Texans vs. Saints: Score and Twitter Reaction from 2015 PreseasonAugust 30, 2015
If Week 3 of the NFL preseason provides the best window into what the regular season may reveal, the Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints can both take positives from Sunday's clash at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Texans won 27-13, but the inconsistency in personnel on the gridiron makes the matchup more about the standout individuals, with less emphasis on the bottom-line result.
Defensive linemen J.J. Watt and Vince Wilfork, along with top cornerback Johnathan Joseph, sat out for Houston. Under those circumstances the Texans did well to hold elite Saints quarterback Drew Brees and New Orleans to a field goal in Brees' only possession running the show.
But even with a diminishing supporting cast from the team's transactions the past two offseasons, Brees still operated the offense well. The past Super Bowl MVP completed four of six passes for 40 yards in guiding New Orleans to three points.
Brian Hoyer won a QB competition over Ryan Mallett in Houston. Both had innate familiarity with coach Bill O'Brien's system as former New England teammates. Hoyer looked like a seasoned veteran on Sunday in orchestrating two scoring drives that netted 10 points.
With the freedom to audible at the line of scrimmage, Hoyer had the Saints defense on its heels on the opening drive. The highlight of Hoyer's emphatic response to Brees' precise display was a 29-yard beauty to No. 1 wideout DeAndre Hopkins, per the NFL's official Twitter account:
Hoyer went up top to Hopkins again later in the possession, drawing a pass-interference penalty that set up Alfred Blue's one-yard touchdown plunge. In all Hoyer totaled 82 yards on 7-of-11 passing.
O'Brien spoke about the Texans' offensive execution afterward.
"I always want to see the offense in rhythm. We have things to work on, but that is what the preseason is all about," he said, per the team's official Twitter account. O'Brien added, "I thought the offense moved the ball pretty well today. I feel very good about our QB position."
It appears evident Hopkins, a 2013 first-round pick, is keen to take up Andre Johnson's mantle as the Texans' go-to playmaker. He nearly hauled in Hoyer's second pass for a TD on the pass-interference call, drawing praise from ESPN's Louis Riddick:
Although the Saints had the NFL's 31st-ranked defense last season and didn't look too sharp in their first crack at Houston, their starters showed gradual improvement. New Orleans held the Texans to a field goal and put heat on Hoyer on a third down to force a punt on the third possession.
Another notable subplot for the Saints from this contest ties to their aforementioned lack of offensive weaponry. Second-year former undrafted free agent Willie Snead had his moments, albeit without Brees on the field with him.
Check out the power Snead (5'11", 195 lbs) showed in securing the catch, getting upfield and making something happen with his strength and speed:
ESPN's Mike Triplett believes Snead, who finished Sunday's game with four catches on 56 yards on six targets, is virtually guaranteed a spot on New Orleans' roster:
Perhaps most exciting for the victorious Texans were the flashes from rookies in first-round cornerback Kevin Johnson and third-round receiver Jaelen Strong.
A key pass breakup on a 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line alone makes Johnson's performance notable. The team's official PR feed further highlighted how well Johnson fared:
Strong, an Arizona State product, had a game-high five receptions, good for 40 yards and a 4th-and-2 TD grab off a laser from the backup signal-caller Mallett:
Mallett expressed disappointment Tuesday for losing the QB battle to Hoyer and even missed Thursday's practice for oversleeping, per the Houston Chronicle's John McClain.
"I'm still part of a really good football team; I'm not looking at it as a setback," he said of losing the competition, per ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli. "Am I disappointed? Yeah. Angry? Little bit. Thought I did enough to deserve the job. But it was not seen that way, so I'll do what's best for the team."
The lost practice wasn't a good look for Mallett, whose arm talent is unquestionably better than Hoyer's. Considering the recent controversy, Mallett did well to at least lead one trip to paydirt with a rocket throw.
Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle poked fun at Mallett's prior tardiness and was also critical of his sporadic accuracy amid a performance in which he completed nine of 17 passes for 77 yards.
With 2:22 remaining in the third quarter, Saints running back Edwin Baker took a 4th-and-1 sweep play to the left sideline and scampered 45 yards to the end zone, cutting the deficit to 20-13.
A couple of younger QBs got to mop up the majority of the game from there. If Mallett's consistency issues continue, perhaps Tom Savage can step up.
Savage did underthrow a potential touchdown late, but before then he capped a 12-play, 80-yard march with a six-yard strike to Chandler Worthy. That gave Houston the insurance score it needed with just over 10 minutes left in the game to come out on top on the road.
Saints rookie Garrett Grayson saw extended action in the second half. Brees' heir apparent showed signs of growing and was the victim of some dropped passes in going 7-of-16 passing for 60 yards.
Backups will be in for both teams in the preseason finale as the tail end of evaluation takes place, so it's time to look ahead at a brief 2015 forecast for Houston and New Orleans.
With Johnson doing a number in the Texans' secondary and Watt readying for the regular season completely fresh, there's reason for optimism in Houston. What the team's playoff hopes will come down to is how well Hoyer plays—especially without the likes of elite running back Arian Foster, who's out with a groin injury.
Hoyer deserves credit for his ongoing resilience and for staying strong amid a second straight training camp duel for a starting job. This year wasn't quite the circus Hoyer was mired in with the Cleveland Browns and Johnny Manziel, but the pressure is still on the former Cleveland signal-caller to lead the Texans to the postseason.
The NFC South changes rather drastically on an annual basis based on its brief history. It's anyone's guess as to how the Saints will fare, but Brees at least gives them a chance. If the defense plays more like Sunday's final drive against Hoyer and Co. than the 2014 disaster, marked improvement ought to be expected in New Orleans.