The second matchup of the preseason was a big one for the Houston Texans. The San Francisco 49ers, an excellent football team that is built similarly to Houston, provided a great test for the Texans in their preseason home opener.
The 49ers, with their stacked defense and powerful running game, were a difficult opponent for the Texans. Certain players were able to rise above the rest against a talented team, while the performance of others may have caused them to fall into the abyss that is the Texans' roster.
Here are the biggest winner and losers of the Texans' second preseason game.
Trindon Holliday was back at it again in the fourth quarter. One week after breaking out on an electrifying kick return touchdown against the Carolina Panthers, he provided another one in Reliant Stadium, this time as a punt returner.
Holliday caught the ball on the right side of the field, and immediately took off.
He sprinted down the sideline with breathtaking speed, until 49ers' punter Andy Lee was just about right in front of him.
Instead of cutting back to the middle of the field, Holliday ran straight. He blew past Lee for his second return touchdown in consecutive games.
At the beginning of training camp, it was doubtful that Holliday would make the final roster, as Coach Gary Kubiak likes his returners to provide on either offense or defense. Holliday struggles playing at wide receiver in NFL, in part because his small frame allows opposing defensive backs to bully him at the line of scrimmage.
His play in the past two preseason games, however, may just make Kubiak change his mind and award him a roster spot. He may have proven that he can truly be a dangerous weapon for the Texans in the return game.
Alan Ball needed a strong performance against the 49ers to overcome his awful play versus the Carolina Panthers.
Ball, however, continued to play like a cornerback who would get cut from the team before the regular season.
Ball, again, struggled locating the ball in the air, reminiscent of Texans' Kareem Jackson in his rookie year, and he allowed the 49ers to break off big plays.
In the second quarter, Randy Moss broke free from Ball. Moss would have had an extremely long reception if he hadn't dropped the pass. Then, in the third quarter, Josh Johnson found A.J. Jenkins for a 32-yard reception because of the coverage of Ball.
Ball did not turn around to locate the ball in the air, allowing Jenkins to come away with an easy catch.
The Texans have a bevy of young, talented cornerbacks willing to step up and contribute to the team. If Ball cannot find a way to step up his play, it is likely that he will be tossed aside for his younger teammates.
The Texans have a major competition going on right now at kicker. The two kickers, Shayne Graham and Randy Bullock, have been pretty much equal in training camp, and their preseason performance is what is likely to decide which one of them wins the starting job.
Graham made a major push towards victory in this battle, and his excellent performance might win him the job.
Graham connected with a 48-yard field goal in the first quarter and a 49-yard goal in the second. This is great news for the veteran, as his reputation is similar to that of Neil Rackers—who now plays for the Washington Redskins—extremely consistent on short and medium range kicks, but very inconsistent on the long-range ones.
Graham's two long field goals are certainly positive signs. If he can nail down his long-range kicking game, then he can be a very dependable kicker for the Texans.
Randy Bullock did not have a terrible performance, but it certainly put him on the losing side of the kicking competition.
Bullock did not connect on a 51-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter. While no kicker is expected to net every single 50-yard kick, the Texans' coaching staff has a limited sample when deciding on the starting kicker.
One miss can make all the difference in this competition, especially when Bullock's competitor netted two impressive long-range field goals.
Furthermore, Kubiak tends to go with the veteran over the rookie in close competitions. So Bullock actually has to outperform Graham if he wants to be the team's field goal kicker.
Bullock did not play awful tonight; he missed a kick that even David Akers—San Francisco's left footed placekicker—might have not connected on. But it did not improve his standing in the kicker competition.
It's going to be nearly impossible for Kubiak to decide between Lestar Jean and Keshawn Martin for the team's No.-3 spot at wide receiver.
Both have turned in solid performances in the first two preseason games, and neither has taken a lead over the other in the close competition.
Martin flashed big play ability on a 22-yard reception delivered by Matt Schaub against the 49ers' first-team defense. He displayed a wiggle in his route that can make matters difficult for nearly any defensive back, and his speed also allowed him to get open.
Martin finished with 36 receiving yards and three receptions.
Jean, like Martin, was exciting to watch in his third career preseason game. He showed why he was such a sensation in training camp last season, delivering big play after big play for the Texans' offense.
The highlight of the night for Jean came when he caught a pass on a short crossing route near the goal line, and then trucked over a defender for the Texans' only offensive touchdown of the night.
It is clear that both receivers are pushing each other towards more success, and it is certainly difficult to make a call on which receiver is ahead of the other.
When one talks about the wide receiver battle for the third spot, it is usually about either Martin or Jean.
DeVier Posey, a third-round pick in 2012, has been left out of the conversation. Against the 49ers, he once again seemed as if he was not even on the field; he finished the game with zero receptions and only one target.
There is no doubt Posey is a talented receiver. However, he appears to be having trouble catching up to game speed after missing 10 games in his senior year at Ohio State because of suspensions.
Posey was a great play-maker in college, and there is a reasonable chance that he has the ability to perform well in the NFL.
It may just not happen this season.
Houston quarterback Matt Schaub and receiver Andre Johnson went out and did exactly what they have done for the majority of their careers.
Schaub looked as if he had shaken off the rust that affected him in Carolina. He had spent the majority of the offseason rehabbing his fractured left foot.
He was poised in the pocket, accurate, and showed great decision making with his throws. He finished the night at 11-of-14 for 128 yards and one touchdown.
Johnson, too, looked like he was in midseason form when he jumped over two defenders to haul in a 43-yard reception. Johnson appeared to be very healthy, which is great news for Texans' fans. He spent the majority of last season nursing hamstring injuries.
The fact that Schaub and Johnson played up to their expectations is very encouraging. The two players are key to the Texans' hopes of making it to—and winning—the Super Bowl. If they are healthy, then the Texans have the potential to have a dominant offense.
The biggest area of concern was the Texans' rush defense.
San Francisco running back Kendall Hunter, amongst other backs, was able to break off big runs against the Texans' defense—sans J.J. Watt—all night.
The Texans' run defense is much less developed than their pass defense. It is certainly an area that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and his staff must focus on for the remainder of camp.
In order to beat these teams, the defense must be able to shut down the run. Unfortunately, their performance against the loaded 49ers backfield was not encouraging.