The feeling of being back at NRG Stadium, with the Texans finally playing a football game, was just indescribable. I was on a high all night long. Our pal and radio partner Andre Ware was Homefield Advantage Captain. The Stadium was buzzing throughout the night with fans from both sides and, of course, the Texans left with a win after a 90-yard drive in the final two minutes of the game. Oh, just awesome. Here are my Harris Hits from the win over the Saints in Game 1 of the preseason.
I spoke with head coach Lovie Smith after the game and one of the things that I asked him was whether this was the PERFECT kind of night in the preseason - a win, exciting one at that, with plenty of teachable moments. "Absolutely." He mentioned some things he wanted to see improve, penalties being first and foremost, but he loved the effort and the way the team handled situational work at the end of the first half and, of course, at the end of the game.
I'm pretty sure most everyone that left that building on Saturday night, thinking back on the game, thought about rookie RB Dameon Pierce. When he came into the game, I giddily whispered to Marc and Andre that he was in the game and then got nervous a little bit. From the moment that I studied him at Florida until his first carry last night, I lauded the young running back, stating that he had a great future ahead of him. I've been wrong on players before but I so badly didn't want to be wrong about Pierce. Why? Texans fans have craved a young, exciting ball carrier since Arian Foster was lost to injury in 2015. As such,, I wanted my projection for him for the past six months or so to be accurate. One game doesn't tell the whole story, but dadgum, he was fun to watch. He had just five carries, but he showed it all off on Saturday night. The 20-yarder on his first run was pure gas - started left, cutback on the edge defender who flailed at him, stuck foot in the ground and hit the boosters up the field for 20 yards.
However, one major reason why I really fell in love with Pierce was his no-nonsense, "I'm going to bury you" attitude on the field. He's one of the most outgoing, fun-loving guys off the field, but on it, he's snatching souls. On one run, he bounced to the outside and Saints DB Vincent Gray lowered his head to strike Pierce. The Texans rookie delivered his own blow and picked up three or four more yards after the contact (and then 15 extra yards for the penalty on Gray). Then, a series later, Saints LB Chase Hansen came on a blitz and Pierce picked him up, literally, and placed him on the ground not so gently in pass protection. For my game preview, I said this about Pierce:
"For (Dameon) Pierce, in particular, this is the first time to put on the Texans jersey, name on the back, play in front of an NRG crowd AND, most importantly as I've mentioned, get tackled. He gets to work on ball security too and the opportunity to make a rookie statement to get the Texans fans hyped as well."
He did that. Now, the challenge…do it each week, even better, and for the next five months.
For the past nine years, Texans President Greg Grissom finds me on the field before a game and asks me for one player that's going to be key that afternoon or night, one guy he should for sure watch. He almost forgot to ask me this time and before he took off on official Prez business, I grabbed his arm and said..
For a second he looked at me, then realized what I said. Cashman is Blake Cashman and he was fantastic on Saturday night. In my game preview, I highlighted each position and discussed players to watch, etc… In the linebacker preview, I said this about the former Minnesota Golden Gopher star
"So, this becomes a true audition (and showcase) for a guy like Blake Cashman who has been healthy, and awesome, honestly, in camp."
I saw it in OTAs, but really saw early in training camp how explosively fast Cashman is. Without pads on, that manifested itself in outstanding pass coverage, which certainly came to play last night as Cashman had an excellent pass breakup nearly 25 yards downfield. Furthermore, he tied for the team lead in tackles with Jalen Reeves-Maybin. His feet are so quick and as he's gotten more and more comfortable in this defense, he's been even more "Johnny on the Spot". Speaking of Johnny…
Three years ago, the University of Oregon traveled to Arizona State for a massive matchup in the desert. Although the Ducks took an L, a WR by the name of Johnny Johnson III flourished. He finished with ten catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns. After the game, I went to my Draft database to put his name with the tab entitled "Watch More Later." Yes, I'm an old now and there's no telling how much I'll remember so I have a Watch More Later tab to remind me. Unfortunately, COVID, shortened schedules and changing QB the past two years disrupted the Oregon passing game and quelled Johnson III's momentum from a great 2019 season. But, when I heard that the Texans had signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent, I was stoked. Since he arrived for rookie minicamp in May, he's not missed a day, not one rep it seems and he's just been stacking good days. As a result, I said this about the receivers in my game preview heading into Saturday night.
"Keep an eye on #82 Connor Wedingtonand rookie #89Johnny Johnson III. Neither one of them has missed a day, or a rep, and have really shined in practice lately."
For a long while on Saturday night, I wasn't sure that this preview premonition had any legs. Then, on the 90-yard drive to finish the game, Johnson III made a catch on the far sideline, spun from one defender, then spun away from another defender and ran all the way to the six yard line. The 19-yard catch had NRG buzzing. Then, with :30 seconds remaining, QB Jeff Driskel looked Johnson III's way again near the sideline and ripped one his way. Johnson III made the catch then tapped one foot and the other for the go-ahead touchdown.
No receiver had more than two catches on the night, but Jalen Camp made the most of his two catches. On his first play of the night, QB Jeff Driskel liked the matchup that Camp had in a one-on-one situation. As such, he lofted one high into the end zone to give his talented pass catcher a shot at a 50/50 ball. Camp snatched it out of the air and wasn't about to let go as his feet both came down in the end zone for the Texans first touchdown. Then, on the final drive, he completely lost his DB in man coverage and was wide open down the field. Driskel easily found him for a 49 yard gain that gave all of us hope that maybe a go-ahead touchdown wasn't out of the realm of possibility.
The defensive pass rush was on point throughout the night and it came alive without sending blitzes. Wait, I don't recall the Texans blitzing at all on Saturday night. That makes the five sacks that the Texans produced even more impressive.
During training camp, I extolled the pass rushing virtues of two dudes, in particular, Ogbo Okoronkwo and Derek Rivers. I could watch them pass rush all day. O-Beezy gave first round OT Trevor Penning a lesson all night long. Penning had no answers for Okoronkwo who beat him one-on-one at least three different times, including the one time Okoronkwo was nailed for a 15-yard penalty for hitting Saints QB Ian Book low. On the next play, Okoronkwo recovered a fumble to right that wrong. Then, later, he just breezed past Penning on the edge for a sack. He had a sack, a TFL, a QB hurry and that recovery.
It was Rivers, though, that led the team with two sacks. He finished the game just sprinting past the Saints left tackle, sacking Ian Book near the end zone for his second sack. He's just so bouncy and twitchy off the edge and of all the edge rushers on this team, he's the one on a pass rush down that I'd probably fear the most out on the edge. Tackles just struggle to get hands on him and if they do, he has counters for days.
The other two sacks came courtesy of the rooks. DL Kurt Hinish finally got to put a hit on his former Notre Dame teammate Ian Book for one sack. Then, Thomas Booker IV chased Book out of bounds a little later in the game for another. That made five on the night, an impressive total for DL just going one-on-one all night long, honestly. These two are impressive young dudes who played a lot of college football at two storied programs. They've made a real impression, to say the least.
The Texans takeaway train got rolling early. DB Tremon Smith reeled in the first interception of the season off a tipped pass. Perhaps the most important takeaway, though, came courtesy of LB Tae Davis. The Saints led 13-10 and a touchdown would've put this one out of reach. The Saints moved all the way down to the Texans five yard line and handed the ball to rookie RB Abram Smith. The Saints RB was held up by a couple of Texans and then BAM, Davis punched the ball out. I moved back behind the end zone and had a GREAT view of the ball out on the ground. Eventually, DB Fabian Moreau fell on the ball saving not just a touchdown but a surefire FG attempt.
He didn't play much in the game, but DB Jalen Pitre more than made his presence felt. On the Saints second drive, he submarined RB Dwayne Washington on a tackle for a loss. It was the type of impact play he made throughout the past two years at Baylor. It's been clear for a while, but Saturday was even more confirmation how important Pitre will be for this defense in 2022 and beyond.
It was great to see QB Jeff Driskel lead the Texans on the 90-yard drive to finish the game. With Kyle Allen out of the game due to COVID, Driskel played the last three quarters of the game and saved his best for last. He completed four of five passes covering 85 yards and the one incompletion was a throwaway. He handled that end of game situation brilliantly and even did a solid job on the end of the first half drive too.
There are plenty of things to work on and I'm sure there are going to be things I missed. However, there's more time for that work in Los Angeles on Friday night. Can't wait! See ya then, everyone!
Check out some photos from the Texans, Saints matchup in Preseason Week 1.