Houston Texans vs. San Francisco 49ers: Texans Preseason Week 4 Game Preview
On to Week 4 of the preseason!
Honestly, I hope the subject of a reduction in the preseason is brought up at the owners meeting. I'm not in favor of an 18-game regular-season schedule, but I find the fourth preseason game to be nearly unwatchable and an unnecessary injury risk.
San Francisco won in convincing fashion last year when the two team's met in the regular season, but both teams have seen a decent amount of roster turnover since. While Colin Kaepernick—who I'd be surprised if he played—is still in town, both teams have added new quarterbacks to the roster.
The main event of the evening will be of course the ongoing battle between Tom Savage and Case Keenum for the right to backup Houston starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Neither player has played exceptionally well during the preseason, but I get the feeling that Savage can win the job were he to have a strong performance.
That's the main purpose and goal of the fourth preseason game; giving the young players a chance to win a spot on the roster. The veterans for the most part have already locked up or played their way out of a job, so it will be the rookies and younger players who will attempt to make their mark against San Francisco.
Besides Savage, other Texans players to watch are Andre Hal, Alfred Blue, Travis Labhart, Louis Nix III, Max Bullough and Justin Tuggle assuming they all play.
Besides that, the fourth preseason game means we're just a week away from football that counts. The long nightmare that is the NFL preseason has finally reached the end.
Houston Texans Week 3 Recap
The Houston Texans kept their winning ways going, unfortunately the small winning streak has come during games that don't count. Their victory in their third preseason game over the Denver Broncos wasn't nearly as dominate as their win over Atlanta was the prior week.
But a win is a win.
Against the Falcons, Houston's passing attack and pass defense led the way in a blowout victory, but both of those strengths became weaknesses as the team traveled to the Mile High City.
Ryan Fitzpatrick had an out-of-body experience against Atlanta—especially during the two-minute drill to end the first half—but regressed during his half of play against Denver. Just a week after posting an impressive 126.0 QB rating, his rating against Denver dropped to 70.7.
Versus the Broncos, Fitzpatrick wasn't the train wreck he was in preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals, but he looked every bit as limited as many fans feared he would be when the Texans signed him. The Texans' passing attack never pushed the ball downfield, which will likely be a trend considering how weak Fitzpatrick's arm is.
After a nice start against the Broncos first-team offense, the Texans' pass defense then went through a stretch of poor play. The Texans held Peyton Manning and the first unit to a punt and two field-goal attempts on their first four possessions. Houston also picked off Manning during that stretch.
Then the Broncos scored 14 points in lightning-quick fashion on scoring strikes from Manning to new Bronco receiver Emmanuel Sanders. On both plays A.J. Bouye and Eddie Pleasant were the men to blame as they were out of position and trailing Sanders on each score.
Manning and the Broncos pass offense are going to beat you for touchdowns, that's unavoidable. However you can't gift-wrap touchdowns and expect to win in games that count.
If there is a silver lining there, neither player will be starting during the regular season, unless there is an injury.
Speaking of injuries, star players Andre Johnson and Brian Cushing both returned to the field against Denver. Neither played all that long, but each made a couple of encouraging plays.
Another encouraging sign was the play of rookie quarterback Tom Savage, who was nearly perfect in the stat column and led the Texans on a game-winning drive. Savage was accurate with his passes and decisive, something that had been absent earlier in the game.
The fourth-round pick has enormous physical talent, so if the mental side starts to show development, we could see Savage on the field sooner than expected in games that matter.
News and Notes
Team Cuts Down the Roster to 75 Players
As you would expect from the first round of cuts, there weren't any surprises or players let go who could have been a difference-maker. The only move that could be considered noteworthy at this point was when the front office placed Lonnie Ballentine on season ending IR.
The safety out of Memphis was made Mr. Irrelevant when the Texans selected him with the last pick of the seventh-round. Ballentine possesses rare physical talents for the position in terms of height and speed, but was a project and likely would have been a practice-squad guy at best this season.
D.J. Swearinger Isn't Going to Change
The second-year safety out of South Carolina has been criticized frequently over his brief NFL career for poor performance in man coverage and for drawing too many penalties. The latter has continued to be an issue during this preseason, as his hit on Wes Welker surprisingly compelled Peyton Manning to get in Swearinger's face.
Many would like Swearinger to play under more control since refs appear to be looking for any opportunity to throw a flag on him for an illegal hit or unsportsmanlike conduct. But like it or not that's his style and he's sticking to it.
As reported by P.D. Starr of State of the Texans, Swearinger's teammates, including safety Kendrick Lewis, don't want him to change.
That’s just the way he plays, that’s the type of player he is. This is a physical game. You’ve just got to come out and if that’s what it takes, where he doesn’t hit a guy the proper way, that’s what he’s got to correct. Whether it’s how he tackles or when he tackles, just doing it in a proper way and the way the league wants it to be done.
Bill O'Brien often defends him in the media, so it doesn't appear that he has any issue with Swearinger's style of play either.
Tom Savage Closing the Gap on Case Keenum for the Backup Quarterback Job
After leading the Texans down the field for a game-winning touchdown against Denver (and clearly outplaying Case Keenum in the process), it appears that rookie fourth-round pick Tom Savage may leap frog the veteran for the role of backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Outside of the game against Denver, Savage hasn't played all that well, but neither has Keenum. It therefore stands to reason that if the competition between the two quarterbacks is close, the backup gig should be given to the player who is considered the team's future at the position; that of course is Savage.
While Savage isn't lighting the world on fire, he has shown noticeable signs of improvement whereas Keenum has continued to have the same struggles with accuracy and decision-making that plagued his final five games last season.
From Tania Ganguli of ESPN, coach Bill O'Brien was impressed with Savage during the final moments of the game.
...I thought that he kept his poise there really well. He was able to motion, I believe it was [Travis] Labhart, and then make the correct protection point, and then make the right read, and then make the throw, which is a good thing to see for us for a rookie quarterback to be able to do that, so I thought he handled that situation well.
If O'Brien truly believes the backup quarterback battle is close, he should cut Keenum and reserve that roster spot for either a running back or defensive lineman.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Texans Front Seven against the 49ers Rushing Offense
Heading into training camp, the 49ers had arguably the most talented and crowded running back position in the entire league. But over the summer, the team lost Kendall Hunter to a season-ending ACL tear. Marcus Lattimore is still recovering from his horrific knee injury in 2012 and will start out the season on the non-football injury list.
Seeing Frank Gore play would be a huge shock, but the 49ers will have to hope that LaMichael James and rookie Carlos Hyde can get through the game unscathed.
The Texans' run defense has played well so far this preseason, but San Francisco could provide the best test they've had during the preseason.
Texans' Secondary against the Double-Move
Overall I think the Texans' secondary has played solid, but they are getting beat too often on double-move routes by opposing receivers. Maybe it's just mistakes from young players or maybe they're being told to be very aggressive. In any case, they're giving up too many big plays.
In particular I remember a play early in the Falcons game where A.J. Bouye was fooled badly by a double-move from Julio Jones, but luckily the pass was thrown too far to the outside and landed incomplete.
Getting both Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt back on the field will help to shorten the quarterback's clock, but a quick out-and-up doesn't take that long so the defensive backs will need to play better.
Texans X-Factor of the Week
We need to see rookie third-round pick Louis Nix III get more snaps this week. Nix was drafted to be the Texans' starting nose tackle, but he has missed a large chunk of time due to injuries.
Unfortunately, even when he returned to the field against the Broncos, he not surprisingly was out of shape and looked gassed after just a few plays.
The Texans have other players capable of filling his role in the short-term, but a healthy Nix could drastically change the makeup of this defense. If he's able to get pressure up the gut from his nose tackle position, he'll make all of his teammates better by speeding up and disrupting the quarterback.
Of all the games on the preseason schedule, this game will probably be played the least like a regular-season game. I don't say that because they'll run just a vanilla scheme, but with all the starters out, the game takes on even less meaning.
With those starters on the sideline, the reserves for both teams will decide the game. The 49ers have not played well this preseason, but I do believe they have superior depth.
Prediction: 49ers 17, Texans 13