Everyone remembers the first of anything. First day of college. First time driving a car. First time at a concert. Well, the Texans first trip to SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles will be remembered for a crazy, competitive football game where Jeff Driskel found a way, again, to pull out the win. Here are my Harris Hits from a wild night near the Forum in Inglewood.
I'll start with Driskel doing it again, less than a week after he led a 90-yard drive for a touchdown to beat the Saints. He led the Texans on an 82-yard drive for the game winner for the second straight week. The key play that kept the drive going was from Driskel himself. As he scrambled to the right side of the formation on third and 15, he was running straight at me. I took one glance at him to make sure he wasn't going to end up in my lap, literally, and then I saw an opening that he could exploit. Thankfully Jeff saw it too and hit the gas up the sidelines. Initially, he was given the first down, but, upon review, the ball was marked short of the first down. RB Dare Ogunbowale subsequently got the first down, which moved the ball to the Texans 42-yard line at the two-minute warning.
Considering the NFL eliminated overtime in the preseason in 2021, I felt good at that moment about, at least, coming away with a game tying field goal. But, Driskel wanted more right out of the two-minute warning timeout. He launched deep to WR Phillip Dorsett who had two Rams DBs beat down the middle of the field. I had the perfect view for Rams DB Tyler Hall's snatch of Dorsett's jersey for the defensive pass interference. It resulted in a 46-yard "gain" down to the Rams 12-yard line and now it was time to go for the win. After a Troy Hairston reception, Driskel faced 2nd and six from the LA eight-yard line. When the Texans lined up on the second down play, I moved to the back of the end zone. I could see immediately that the linebacker and safety to the side of TE Mason Schreck were confused and asking for help. Lo and behold, Driskel took advantage of the confusion and fired to Schreck in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
Schreck's touchdown was the second on the night for the tight end group. The first was from rookie Teagan Quitoriano who scored on Kyle Allen's first touchdown throw in the preseason. Before the game, Texans President Greg Grissom asked me for a name, one guy he should definitely watch in that game. I thought for a second and mulled over two names - I settled on one "Quitoriano" but the other name in my mind was "Schreck" So, it was good to see those two guys get in the end zone.
When Quitoriano, the rookie TE from Oregon State, came into the game, I focused on him as much as I could because I wanted to see him block. That is SOOOO not the sexiest thing in the world to do, but, for years, the Texans have sought out a TE who could really control the edge and make life difficult for defensive ends/OLB in the run game. I thought he was the best blocking TE in last year's draft class and he is going to grow into a good one. He got called for a holding that was unfortunate because it seemed like he just got all tangled up with the Rams DE after delivering a solid strike off the snap. He then had a great block on a LB, knocking him back three or four yards on a run play. Then, on a key third and one on the third quarter scoring drive, he locked up the Rams DE, which opened a hole for RB Royce Freeman to dart through for the first down. Not a perfect night and plenty to learn, but there's excitement about what this young dude can do in the future.
QB Davis Mills and the offense struggled early as they just couldn't get a physical foothold into the game. The Rams defensive front did an excellent job controlling the action and taking away running lanes and clogging up passing lanes. One Texan, though, that helped the offense shake the offensive malaise, if you will, was WR Nico Collins. He started the night with a 17-yard catch on the first play of the game and ended it with a tremendous catch in the end zone for the Texans first TD of the night. As the kids say, he "Moss'd" a DB, going up high over a Rams DB to make the sensational touchdown catch. As he ran off the field, Nico bent over and put his hand low to the ground, the new universal signal for "that guy is too small to handle me". He was and the 6-4, uber-talented pass catcher turned the game right around with one second left in the half.
QB Davis Mills threw one heck of a fade route to Collins on that one, but it was his earlier throw to Phillip Dorsett down the far sideline that put the Texans in position to make that throw to Collins. Dorsett went up between two defenders on a route down the sideline and made a wonderful catch. It was initially ruled incomplete, but the Rams were called for an illegal hit. The 15-yards put the Texans in field goal position, but upon review from the booth, Dorsett got both feet in bounds, and it was indeed ruled a catch. That put them in potential touchdown range, which Collins took care of on the next play to give the Texans a 7-6 lead heading into the half.
LB Kamu Grugier-Hill played a handful of plays against the Saints and he didn't play a ton against the Rams but he showed early that his speed, football IQ and tackling are regular season ready. On the first Rams run of the night, he ran down Rams RB Jake Funk from inside for a TFL. Want to talk about juice? My gosh, Kamu was flying to the ball. Later the Rams tried to run a screen to Funk and Kamu ran it down again for a TFL.
I was fortunate to get to interview rookie Derek Stingley after his first game in the NFL and I was struck, as always, by his composure and calm demeanor. He never seems rattled at all and that's the type of demeanor a perimeter cornerback MUST have to not only play that position but to be a star. I asked him if he had any pregame jitters or if he was nervous because I know I would've been on pins and needles in my first NFL action. He just said that he trusted himself and trusted his teammates and that gave him confidence enough to not be nervous. His play in the game showed exactly that. On the third play of the game, he was in press coverage and locked the receiver up to his side with fellow rookie Jalen Pitre locking up the receiver on the inside as well. A little later, he was in lockstep in coverage forcing his first pass breakup. He just gets more and more comfortable each and every day and even though it wasn't a ton of time on the field, the glimpses were so darn good.
I know Texans head coach Lovie Smith won't be happy with the penalties, especially those of an inexcusable nature. I think there were three different offsides penalties where guys lined up in the neutral zone. That just can't happen. The Texans finished with nine, but it felt like the game was much cleaner in the second half for the most part. Now, there were at least five offsides calls on the Texans and two or three of them were lined up in the neutral zone. One was called on DL Michael Dwumfour on a third and one and that's probably not called in the regular season.
The Texans defense couldn't have started better. A three and out was awesome but an offsides penalty on a Rams punt gave the Rams a first down. The defense didn't bat an eye and got another three and out.
I may have seriously buried the lede on the night, but the Texans pass rush has been all kinds of fabulous. Five sacks against the Saints. Six sacks on Friday night. Now, Coach Smith did dial up a bit more pressure than last week, but, for the most part, as he told me at halftime, it was mostly just good pass rushers getting loose. Six different players got credit for the six sacks, but the entire pass rush was on point, moving John Wolford and Bryce Perkins off their spots all night long. Ogbo Okoronkwo didn't get credit for a sack, but it felt like he lived in his former team's backfield all night. Demone Harris and Derek Rivers continued their impressive run through Training camp/preseason with a sack each. The Salsa King, aka Roy Lopez Jr., picked up one that kicked off some dancing. Jon Greenard absolutely hammered Wolford on a bootleg for a sack. DB Grayland Arnold picked up one off the edge. LB Christian Kirksey started off the sack-fest with one on the first drive of the game. Six sacks, 11 QB hits, seven TFL - that's impact. Big TIME impact.
I've got to give props to my man DL Dayo Odeleye. This guy was playing in the European Football League last year, having never played American football. Fast forward to August 2022 and he's playing in the NFL. Not only is he playing in the NFL, but he's also out there making an impact. He had three tackles on the night and if you didn't know he was the Texans' International Pathway Program player, you'd have no idea with the way he was playing. He just improves by leaps and bounds and, by no means, is it perfect, but three tackles against the defending champions after playing in Europe last year?? That's awesome!
The game seemed to take a turn in the second half when the Texans OL started to physically move the Rams off the ball. RB Dare Ogunbowale and Royce Freeman pounded away throughout that drive that eventually led to the Texans second touchdown of the night. I could see the change in demeanor, so to speak, in the Texans OL approach. Dudes came off the ball, struck hard and moved Rams out of holes and off the ball.
Rookie FB Troy Hairston might be the hardest hitter I've seen in a Texans jersey in a long time. This dude has absolutely no off switch and it's awesome to watch. On the first kickoff of the game, he just drilled the returner right in front of me. Then, he hammered a returner on a punt return a little later in the second quarter. And, on the subsequent Rams punt, he completely bowled over the blocker, putting him on his wallet in a quick second. It's an uphill climb to make the roster as a former college edge rusher turned rookie fullback, but continued efforts on special teams like THAT and he's going to make that roster discussion VERY interesting, to say the least.
Speaking of hitting, the Rams faced a third and one early in the game. They ended up picking up the first down on a Jake Funk run. But, what stood out to me was the physicality rookie DB Jalen Pitre showed on that play. He was in man coverage on Rams TE Kendall Blanton who swapped sides of the formation before the ball was snapped. When the ball was snapped, Pitre shot into the Rams TE and knocked him two yards back. Funk had to exit out the back door to avoid the fallen Blanton to get the first down.
Thinking back on the defensive line, I just don't know how Texans brass will figure out the defensive line situation. In my estimation, there isn't a tougher cut on this team. There are 14 on the roster as we speak and I'm certain I don't have a clue what to do. It's the best problem to have but to even get to ten on the 53-man roster, it's hard as all get out.
On that note, I'll cut it there and try to get some sleep out in Los Angeles. We are six days away from the end of the preseason and then it's on to the regular season. A lot of work to get there, but this squad is showing some signs for sure. See ya next week, everyone!
Check out some photos from the Texans, Rams matchup in Preseason Week 2.