49ers vs. Texans: 10 Things We Learned from Houston's 20-9 Win
Before we deal with this game in particular, and a largely lackluster one at that, let us agree on one thing. Preseason football has as much to do with the regular season as The Bachelorette does with dating.
If this were show business, the preseason would be referred to as an audition, a tryout, a cattle call. A tedious process which hopefully brings a few moments of excitement. A revealing glimpse at the talent that will shine come the full-stage production.
With both Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks out, Gary Kubiak knows his team won against the backup OLBs of the 49ers. But a win is a win, and this one provided some insight into the evolution of a young team whose identity is still under development.
The Quarterback Is Back
Matt Schaub led the offense to its first, and so far only, touchdown of the season. It was a nearly six minute, 80-yard drive against a combination of first- and second-string defenders.
His nine-yard pass to Lestar Jean for the score was greatly aided by a 24-yard jaunt by Arian Foster. Overall he was 11-of-14 for 128 yards, 1 TD, no interceptions, and a 128.5 passer rating.
It must be reassuring to Matt and his teammates that he is still capable of leading the offense. All concerned hope this represents the promise of bigger things to come.
The Right Side of the Offensive Line Is Under Construction
To call it “a work in progress” would be kind.
There are moments when the level of coordination demanded by zone blocking is apparent, but they are fleeting. Last week against the mediocrity that is the defensive line of the Panthers, the Texans rushed for 174 yards and a 4.5 average and all seemed well.
Against perhaps the best front seven in the league missing two of its integral parts, the results were 119 yards. The average was an acceptable 4.4 per carry, but this team is supposed to travel on the ground and they looked tentative when rushing the ball.
Brandon Brooks does not know which way to turn given the direction of the play. He seems to be thinking about the guy he is blocking instead of where his “zone” is located. This puts him out of position and often denies the hole to the running back.
Derek Newton is being given every chance to win the RT position, but his pass blocking is inconsistent at best. The Texans radio team of Marc Vandermeer and Andre Ware wondered aloud if Newton and fellow RT Rashad Butler might be rotated depending on down and distance situations.
I still can’t tell if they were joking or not.
The Texans Can Fool Some of the People Some of the Time
But they could not fool NaVorro Bowman or Patrick Willis.
The Houston running game was slow to get going as long as the two All-Pros were in the game. There is no shame in this, as their 255 tackles in 2011 will attest to.
Winning the game is what really counts. Triumphing in mano-a-mano battles only counts in sports like boxing and MMA.
Luckily, they only have to face them in the preseason.
Andre Johnson Is Available For Work
But he can only accept part-time positions.
He had to demonstrate his ability to strike fear in the hearts of all DBs when he is in the lineup. For one beautiful 43-yard completion that set up the Texans’ second field goal, it seemed just like old times.
No one on the Texans sideline or in the stands needed to see any more after that. Everyone understands his value must be preserved for more critical situations, and this meaningless matchup was not one of them.
But leaping to grab the ball on the run, and in double coverage, showed just how valuable he remains.
James Casey Is Not A Fullback
He does a great impersonation of one, though.
His block to help spring Arian Foster on the 24-yard play on that led to Houston’s lone touchdown showed he is not afraid to block. It just so happens it is not his specialty.
This is more likely the specialty of the other fullbacks, Moran Norris or converted linebacker Derrell Smith. One reception for three yards feels like a misuse of his skills. But Casey is out there, play after play, doing his best to keep his job.
Whatever that might be.
Keshawn Martin and Lestar Jean Are Wide Receivers 3 and 3A
It is easy to tell them apart: one is 5’11”, the other is 6’3”.
Other than that, they do the same thing in different ways. They get open, and when the ball comes their way, they catch it. Martin used his speed to grab three passes for 36 yards. Jean used his size to snatch four receptions for 42 yards and a score.
The two of them are making DeVier Posey an afterthought. The Ohio State alum failed to make an appearance until late in the fourth quarter.
By that point, Jeff Maehl and Juanquin Iglesias had already been in for a couple of series. A third-round pick like Posey is rarely cut in the preseason. A practice squad contributor like Maehl could be looking for work just to keep Posey in the fold.
Further proof that life is not fair.
Shaun Cody Was Out
And I do not believe anyone noticed.
Earl Mitchell and Ra’Shon Harris gave the 49ers’ OL all they could handle. The nose tackle has the dirtiest job in the 3-4 defense, and also the most anonymous.
So it is easy to get missed. When you are in a contract year like Cody, your absence should be cause for great concern.
When it is not, you are the one who should be concerned.
The Defensive Backfield Is Still Undecided
Except for one certainty.
A.J Jenkins, one of the least acclaimed first-round picks of the 2012 draft, had him turned around so many times Ball almost screwed himself right into the turf. Needless to say, this was not the way to follow up his penalty-riddled performance of last week.
If he is not the first DB to be cut, he must have some pictures Coach Phillips would rather keep concealed.
Tim Jamison is the Best Bargain on the Defense
The backup defensive end, filling in for the recovering J.J. Watt, makes $615,000 this year. Antonio Smith will take home $9.3 million, and Jamison is on the verge of outplaying him.
Tim’s stat line for the 49ers game was four tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, and two QB hits. Anytime he sees a path into the backfield, he takes it. Quickly.
He will not supplant Smith or Watt anytime soon. But the Texans’ rotation at this position is as solid as any on the team.
Joe Marciano May Eat His Words
Finally, the littlest player who is the biggest story this preseason may cause the Texans’ special teams coach to reconsider his position.
When discussing chances of Trindon Holliday of making the team prior to training camp, Marciano said “But the thing about him here, he has to make it as a receiver.”
After returning a kickoff for a touchdown last week and a punt return for the same this week, this may no longer be a requirement. Someone with a 4.2 time in the 40 but is 5’5” and willing to risk all returning kicks is exceptional. And clearly deserves an exception from this rule.