Saturday’s disappointing Houston Texans loss to the Super Bowl XLIV champion New Orleans Saints rekindled feelings of frustration with every facet of the Texans organization. Fans that were blown away by the Texans physical presence against the Arizona Cardinals last weekend are now reminded of years past when the Texans were pushed around every time they stepped onto the field.
Expectations could not be any higher for this franchise going into the 2010 season, and even though Saturday’s scrimmage was just that—a scrimmage—the question needs to be raised.
Are our expectations too high?
Here are some aspects of the game on Saturday night that bubbled up to the surface as the spectacle unfolded, as well as how they should be looked at going into this weekend’s game against Dallas.
The Texans defensive tackles, ends, and linebackers seemed to be outmatched on Saturday from the word go.
The front seven of the Texans defense accounted for only 29 of the 60 tackles that were made by the Texans for the entire game. This is under 50 percent in a game where the Saints ran the ball 46 out of 78 total plays controlling the clock, and eating up chunks of the field on the ground. Twenty-seven of the Saints rushing attempts resulted in first downs, averaging 4.3 yards a carry.
The pass rush was nonexistent, and even used against the Texans with large gains on several screen plays including one 31-yard touchdown reception to running back Pierre Thomas.
The only sack acquired by the Texans was made by a free safety, and the three leading tacklers were cornerback Glover Quin, free safety Eugene Wilson, and strong safety Bernard Pollard.
The Texans front seven was unable to stop the Saints’ running backs from reaching the third level, and they have a gaping hole on the defensive front for opposing teams to run through.
This weekend, as the Texans host the Cowboys at Reliant, they are going to face a big, strong, and very good offensive line. The Texans defensive front has to show that they can compete with larger linemen than themselves.
Funny how stars rise and fall in the world of football, and the kickoff return position is a spot where you need a star.
Houston's undersized return specialist and sixth round draft pick Trindon Holliday is not panning out to be the dynamic addition that many hoped he would be.
Weighing in at a whopping 165 pounds, Holliday had an uphill battle from the start. His asset is blinding speed, and that makes him a monster of a threat in the return game. The problem is Holliday makes no other real contribution to the team, so in a league that limits the number of players on a roster to 53, each player better be able to make a significant impact to the outcome of games.
In addition to his lack of size and ability to contribute to the passing game, Holiday is struggling to field the ball. He has been out of position, dropped, or just plain missed more punts then he has returned.
On Saturday he dropped a fair catch, and turned the possession over to the Saints, who capitalized on blunder for a touchdown. Then he dropped a kickoff in the end zone, and had to take a knee for a touchback.
Holiday has been placed on IR, and will probably be done for the season if not his entire career.
Holliday’s struggles have given a Texans star that fell last season the opportunity to showcase his return skills. Third-year running back Steve Slaton looked like he has been returning kicks his entire career. He busted out two separate returns averaging 44 yards, with one of them was for 63 yards.
Slaton’s longest return down the sideline was a thing of beauty as he and wide receiver David Anderson flew down the edge of the field side by side. If Slaton would have shoved Anderson into one of the Saints players, he might have picked up another 10 yards.
Imagine that kind of field position to start off each drive for the explosive Texans offense.
On another note, Slaton’s success as a return guy points to what he is capable in space. The Texans coaching staff needs to find ways of getting Slaton the ball with some room to shake, and watch his potential sore.
This weekend against the Cowboys, look for Slaton to have a chance to return more kicks, and solidify his position as kick returner on this roster. Also, hold on to the #%#@ ball.
Sixth-year backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky is famous for his 2008 safety where, as a QB for the Detroit Lions, he stepped out of the back of the end zone in a game while evading the Minnesota Vikings' pass rush. Then he signed under the Texans, and almost immediately lost his second string spot to Rex Grossman during the 2009 preseason.
In the offseason fans and media alike have been scrutinizing Orlovsky as the biggest weakness to the Texans organization. In the event that injury-prone Matt Schaub should go down, how will Orlovsky perform distributing the ball? Will this team’s playoff hopes be sunk?
Texans coaches have all stated that Orlovsky is progressing, and that they are confident in his effort to keep the team afloat if called upon.
Well during the first two preseason games of the 2010 season, quarterback Dan Orlovsky has been exactly what you need in a backup quarterback. He has been solid, consistent, and healthy. He has also not done so great to create a quarterback controversy.
Orlovsky has not turned the ball over one time, and has connected on some very tough passes to his receivers. His accuracy is nothing to jump for joy about, but at least he appears to be making good decisions.
The consensus is growing that if Schaub should go down for a few games, this team just might be OK.
Look for a growth in accuracy from Orlovsky as he steps in near the end of the game this weekend against the Cowboys.
During the game against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, the Texans suffered another setback. Veteran linebacker Danny Clark, who was signed in the offseason to fill the gap while Brian Cushing fulfilled his league mandated four-game suspension, succumbed to a knee strain.
Clark was the only Texan defender to come out of the game with an interception. Without him the Texans are going to have to move some personnel around to get through the first four games.
Option one is for veteran linebacker Kevin Bentley to take on the role of strongside linebacker and leave Zack Diles on the weakside where he could make a run for the Pro Bowl this year.
Option two is that Diles moves to the strongside position, and rookie preseason standout from the University of Miami (FL) Darryl Sharpton fills in on the weakside. This is the most likely option, and should be explored during the game against the Cowboys this weekend.
One thing is for certain: the strength of this defense last year was the linebacking core. On Saturday against the Saints, they looked like nothing more than blocking dummies while the Saints running backs rumbled by them into the secondary.
This week against the Cowboys the Texans linebacker depth is thin. Three linebackers are injured and are questionable to play. Sharpton has a swollen knee, Clark is doubtful with a knee strain, and Xavier Adibi has a groin issue and is not expected to return till midseason.
This team needs to find a way to make it through the next two preseason games healthy at this position.
A First round draft pick and first time starter on the Texans, Kareem Jackson from the University of Alabama drew no negative attention. Truthfully he really didn’t draw any real attention.
Jackson had two tackles and one pass defended. He stayed in position, and was very strong in coverage.
On the first play of the Saints' second series, Saints quarterback Drew Brees tested Jackson with a deep pass attempt down the left sideline to Marcus Colston. In the route Colston tried several moves on Jackson, but was unable to shake him. It was outstanding coverage.
If that one play is an example of what is to come from this young corner, then the Texans may have found a good one in Jackson. Let’s see how he fares against Tony Romo and Miles Austin this weekend at Reliant Stadium.
It seems that the emotional state of the entire team is dependent upon that of fifth-year veteran Bernard Pollard.
Since Pollard’s arrival against the Oakland Raiders last season, he has been an intense addition to the organization emotionally. Pollard has been a booming voice in the locker room, demanding more from himself and his teammates.
His effort justifies his mouth, and Texans fans love him for it. However, on Saturday night against the Saints, he seemed distant in both effort and leadership. His performance included uncharacteristic missed tackles, and he seemed flat out of the box.
This team has been missing a player to step up and fill the role as an emotional leader since the Gary Kubiak era began. Pollard has proven to be that player, and we need him to continue to fire this team up for every game preseason and regular season alike.
The first preseason game of the season at home against the Cowboys this weekend is huge for the Texans fans. The team has to come out ready to play, so look for Pollard to lead some kind of pregame chant.
During Saturday’s preseason game against the Saints, the Texans made an adjustment to the interior of the offensive line.
The Texans placed free agent guard Wade Smith over Kasey Studdard on the starting roster. Smith is an eighth-year veteran that signed this offseason from the Kansas City Chiefs. He played the majority of his career at left tackle, and moved to the interior of the line in 2008 with the Chiefs.
Smith’s performance during the game was choppy, and sometimes clumsy. He tripped on several run plays, causing some detrimental running back pileups. This is to be expected from an offensive lineman who is new to a team that runs a zone blocking scheme.
If Smith has shown the Texans coaching staff that he is the guy to start opposite sophomore Antoine Caldwell on the line, they need to give him as many reps with that group as possible. This will give him the ability to generate the kind of continuity it takes to excel in this type of blocking scheme.
Watch Smith this weekend, and see if he has a smoother flow in his movements as a member of the offensive front.
Arian Foster, a sophomore undrafted free agent with a chip on his shoulder and an outstanding work ethic so far this season, has to continue to prove he is the man for the job.
During the preseason game against the New Orleans Saints, the Texans did not have a chance to run the ball as much as they would have liked to because they were trying to play catch-up the entire game.
Foster rushed six times for 28 yards and one very important red zone touchdown. He also fumbled the ball for a turnover in the backfield on a play that the blocking broke down, and he tried to turn it into more than was there. He hung the ball out there and it was knocked loose.
This week against the Cowboys it is important for Foster to show us two things: Can he continue to score in the red zone, and can he hold onto the ball?
So far during OTAs, training camp, and the preseason there has been one player who consistently finds a way to stand out. That player is sophomore free safety from Arizona State, No. 33 Troy Nolan.
Nolan has shown up every time he has been on the field, and against the Saints he did it again. He racked up five solo tackles and was the only Texans player to record a sack.
He has passion, energy, and a good understanding of his field assignments. This is exceptional seeing how he missed his entire rookie season with a broken hand.