Harris Hits: Week 1 at New Orleans

The expression goes that you should always leave everything you have out on the field. This Texans squad just left it all out on the field against one of the best teams in the NFL, playing in front of one of the most raucous home crowds in the NFL, on Monday Night Football. I’ve been drained at the end of games before, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been as exhausted as this one, which probably mimics how the players, coaches and fans all felt after a 30-28 gut punch loss to the New Orleans Saints. That’s the bad news - the loss. The good news? It was just Week 1 and this team showed grit and fight to be proud of and forced one heck of a team to its limit. Here are my Harris hits from another unbelievable evening of football.

Let’s start with The Dude of the evening. Fifty seconds left in the game, no time outs. The Texans practiced this situation EVERY day in training camp. Deshaun Watson, battered and bruised, gobbled up those 75 yards in two plays and put the Texans back in the lead, amazingly. Watson finished 20-of-30 for 268 yards and three touchdowns. He accounted for all four on the night, in front of a national television audience, after having played just 14 plays in the preseason. After the touchdown, he took a hard fall on his hip/backside that was painful, no doubt, but Watson kept making one play after the next.

He dropped a beautiful ball on DeAndre Hopkins on the first play of that last drive. That couldn’t have been thrown any better and it showed how the moment will never faze that young man. Then, the throw to Kenny Stills for the touchdown? Might have been even better. It was clear that the Texans knew that look could produce all night long and Watson went to it as Stills won 1-on-1 down the field for six. Watson took a shot from the nickel safety who was blitzing the edge and he still drilled the pass to Stills, setting off delirium on the Texans sideline and for good reason.

I’ve seen Watson do some magical things, but to lead an offense with an offensive line that probably still needs name tags to know who is who, an offensive backfield that featured two backs that arrived in mid-to-late August, throwing to a receiver (Stills) that just got here, I don’t know that I have the words. When I put my pretty little head on the pillow early Tuesday night, I’ll think about that, more than anything, how dangerous this offense can be once everyone gets a few more practices/games under their belt.

Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus had one of his best games, picking off his first-ever interception and then racking up the only Texans sack on the night. He also made a couple of solid stops for little to no gain in the run game too. I’ve mentioned throughout training camp how good he’s been and that was truly evident last night.

The first half Texans defense was effective, keeping the Saints out of the end zone. After a lone field goal, the Saints hadn’t scored a touchdown in six quarters of regular season play against the Texans dating back to 2015 but...

...the Saints offense came alive in the second half, which was to be expected. Running back/offensive weapon Alvin Kamara was the real difference maker and I’m glad that we don’t see another guy like him. Honestly, there’s not another guy like him in the NFL. He might be a top five player in this league and he changes everything for that offense.

Last year, the Saints defense gave up just over 80 yards per game and was second in the league in rush defense. On Monday night, the Texans ran for 85 yards in the first half alone. Then, the Texans tacked on nearly another C-note in the second half to total 180 on the day. The offensive line owned the line of scrimmage in the run game throughout the night. And, yes, the pass protection will improve as the group works together in future weeks.

That deep catch by Will Fuller V in the first quarter just after the Mercilus interception might be one of the best catches, if not THE best, Fuller V has ever made. During the game, I thought it was a brilliant catch, but after seeing it back on the plane on replay, it was WOW. To have him back is just so valuable for this offense.

DeAndre Hopkins might have had a little bit of a rough start, based on his own standards, but man, did he put on a show for the rest of the game! The first touchdown was just brilliant work on star cornerback Marshon Lattimore. He worked to get separation at the back of the end zone and then flashed unreal body control to make sure he secured the catch and got both feet in bounds.

The second touchdown catch was one that I had been talking a great deal about leading up to this game. The Texans have a group of wide receivers that can all play inside, including Hopkins and that’s one of his least talked about assets. On that play, Hopkins moved inside and I was standing about 20 yards away from the spot. From my vantage point, I could see the Saints secondary not sure how to adjust to him being inside based on the coverage. It looked like one safety wanted to change the coverage because he had Hop 1-on1, but they stayed in that look. Watson knew immediately where he wanted to go and fired one to Hopkins who beat the safety to the inside for the touchdown that gave the Texans a 21-10 lead in the third quarter.

Running backs Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson were about as good as we could have hoped when they got their hands on the ball. I can’t imagine that either one of them knew exactly what they were doing all night long, but they came up huge. Hyde pounded the rock through some gaping holes, racking up 10 carries for 83 yards. Last year, the Saints run defense gave up an AVERAGE of 80 yards per game. Furthermore, he ran with some ferocity and anger, which is not a bad thing in the slightest. Duke finished with 57 yards rushing on nine carries and added 33 yards on four receptions. Both will adjust more and more to the offense, growing in it week in and week out, which could make this unit that much more difficult to stop.

In the second/third quarters, the Texans went seven plays for 104 yards and a touchdown, then 16 plays for 80 yards and a touchdown, then 9 plays for 70 yards and a touchdown. Umm, that’s phenomenal and shows what this offense can do.

There’s always more, but it’s time to move on to ready for the home opener vs. Jacksonville. Unfortunately, that one is coming up quickly on this Sunday afternoon. See ya then, everyone.

Houston Texans take on the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the first game of the 2019 NFL Season.

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