack of saying it. On one route, he caught the ball and within an instant, tucked it under his arm and headed up field. It was instantaneous and it's something that not all backs can do. Boone does it naturally and it allows him to be a real weapon after the catch.
The Texans depth on the interior defensive line has been stretched thin a bit at the end of training camp. As such, DeMeco Ryans and Matt Burke weren't going to play Maliek Collins, Sheldon Rankins and Hassan Ridgeway a ton in this game, so Byron Cowart, Kurt Hinish and Khalil Davis had to play a ton of snaps over the last 2.5 quarters of play. Not only did all three get a bunch of snaps and were pretty gassed at the end of the game, they each played magnificently. They produced TFLs, hurries and pressures on the QB all night. I felt like those three were my MVPs on the night with the way they handled the middle of the defense.
I thought the tackling was much better than it was against Miami, but there were still a number of whiff attempts on tackles that kept a couple of drives alive for the Saints.
I had deja vu tonight, the real kind. Let me explain. When I was at the Senior Bowl back in January, Tank Dell was back returning punts and the one thing that stood out on the very first one that he caught, and returned, was how it looked like he was moving at a higher rate of speed than anyone. On his first return in Mobile, he started one direction, pivoted and went out the exact other direction…just like he did on his one return against the Saints. I saw him do that and it immediately took me back to Mobile. Even at this level, Tank is moving at a faster clip than everyone else on the field with him.
Alright, our short flight is landing in two minutes, so let's cut it here and get ready for Baltimore and week one! Love it!