Vikings 28, Texans 0: Five Things We Learned
Matt Leinart's backup job is safe.
Photos by Marco Torres
The short answer is that we didn't learn much. When the only quasi-starter to play is likely Number 3 corner Brice McCain and the offensive line features a free-agent guard signed two days ago, you know there isn't a lot of value.
But Thursday night's preseason finale did still qualify as a game for the Texans (3-1), who fell short in their "bid" to have a perfect preseason for the first time in franchise history.
The game wasn't as lopsided as the final score. Total yards were roughly even (Vikings led 332-322), and the halftime score was 7-0. It would have been closer if not for untimely penalties and an uncharacteristic missed field goal from Neil Rackers.
Things only got out of hand late, with the Texans playing fourth-string and practice-squad types (at best) who are unlikely to see more than a minute's playing time in the regular season.
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Even so, there were a few items of note in the battle of backups that could translate into regular season relevance.
5. T.J. Yates isn't ready to challenge Matt Leinart
This should go without saying, but a few local scouts had praised Yates for his willingness to attack downfield, contrasted against Leinart's propensity to check down and avert all risk. That changed on Thursday. For the first time all preseason, Leinart looked sharp, completing 13-of-16 passes for 145 yards and a 104.4 passer rating. He looked at ease in a two-minute drill to end the first half, moving the Texans from their own 10 to the Minnesota 24. (The drill ended with a Rackers missed field goal as time expired.)
Meanwhile, in the second half, Yates completed under 50 percent of his passes, was sacked twice, threw an interception and lost a fumble. It was an off night for the rookie from North Carolina, who excelled for most of training camp and the preseason. He'll likely have his day as a quality backup in coming years, but the Texans are right to not consider a rookie as the top backup at the game's premium position.
They're ready, too.
4. Trindon Holliday exists!
Drafted in the sixth round a year ago, the pint-sized return ace from LSU has yet to see the field in a meaningful game for the Texans. His hands were shaky in the 2010 preseason, and Holliday was eventually shelved for the year with a thumb injury, which the team said was responsible for the fumbles. The 5-foot-5 returner then pulled a hamstring early in 2011 camp.
As such, Thursday represented Holliday's first game action of 2011, and he proved worth the wait. He returned three kickoffs for 79 yards (average of 26 per) and three punts for 27 yards (9 per). Both were above league averages, and in doing so, Holliday flashed the track-star speed that so tempted the Texans a year ago. Moreover, Holliday also caught a pass for 14 yards -- something Gary Kubiak has said he has to do to ever contend for a roster spot.
With Danieal Manning and Jacoby Jones on the roster as established returners, it's quite doubtful that Holliday makes the team to begin 2011. But Thursday's performance might be enough to earn him a spot on the practice squad, buying him more time to work his way back into the staff's good graces.
3. Could Neil Rackers pull a 2009 Kris Brown?
The sample size is too small to pass significant judgment, especially on a kicker who was 90 percent a season ago. But on Thursday, Rackers missed his second field goal in the past three games, both indoors and both well within his range (34 and 42 yards). He was 3-for-3 last week in windy San Francisco, so it's too early to sound alarm bells. But it was just two years ago when a promising Texans campaign was derailed in large part by kicking issues, so any miscues can bring unfortunate flashbacks.
2. The Texans have no shortage of pass rushers
One of the biggest black eyes for teams of Texan past seems to have been cured by Wade Phillips, whose group of 3-4 outside linebackers seems quite capable of rushing the passer. Bryan Braman recorded another sack, likely securing his status on the practice squad and giving him an outside chance of making the final 53-man roster. Jesse Nading, who too often was tossed aside as a 4-3 end, capped a surprising preseason by harassing Minnesota QB Christian Ponder throughout the first half. Rookie Brooks Reed had five tackles and was routinely around the ball. If anything, the problem for the Texans on Thursday was that the group was too aggressive and allowed Ponder to make plays while running for his life.
1. Dorin Dickerson isn't ready for prime time
When the Texans cut David Anderson, most around the team expected Dickerson to take the leap and jump to the Number 4 receiver in his second season. It didn't happen; he posted just two catches in the preseason. Until Thursday, some wondered if Dickerson and other young wideouts were victims of Leinart's reluctance to look downfield.
But that didn't stop veteran Bryant Johnson, whom the Texans signed this week. He had three receptions for 64 yards. Nor did it stop tight end Garrett Graham, who caught six balls for 71 yards. Johnson seems likely to win the coveted Number 4 role, with Dickerson likely to spend another year as Number 5 and effectively a special-teams-only player.
Update: The Texans opted to outright release Dickerson when final cuts were made on Friday. Even the Number 5 role was too much.