The Saturday evening preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals was an epic display of tenacity by the Houston Texans.
Even though the score did not tilt in the favor of the Texans by the end of the contest, most Houston fans feel optimistic after watching the event.
Here are some obvious and some subtle observations that are worth discussing in the aftermath of the display.
During the preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, Matt Schaub looked nearly perfect when he was in the game for the first two series. He connected on all his passes except one that was clearly a drop by tight end Joel Dreessen.
Schaub’s backup Dan Orlovsky took most of the snaps during the game. Orlovsky looked much better than expected and showed fans that he could get the ball into his playmakers' hands if needed.
Orlovsky did not throw one interception, fumble a single snap, or take a single sack. He was able to hand the ball off fluidly to the running backs and connected on 12-of-21 passes for 129 yards.
Orlovsky’s performance was nothing spectacular like current Minnesota Vikings second-string quarterback Sage Rosenfels’ 310-yard preseason game, but he managed the game without causing any catastrophes. He has not shut his critics up, but he gave them something to ponder.
Matter of fact, Orlovsky looked great compared to third-string quarterback John David Booty, who came in during the fourth quarter and went for two consecutive three and outs. Booty didn’t turn it on until the two-minute drill at the end of the game, where he brought the Texans within range to kick a game-tying field goal.
All in all, it appears after the outing that the Texans quarterbacks are moving forward.
Fifth-year pro and first overall pick defensive end Mario Williams has been called out by media and his owner alike over the last few months.
Then ironically, during the first day of training camp, he acquired a hip flexor injury. It's an injury caused by moving explosively, and it can be extremely painful for long periods of time.
This injury raised another slew of questions about Williams’ potential as the regular season approaches. The defensive end traveled all the way to Philadelphia to find a doctor that would give him the answer he wanted: "You can play."
The fanbase clamored for him to heal longer and not agitate the injury more. Who could bear to watch their hero Mario Williams hindered for a second season by a nagging injury?
Well, on Saturday night, to the ultimate dismay of the entire state of Arizona, Williams responded to the concerns.
In a total of eight plays he made two sacks and an impressive one-armed trip of Arizona running back Tim Hightower at the line of scrimmage. Mario Williams came out of the gate ready to impact the game, and that is exactly what he did.
If he keeps up this kind of intensity, it just might change the expression on the face of that kid he chases down in the United Way/NFL Play 60 commercial they run on NFL Network all the time.
I love that commercial.
The Texans' offensive line is in the midst of a competition at all three of the interior spots. There are five players making legitimate pushes for the three available first-string spots.
Guards Antoine Caldwell and Kasey Studdard are slated on top of the depth chart at the conclusion of the first preseason game. Chris Meyers is the center snapping the ball with the first team.
Mike Brisiel, Wade Smith, and Shelley Smith are the three other candidates in the mix to fill some of the spots.
Due to the closeness of this completion, each player is being rotated in and out more than usual. As a result, the continuity of the zone blocking does not seem to be there as of yet. For this type of blocking scheme to work, each player needs to instinctively feel what the men on either side of him are doing.
This kind of cohesiveness is not achieved in choppy stints on the field together. It takes time to develop. The Texans need to settle on their starting linemen and then give them enough snaps together to jell.
This is also important for the running backs to get a feel for when and where to cut back. In 2008, when Steve Slaton ran for 1,200-plus yards, he did it behind a line that had played together for multiple years.
During the preseason game the running game looked better than it did in the preseason of 2009. However, the smooth look of a good zone-blocking team did not jump off the field at me as it did in 2008.
The Texans' defensive first group stormed the field at Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium and busted the Cardinals in the mouth.
The very first play the Texans defense was on the field initially felt like it was going to be a huge run play for the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals' offensive line seemed to open up a hole large enough to drive a truck through, and running back Tim Hightower sprang through the hole, when suddenly from out of nowhere Bernard Pollard thundered into the gap and leveled the surprised running back.
Wish I could have seen the look on Hightower’s face.
From there it just got worse for the running back. Linebacker Brian Cushing nailed him so hard in the backfield he coughed up the ball. Cornerback Glover Quin spun him around in a blender a few times, letting other Texan defenders bounce off his head in the process.
Not sure if he would have survived four quarters under that kind of abuse.
The whole first team defense did not treat this contest like a meaningless preseason game; they came to upend the Cardinals. This is exactly what free safety Eugene Wilson did to wide receiver phenomenon Larry Fitzgerald. The veteran safety turned him upside down on a crossing route in the middle of the field.
It is no surprise Fitzgerald is nursing a sprained MCL.
If this is the level of aggression we can come to expect from this defensive unit, watch as the Texans defense rises up the fantasy charts before the regular season begins.
There are a few rookies that stepped onto that football field ready to show they belong on an NFL team.
First, undersized linebacker Darryl Sharpton from the University of Miami was on the field for the last three quarters of the game. Sharpton amassed seven tackles and one interception, catching the eye of the media, teammates, and coaches alike.
Second, Troy Nolan, the free safety from Arizona State, made his presence known during the second and third quarters of the game. Nolan had two tackles, four passes defended, and one interception that he returned for 28 yards.
On one of the passes defended the Arizona receiver caught the ball, and Nolan hit him so hard the ball leaped from the receivers' hands. It could have been ruled a fumble.
Third, converted wide receiver Dorin Dickerson from Pitt came out trying to make this team. Dickerson looked good blocking in the run game and had three catches for about 39 yards, averaging just over 12 yards a catch.
Fourth, Rutgers true fullback Jack Corcoran showed some real flashes on offense and special teams, including one three-yard acrobatic grab on the sideline that looked like a cat snatching a sparrow from the air.
Finally, Northwestern cornerback Sherrick McManis used this opportunity to make a good impression as well. He was strong in coverage and made three solo tackles during the second half of the game. Watch as he moves up the depth chart over the next few preseason games.
With every stride forward the Texans organization took during the first preseason game last weekend, there were also some pretty large setbacks.
The biggest setback was the season-ending ankle fracture suffered by rookie running back Ben Tate, the second round pick from Auburn.
Tate came out in the second quarter expecting to carry the bulk of the load for the running backs during the game.
However, after only a couple of carries he went down in obvious agony with an ankle fracture. This is a setback to the team, for Tate was put on the Injured Reserve list Monday afternoon.
It is a shame. On the play in question, Tate really showed a burst of speed, and it appeared that he was about to break it all the way before being tripped up.
One teammate that is making the most of the injury to Tate is second-year Oregon Duck running back Jeremiah Johnson, who had a heck of a game after Tate went down. Johnson rushed for 33 yards on five attempts, averaging 6.6 yards a carry.
Look for the Texans' coaching staff to give Johnson more attention in regards to pass blocking and more snaps in the next preseason game.
Keeping the rest of the backs on the roster healthy is going to be a concern moving forward. What was a position of depth during training camp is now looking kind of thin moving into the rest of preseason.
The game against the Cardinals had some great takeaways, and on the whole left most Texans fans feeling more optimistic about the coming season than concerned.
However, there were a few issues that reared their ugly heads that need to be addressed.
The first major concern is the one-yard-line fumble choked up by third-year running back Steve Slaton. This was a constant issue that plagued the running back during his sophomore season in 2009, so much so that Slaton was even benched for a game due to the problem.
During the second half of the first quarter, Slaton was handed the ball 10 times for 22 yards total. Most of his yards came on two good-looking runs, and he started to show some signs of his rookie season, where he rushed for over 1,200 yards.
However, when called on to punch it across the goal line, he stood straight up and fumbled the ball into the hands of the Arizona defense for a touchback.
At that moment the other shoe dropped, and he looked like the Slaton of 2009 who had more fumbles then touchdowns and eventually had surgery to correct the problem.
Slaton is too large a threat to opposing teams to give up on him. However, if he does not literally get a grip, he is too much of a threat to his own team not to.
Trindon Holliday, the rookie kick returner from LSU, surely has had better days than Saturday evening turned out to be.
The opening kickoff was his only bright spot during the game, where he caught the ball and ran like heck down the sideline for 30 yards. After that he looked either scared or confused after he caught the ball.
It was a miracle we did not turn the ball over to the Cardinals during special teams. Holliday was not lined up in the right spot on a single punt return. Each ball bounced out of control within feet of where Holliday stood and watched it land. If this continues, there will be turnovers.
As the smallest and fastest player in the league, Holliday needs to explode with the ball every time he touches it, or it is unlikely he will make this team.
One thing that has been a thorn in the side of every Texans fan since the inception of the team is this organization's lack of game-finishing ability.
For some reason or another, it always seems that all we needed was one more inch in the end zone, or one less fumble on the goal line, or one kick through the uprights, and the Texans would walk off the field victorious.
Alas, it is just not in this team's genetic makeup to take that jump, even in a meaningless preseason game.
The challenge flag thrown by head coach Gary Kubiak regarding the Andre Johnson fumble on the first drive of the game for the Texans offense was definitely a step in the right direction. However when the game, any game, is on the line, the Texans coaching staff needs to start making the right calls.
The coaching staff needs to put this team in a place to win.
In order to give this team a shot at the playoffs, the first and foremost item on the coaches' minds should be this: How does a team simulate pressure on a kicker during the preseason? How about having him kick a 51-yard field goal in front of the team that sent them packing last season, and if the kick was good, it would send the game into overtime? Sound like a good start?
I understand the coaching staff was trying to end the game with one more shot into the end zone and was unaware that running back Chris Henry and third-string quarterback John David Booty would have a collision in the backfield with 10 seconds left on the clock and no timeouts.
Still, why risk it? Let the kicker battle take priority, because if it’s a playoff game with the same situation, it sure will be then.
How many more opportunities is this organization going to have like that during the preseason?
The Texans' game management issues need to be addressed just as readily as Slaton’s fumble, the zone blocking, or even Cushing’s backup for his four-game suspension. It is an issue that could ultimately keep this team from its goal to reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
There is enough talent on this team that once it reaches the playoffs, who knows how far they could fly?