Well, I'll admit that wasn't fun, but it was a preseason game that provided a TON of teachable moments. Let's dive into my Harris Hits from the 28-3 loss to the Dolphins.
The game couldn't have started any better. The Dolphins ran an RPO that was popular for the Texans back in 2018 - 2020. But, LB Christian Harris did a tremendous job taking away the first read, the flat throw to the TE. As a result, Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa was forced to go to his second read but Texans DL Jacob Martin was in the vicinity, making that throw difficult for the Dolphins QB. Tua didn't have much on the throw and LB Denzel Perryman stepped right in front of the receiver for an easy pick and a great way to start the game.
On the ensuing drive, Texans RB Dameon Pierce powered down to the goal line on a run that came up half a yard short. He ran through the tackle attempt by 6-8, 300 lb. Raekwon Davis to power down to the goal line. I thought Davis was going to swallow up Pierce, but the Texans RB RAN RIGHT THROUGH him with some serious power. Pierce, unfortunately, came up two feet short. Then, the wheels came off on that drive - delay of game, two incompletions and no points.
The Dolphins first offensive play after the Texans drive came up short was a definite false start that wasn't called. Thankfully, the Texans trio of defenders kept playing and nearly tackled the Dolphins RB in the end zone. Unfortunately, that play was one of the last highlights for the defense on this day. Tagovailoa hit TE Durham Smythe on third down for nine yards and a first down…and the Dolphins were off to the races.
That was a MAJOR theme in the game. The Texans were solid on first and second down throughout the game, but on third down? The Dolphins were ultra-successful, converting nine of 15 third downs and two of two on fourth down. That's 11 of 17 on third/fourth down. Wow. The Dolphins converted all three third down situations on that drive. 14 plays later, Dolphins RB Raheem Mostert sauntered in for the first TD of the day.
But, the Texans offense responded, in particular, rookie QB C.J. Stroud. I've said often since Stroud arrived in Houston that he has taken huge strides the second time. The first week of OTA was tough, but the second week was light years better. The first week of training camp had some hurdles, but in week two of training camp, Stroud found his rhythm. The first preseason game wasn't his best performance, but his second performance was much more what we've seen from Stroud in OTA/minicamp/training camp. He was much more comfortable in all phases. He was in total control. He missed a couple of throws down on the goal line but after looking at the game tape again, I'm not putting those on him.
Then, on the second drive, he got it rolling with two darts to WR Nico Collins for 21 yards on those two throws. Then, his best throw of the day came on a bootleg to the right and he dropped a DIME on Noah Brown on the sideline. That throw was just ridiculous.
Then, he hit TE Dalton Schultz when Stroud saw a free blitzer in his face and immediately eyed his hot read (Schultz). Dolphins DE Emmanuel Ogbah had a free run because the Dolphins ran a fire zone off from the left side, so the OL slid protection to the left side, leaving Ogbah a free run. Stroud saw it immediately and was ready to go to his hot read (Schultz) but he had to wait for Schultz to get his eyes back to him. Once Schultz did, Stroud threw a dart to him for a six yard completion.
On the next play, Stroud threw a beautiful touch pass to Robert Woods on the far sideline. THAT was quintessential Stroud. Ball placement was A+ on that throw. He ripped it to the opposite sideline where only Woods could make the catch.
Even on the final third down of the drive, Stroud threw an accurate pass that could've been completed for a first down conversion. Dolphins CB Xavien Howard did make a solid play, but it was a pass that could've been caught for another first down.
For as tough as that game was to watch, I left there happy, VERY happy with Stroud's performance, even though the offense generated only three points. A minimum of three Stroud passes would've kept drives alive beyond what he'd already done during the game.
Tackling is a tricky beast at this time of year because it's the one thing teams don't do in training camp. That tricky beast reared its ugly head in this one for the Texans. The Texans did not tackle well in this game. Defensive run fits weren't great on top of that. DeMeco Ryans and DC Matt Burke will have plenty of film to teach from after this unfortunate afternoon.
Texans DB Jalen Pitre can't be the first 2nd/3rd level player FROM THE BACKSIDE OF a run play, beating linebackers to the ball if the run defense is going to improve from last in the league to, well, being much better in 2023. Pitre is a stud but that can't happen repeatedly and that did happen a few times in this game. I've seen much better from this unit in TC and last week v. New England.
The good news, the REALLY good news, is that the Texans have Will Anderson Jr. in red, white and blue. He announced his presence with AUTHORITY after the Texans field goal drive. He BLASTED into the backfield on play action, RAN OVER the running back and chopped the ball out of Dolphins QB Skylar Thompson's hands for a sack/forced fumble. I mean, if there's a play that ALL Texans fans will be buzzing about on their way home, it's Will Anderson's strip sack/Terminator destroyer role play. As I said on the radio broadcast, thankfully, the Texans traded up for Will Anderson Jr. Thankfully!
Once the Dolphins got the ball back, Anderson's opposite number Jonathan Greenard completely stoned a run. He ran right through the Dolphins LT and suplexed Dolphins RB Salvon Ahmed for a TFL. Greenard ran through some faces in the run game.Two plays after Greenard's TFL, TE Eric Saubert moved to FB and was asked to kick out Greenard on a run play. However, JG planted him on the spot with a violent collision. That's the way the run should be played consistently.
After that, though, there wasn't a ton to get excited about on defense. One guy whose arrow is still pointed up, though, is DL Khalil Davis. I mentioned him as one of my players to watch prior to the game because he's been crushing it at training camp since he got here. He's a Kansas City guy who went to the same high school as Maliek Collins. He's stout, compact and powerful. He had a run stuff later in the game, fighting through a block, spinning back away from the block and making the stop at the line of scrimmage. I don't know how the depth works with these interior guys on the 53-man roster, but Davis has been all kinds of promising, to say the least.
One of my all-time favorite preseason plays was Adedayo Odeleye sack. The Texans' International Pathway player has continued to improve and, as he told me, constantly train his body to play out on the edge in the NFL. He's gotten better each and every practice and it shows in his performance on the field. He broke through an OT's block, then burst through the RB's block and sacked Dolphins QB Skylar Thompson. I don't care what program he's in, that was a DUDE play.
There's not much more to say about this one. Put it in the rearview, learn from the mistakes and get better next week in the last week of training camp in New Orleans. See ya then, everyone.