With their offense intact and their defense progressing, the Texans rolled past the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night to improve to 2-0 in the preseason.
Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Ben Tate all shined in their preseason debuts, and the Texans' defense kept quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints in check while forcing three turnovers. The Texans set team preseason records with 436 yards of offense and 187 rushing yards as they won 27-14 at Reliant Stadium.
"We moved the ball really good," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "When 23 (Foster) goes back there, it definitely helps, but both our backs played really well. Matt (Schaub) played well, and getting Andre back on the field –throughout camp, we hadn't had all those guys out there, so it's nice just to get out there and get to work.
"(The Saints) didn't do a lot defensively, so it's good to see us getting some rhythm, which we haven't had because of those guys missing so much time."
Foster and Tate, who missed the preseason opener with hamstring injuries, combined for three touchdowns in the first half. Foster played in the first quarter and had five carries for 47 yards and two touchdowns. Tate, who missed his 2010 rookie season with an ankle injury, had a game-high nine 95 yards on nine carries.
Johnson had four catches for 100 yards. Schaub was a sterling 12-of-16 for 163 yards, good for a passer rating of 107.0. Brees had a rating of 76.2 on 7-of-14 passing for 109 yards in the first half.
"I credit Houston on playing very well tonight," Saints head coach Sean Payton said. "They did a good job with their execution. They whipped us."
The Saints marched down the field on the opening drive of the game, using 10 plays to get the ball to the Houston four-yard line. Defensive end Antonio Smith killed the drive with a sack and forced fumble on first-and-goal that was recovered by Mario Williams at the 28-yard line.
"The National Football League is a league of big plays, and you've got to find a way to make them," Kubiak said. "You can get the ball moved on you defensively, but if you step up and make a big play, that's what it's all about and that's what they did. Antonio made that big play early in the game that kind of flipped the emotions of the game and got everybody going."
The Texans capitalized on the turnover with a seven-play, 72-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown run by Foster. After forcing a punt on the Saints' next drive, they moved 80 yards in three plays – including a 48-yard pass from Schaub to Johnson and a 28-yard touchdown run by Foster – to go up 14-0 late in the first quarter.
"It felt good to get back out there with my team," Foster said. "The linemen made me feel real welcome back. The most important thing is we look real smooth as an offense. It was fun."
New Orleans responded with a 12-play, 70-yard scoring drive to start the second quarter. Rookie running back Mark Ingram scored on a one-yard touchdown run to make the score 14-7.
Tate entered the game for Foster on the subsequent drive and made a quick splash with 37 yards on his first three carries. The Texans added a 49-yard field goal by Neil Rackers, but the Saints countered with a 56-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Chase Daniel to wide receiver Joseph Morgan.
The Texans went up 24-14 on the next series with a four-yard touchdown run by Tate, capping a 12-play, 80-yard drive. That was the margin at halftime after Rackers uncharacteristically missed wide right on a 34-yard field goal attempt near the end of the second quarter. Still, the Texans' 24 points in the first half were a team preseason record.
"It was huge for us to start fast," Schaub said. "After last week's start against the Jets, we wanted to really go out and get a couple scores early. We were able to do that and give our defense a chance to play with a lead, and they were able to do that as well. It was a building block for us."
Things slowed down considerably in the second half, with a 40-yard third-quarter field goal by Rackers the only points scored after intermission.
Rookie outside linebacker Brooks Reed had two sacks and forced fumbles in the third quarter, one of which was recovered by rookie defensive lineman Scooter Berry. Cornerback Brice McCain had an interception in the third quarter for the Texans' third turnover of the game.
Texans backup Matt Leianrt played for almost the entire second half. He went 8-of-18 for 69 yards with a 55.1 passer rating. Running back Chris Ogbonnaya had 15 carries for 51 yards, and Javarris Williams added three carries for 18 yards. Defensive end Tim Jamison added a sack late in the fourth quarter.
Injuries: The Texans came out of the game largely unscathed. Kubiak said that nose tackle Earl Mitchell was "nicked up"; Mitchell said after the game that he tweaked his knee but is fine. Kubiak said that undrafted rookie wide receiver Lestar Jean had "a little shoulder bruise" that would require further evaluation.