HOUSTON (CBS HOUSTON) — Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had a pleasantly blunt assessment for his 2016 preseason debut.
“I needed it,” he said with an rare grin for the assembled media.
The Texans proved last year a dominant Clowney isn’t necessary for a strong defense, but they could sure use him if they harbor hopes of a deeper postseason run.
So Clowney’s play in Houston’s 16-9 win over the Saints on Saturday night in NRG Stadium was a thrilling omen, especially given the third-year end’s recent and career injury history.
Clowney missed the Texans preseason opener against San Francisco last weekend, and his knee — already a microfracture surgery survivor — was the issue. He didn’t practice for nearly a week, and his explosiveness off the ball was in question.
He momentarily answered the doubts by dominating the Saints porous offensive line. The stat line doesn’t even do his disruptive performance justice. One sack, two total tackles and a quarterback hit doesn’t scream, “Breakout Game.”
Yet the former No. 1 overall pick commanded double teams, played through numerous uncalled holding penalties and steered traffic right into the Texans front seven. He was the obvious force and center of gravity on Houston’s defense.
“We wanted to get him a lot of snaps just because he hadn’t played last week,” said head coach Bill O’Brien. “I think it’s important for guys to play a lot of football. He did a nice job today from what I could see from the sideline.”
The standout moment was the sack. Clowney physically dominated Saints tackle Andrus Peat and drove Drew Brees almost 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage for a big loss.
“I went speed to power rush on him and closed the pocket in on him,” Clowney said. “From there, just ran him down on the back side.”
Read O’Brien’s assessment again. That first sentence says a lot. Clowney played well into the third quarter in an inconsequential game, with the Texans ahead by two scores. He showed durability in tandem with greatness.
But it all circles back to Clowney’s original point. There’s a reason he was still out there. He needed the reps, and it only helped that he built on the good vibes all night by parking himself in the New Orleans backfield.
“My teammates are happy for me, and I’m happy tonight,” Clowney said. “I really needed that feeling after missing the first week.”