Going into Week 2 of the preseason means that fans get to see more playing time for their team's starters. It also means that players who are still trying to make the team need to play their hardest.
The following observations are strengths and weaknesses of the Texans that were exposed in this week's game against the Saints. Next week we will see the starters for most of the game and, assuming that my observations are correct, we could see some second-string players mixing it up with the first team.
Texans QB Matt Schaub is an elite quarterback who can't yet wear the "elite" tag. His inability to reach the playoffs has kept his name out of the elite club for the last few years.
Regardless, his QB rating has been in the Top 10 of the NFL for the last three consecutive years. In 2008 his 92.7 rating was seventh in the league, his 2009 rating of 98.6 was seventh in the league and last year's 92.0 rating was good for ninth in the league.
Last night Matt again showed why he deserves to be considered a top QB in the NFL. While he only played for the first two quarters of the game, he still managed to complete 12-of-16 passes for 163 yards and a QB rating of 107.0.
Schaub might not have the ability to throw deep bombs all over the field, but he does not necessarily need to either. His ability to place the ball into tight spots, over defenders and into the hands of open receivers, guarantees that he will be able to keep his team marching down the field.
He looked like he was in midseason form last night and was very comfortable standing in the pocket, running a play-fake or bootlegging. Last night he proved that the passing game against the Jets was simply a fluke, a case of early-season jitters, if you will.
Matt Leinart did not look as impressive as Schaub might have, but he held his own. While he was only 2-of-5 for 22 yards, it was his football intelligence that proved most valuable.
Leinart stood tall in the pocket and was not afraid to get hit. Rather than throw a bad pass when pressured, he threw the ball out of the end zone. Likewise, Leinart used his RB as a check-down receiver when all of the WRs were being covered.
Altogether, the Texans passing game looked solid last night. Schaub is ready for the season and Leinart appears to be a viable backup QB.
Many skeptics have proclaimed that Arian Foster would be another one-and-done RB in the NFL. They said that without FB Vonta Leach he would never be an effective runner, blah, blah, blah.
Last night Foster silenced his critics and enthralled his fans.
He looked great as he amassed 47 yards on five runs, with two of those runs resulting in touchdowns. Perhaps the most impressive play was a 28-yard run in which Foster planted his left foot, cut hard to the right and just about split the defender in half with his impressive run for the end zone.
Foster averaged 9.4 yards per carry and added another six yards receiving. Last night's performance proved that Foster is capable of repeating, or besting, last year's league-leading rushing.
Last year the Texans drafted Ben Tate in the second round. A few weeks into the preseason the No. 2 draft choice for the Texans was finished for the season with torn ligaments in his ankle and a fractured fibula. The road to recovery would be both long and grueling for the rookie.
This year Tate needed to prove that he deserved to remain on the Texans roster. His limited showing at training camp did not win him any favors with coach Gary Kubiak. His nagging hamstring injury, early in camp, kept him sidelined for most of camp.
Well, the wait is now over and it is obvious that Tate wants to play for this team.
Ben Tate looked like he never missed a beat over the last year. He romped all over the field, leaving a wake of defenders scattered in his path. He was shaking defenders, juking and blazing through gaping holes in the defense.
By the time it was all said and done, Tate had pillaged 95 yards and a touchdown from the Saints. He average over 10 yards per carry and had a huge 43-yard run in the second quarter.
Assuming that Tate can stay healthy this season, the Texans will have a two-headed rushing monster in the AFC South. He and Foster have very different running styles and game-planning for the different runners could prove too much for some teams.
Ben Tate = Offensive Player of the Game for this week.
There are too many armchair-quarterbacks who think they could do better as a defensive coordinator than Wade Phillips. They are the ones who keep crying over Mario Williams' move to OLB when he was drafted as a DE. They are also the ones who will take credit for Mario's success once it comes.
No matter what your opinion of Mario may be, the fact is that it will take time for him to fully develop into a truly disruptive OLB in the Texans' new 3-4 defense.
Despite what the critics are saying, however, Mario has been effective on the field. His continuous pressure off the weak side forces RBs to cut the ball inside, allowing the MLBs to clean up the run.
His awareness on the field is also paying dividends.
Last night after Antonio Smith sacked Saints QB Drew Brees, it was Mario whose awareness and quick feet gave the Texans the ball back with a fumble recovery.
Similarly, Mario came up huge with an open-field tackle on Saints RB Pierre Thomas. Thomas had burst through a hole in the middle of the defensive line and was looking downfield for room to run. Mario got to him quickly, wrapped him up and kept him from breaking off a big run.
Mario is still developing as an OLB and, by the beginning of the season, will have to be accounted for by opposing offenses.
Texans OLB Brooks Reed is a player making a resounding statement: "I want to be a starter!" He is not saying as much with his mouth, however, as he is with his plays on the field.
Last night Brooks came up with two huge sacks, each resulting in a forced fumble.
His presence on the field is being noticed by fans and, more importantly, by offensive coordinators. Offensive line assignments by the Saints were being shifted to apply more pressure on Brooks' side of the field. Runs were being cut to the opposite side of the field and the QB was scrambling away from Brooks' side.
This guy is a playmaker who could end up starting for the Texans if one of the starters goes down. His continuous motor, and refusal to give up on plays, will pay off for him in the long run.
Reed earns my nomination for Defensive Player of the Game this week.
Last season the play clock was one of the Texans' worst enemies. Coach Kubiak appeared to struggle with managing the clock effectively and, as a result, lost many games late in the game.
Yesterday, however, was different.
Players were making plays that stopped the clock at opportune times (Ben Tate's 43-yard run) and the QBs were doing well to make plays that stopped the clock when it was necessary (Matt Leinart throwing the ball out of the end zone).
Similarly, Coach Kubiak seemed to be comfortable working the play clock. His play-calling in the two-minute drills of the second half were spot on, allowing the clock to work in his favor. Then, on the last possession of the game, he had the QB take a knee to run out the game clock.
It appears that Coach Kubiak has had some clock-management classes during the offseason. Assuming that he continues along his path to enlightenment, he could help his team win more games this season.
*NOT a special teams play*
Perhaps the most glaring deficiency for the Texans remains to be the special teams.
Kickoff coverage looked horrendous. The Texans allowed each kickoff return to be brought near or past the 20-yard line—after the kick was fielded in the end zone. Downfield blocking looked sloppy and missed tackles were abundant.
The Saints returners were able to easily slip many of the tackles and break away for big yardage and good field position.
On the opposite side of the ball the Texans' kick returner, rookie Shiloh Keo, was quickly smothered when he brought the ball out of the end zone. He looked slow coming off the catch and appeared to be guessing as to where he should go with the ball.
The Saints had an average of 28.7 yards per kickoff return, while the Texans were able to scrape together a 20.5-yard average.
If the Texans want to keep themselves in contention during games, they will need to find a solution to the ailing special teams.