Texans – Patriots: In A Nutshell

By Paul Gallant, SportsRadio 610

HOUSTON (SPORTSRADIO 610) There’s one obvious conclusion to take from the Texans 27 – 23 preseason win over the Patriots Saturday night: Tom Savage will be Houston’s starting quarterback when they open the season September 7th against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

I know that Savage isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But he deserves a lot of credit for a solid offensive performance Saturday night (as does the Texans coaching staff). He may have been the starter, but he didn’t have a whole lot of help to work with. No DeAndre Hopkins. No Will Fuller. No C.J. Fiedorowicz. No Braxton Miller. And of course, no Duane Brown. Four of what likely would have been his top five targets going into the season (Ryan Griffin was active) AND his best offensive lineman didn’t play!

Tom Savage’s first 2 drives in Carolina resulted in two three and outs, largely due to slow decision making. Considering what he was working with, a group headlined by Jaelen Strong and Bruce Ellington (more on him later), the fourth year veteran took a sizable step forward Saturday against New England.

His first drive – 8 plays and 81 yards to the Patriots 6 – ended with a frustrating draw call (looked like there might have been some communication issues there) on fourth and six. Bill O’Brien took the blame for that play call, while Tom Savage said the play clock was a bit of a factor there.

But Savage and company shook it off, scoring a touchdown on an 11 play, 58 yard touchdown drive their next possession. It even featured a touchdown pass – something Savage still has yet to do in about ~3 games of regular season NFL action – to Jaelen Strong. After the way he opened the game in Carolina, Saturday night’s bounce back convinced me that Savage will start game one.

Things were not so easy for Deshaun Watson. Yes, his scrambling ability and escapability can’t be questioned. Those two qualities add up for a lot of excitement when he’s on the field. But his accuracy was a major problem Saturday night. Overthrows. Passes behind receivers. And if not for two Patriots defenders colliding on Bruce Ellington’s catch and run and D’Onta Foreman breaking a bunch of tackles (though Deshaun made quite the throw to the rookie in traffic), he’d probably have had about 20 yards passing (he finished 3-10 for 102 yards). His touchdown scramble looked cool, featuring an NFL Street-esque (remember that game?) jump into the end zone. But he still has a lot of work to do before he’ll truly get to compete to be the Texans starting quarterback.

OTHER RANDOM THOUGHTS

  • I’m not sure what the wear and tear of a season will do to his back, but J.J. Watt – at least right now – is COMPLETELY FINE. He and Whitney Mercilus made things very difficult early for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
  • Bruce Ellington – who has been a Texan for less than 10 days –  was the most impressive player of the night. Whether catching a deep ball from Tom Savage in traffic by the sideline, or showing his ability to run, juke, and break tackles after the catch (which hasn’t been done often by Texans receivers in what will be my 7th season covering the team), he was a MAJOR reason that the Texans got off to the start they did. In fact, that performance HAS to make him a frontrunner in a pretty heated competition at the position. He’ll have to work on the drops, though.
  • It’s the preseason, and I don’t want to make too big of a deal out of this. But Lamar Miller’s indecisiveness after a hand off is frustrating. He finished Saturday with 7 carries for 18 yards. Alfred Blue (5 for 20) is MUCH more confident when he has the ball in his hands, and he shows it. Meanwhile, D’Onta Foreman (who had just 7 for 17) had a play of 40+ yards for the 2nd straight week after a 63 yard catch and run. We saw Miller bust a number of big plays with the Dolphins against the Texans in 2015. But over the past year, big gains like seem to be the exception.
  • I am not the biggest fan of the Texans’ safeties. But they played pretty well Saturday night. Andre Hal had a near interception of Tom Brady (he was just a tad out of bounds), a play where he seemed to read the future Hall of Famer like a book. Eddie Pleasant and Corey Moore had moments of their own. And after the game, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien was extremely complimentary of the newly signed Marcus Gilchrist.
  • The Texans’ weakness against the Patriots – having no means of covering their running backs – is still very much a problem. They drafted Zach Cunningham to fix that issue, but he’s not ready to resolve it yet. The evidence: getting toasted by Rex Burkhead for a 22 yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Other linebackers – and some defensive backs – met the same fate.
  • It was another difficult to watch night for the Texans special teams. Just ask Dylan Cole, who totally whiffed while running full speed in punt coverage, allowing a big return by Cyrus Jones. But there were some positive moments. Ka’imi Fairbairn hit both field goals that he attempted (from 31, then 45), AND booted 4 touchbacks! Tyler Ervin had a nice first punt return (in addition to contributing as a running back offensively). On top of that, Chris Thompson – playing gunner – tackled Jones for a 3 yard loss on a 58 yard punt. That is some serious speed.

Paul Gallant hosts “Gallant at Night” – Weeknights 7-11 PM CT – on SportsRadio 610. He also hosts SportsZone Unfiltered – Fridays at 10 PM – on The Kube: Channel 57. Get in touch with Paul via email or his facebook page.

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