The approach to preseason games during the tenure of Gary Kubiak conforms to the standard around the NFL. Play your starters in the first quarter, then work your way down the depth chart for the rest of the game. If you have to rely upon your untried troops to win the game in the fourth quarter, that’s what preseason is all about.
Did the 3-1 preseason record in the 2011 help establish the momentum for the most triumphant results in team history? With few major areas of concern, it’s possible this four game audition will be taken more seriously than ever before.
Game 1: at Carolina Panthers
Saturday, 8/11 at 7:00 PM EDT
All the Panther previews for 2012 zero in on the weakness in the defensive line. The DT’s are too young or too unaccomplished, save for 32 year-old Ron Edwards. And one of them, Andre Neblett, was just suspended for PED’s but will be allowed to play in the preseason.
The Texans biggest concerns are on offense. Expect them to work the kinks out at the expense of a Panther’s defense ranked near the bottom in every major category for 2011. Matt Schaub will need to get his timing down with his established receivers Johnson, Walter, and Daniels. The long line of contenders headed by Jean Posey, and Martin will get a few targets along the way.
On defense, Wade Phillips needs to explore the potential of his second string defensive backs. No CB’s were drafted, and Cam Newton would love to loosen up against the likes of Roc Carmichael and Sherrick McManis. The addition of all purpose RB Mike Tolbert to the third ranked rushing attack last year will keep the Texans’ pass rush guessing.
By game’s end, expect Case Keenum or John Beck to be closing out a victory on the road.
Final Score: Texans 23 - Panthers 20
Game 2: San Francisco 49ers
Saturday, 8/18 at 7:00 PM CDT
The Niners had an even bigger turnaround than Houston in 2011, and it was also attributed to its defensive development. Start with Justin Smith, the top DE in the NFL, combined with the most dominant ILB in Patrick Willis, then add Defensive R.O.Y. Aldon Smith and calling this the best defense in the league is no boast.
The first 15 minutes could feel like a regular season game with everyone trying to prove their change in fortune was no fluke. The right flank of the Texans’ OL manned by Caldwell and Butler will be probed for weaknesses along with Schaub’s mended right foot.
When the Niners first string defense finally takes a seat, both teams will settle into a more predictable rotation of near-names and no-names. T.J. Yates and the Niners’ backup QB Colin Kaepernick will get their required reps. Yates’ baptism under fire down the stretch last year could give Houston the edge in quarters 2 and 3.
By the final period, the home crowd will have cheered themselves silly and propelled the home team to a win.
Final score: Texans 27- 49ers 19
Game 3: at New Orleans Saints
Saturday, 8/25 at 7:00 PM CDT
Most of the fallout from Bountygate will have been absorbed by the Saints players and coaching staff by this time. The full effect may still be unknown.
The offense returns almost intact, led by the NFL’s first $20 million dollar man Drew Brees. The New Orleans defense lost three starters to the scandal and it may be a good time to kick them while they’re down.
The Texans could not handle the four receiver sets Sean Payton called late in the 40-33 regular season loss last year. Most coaches might not look for redemption in a preseason game. Coach Kubiak may see this one another way.
Since the starters will play very little in the final preseason tilt against Minnesota, the main guns in the Houston offense may see some extra snaps. Wade Phillips may want to prove that he has the pass rush to shred the Saints mediocre OL.
The cutdown to 80 players comes the Tuesday following this game. By this point, the coaching staff has already decided who will have to hand in their playbook. This could be just the right time to go for broke.
Final score: Texans 34, Saints 21
Game 4: Minnesota Vikings
Thursday, 8/30 at 6:00 PM CDT
In the 2011 preseason finale, the Texans used the last game against the Vikings as a final exam for backup Matt Leinart. They were clearing looking ahead to the start of the regular season. When the scoreboard ended up Minnesota 28, Houston 0, was there any doubt?
Why play the game any differently this year? The first undefeated preseason in team history would read like the perfect prelude to their quest for their ultimate goal, Super Bowl XLVII.
Fans should not buy into the hype. As a team, the Vikings may be full of questions marks, They also are full of players with something to prove.
Their defense still has Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and Chad Greenway. Adrian Peterson may be held out until the regular season, but their offensive line is better than average. They also added a “can’t miss” tackle in Matt Kalil.
The Texans could have upwards of 27 players to dismiss by the final cutdown date of Tuesday, Sept. 2nd. A parade of future free agents will be in and out of the lineup. The only strategy in this contest is that no one headed to the active roster get injured.
Getting shut out last season meant nothing once the hitting started for real. There is no reason to treat this preseason wrap-up any differently.
Final score: Vikings 24, Texans 10