If I were made NFL commissioner for a day (which would be awesome, because in one day, Roger Goodell makes $109,589), one edict I would do my best to ramrod through would be the annual playing of certain obvious, geographic rivalry games. There's no reason that the Houston Texans and the Dallas Cowboys play a regular season game once every four years.
Now, I'll admit that it may be something that we, here in Houston, want more than the folks in Dallas do, after all, they have their deep rooted NFC East rivals in the Eagles, Giants, and Redskins. But dammit, we want more things, too! As it is, we are left to settle for annual preseason game each year to go along with the regular season game once every presidential term.
This season, the game will be played in Arlington, the first time it's been played there since 2015, since the 2017 game was cancelled due to the Texans wanting to get home to see loved ones during Hurricane Harvey. It's the third preseason game, so, in theory, there should be at least a handful of frontline players chipping in for a few series. Let's give you a few things to watch for on Saturday night, shall we?
4. Cowboys RB
We will actually start with a bullet point on the Cowboys. In Houston, the contractual holdout we feel most acutely is, of course, Jadeveon Clowney's, but around the league, the holdout being discussed the most is that of Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott is looking for top of market RB money (read; Todd Gurley money), but reportedly the best the Cowboys have offered is enough to make Elliott the second highest paid running back in football. It's a staring contest right now. In the meantime, rookie Tony Pollard has had a few nice moments toting the rock in the preseason, and if Elliott's holdout drifts any further, Pollard may need to be ready for a sizable workload in Week 1 against the Giants.
3. Texans o-line
So, we have another week in the books where Bill O'Brien refers to left tackle Matt Kalil as his Week1 starter, despite Kalil seeing no action in practice all week. None. At least in previous weeks, Kalil practiced once or twice. This past week, he was invisible out at the Methodist Training Center. For what it's worth, here's O'Brien on Kalil after Thursday's practice:
Along the same lines, did you anticipate to hold T Matt Kalil out this much in order to maintain his health?
"Yeah, exactly. He's been a great teammate, he's done a really good job of learning the offense. When he's been in there he's played very well. We've seen a lot of good things from him when he's played and practiced, and we had a plan for him coming in to manage his reps to get him ready for the season and that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to stick to that. He came off of a knee injury last year. He was signed in free agency and he came off of a knee injury from his year in Carolina, and we're just trying to do a good job of managing him the best we can to get him ready for the season."
So, I officially have no clue what's going on. If the season started this coming Monday, I can't imagine Kalil would even dress for the game, let alone start. This is a big start coming up on Saturday for Kalil's replacement Roderick Johnson, who remarkably finds himself on the radar to start in the regular season. Along the rest of the offensive line, it actually feels like progress is being made. Nick Martin is back from a hamstring injury, and Max Scharping and Seantrel Henderson have done a nice job holding down the right side. Which brings us to....
2. First team offense
On Saturday against the Lions, the first team offense made their preseason debut, and it could not have gone any better. Deshaun Watson was 5 of 7 for 60 yards, and looked crisp in the short passing game. The couple of times that he needed to buy extra time, his line gave it to him (although the Lions were pretty vanilla defensively, rushing only three defensive lineman on the strung out plays by Watson), and Watson found open men. I would imagine the first team offense will get more than a series on Saturday, since joint practices served as s suitable preseason game replacement in the Lions game. The primary concern will be keeping Dehsaun Watson (and everyone else) healthy, but continued momentum in execution, especially in the ultra critical short passing game, will be nice to see.
1. Wide receiver "American Idol"
Of all the position battles remaining on the 53 man roster, the most compelling one is the back end of the wide receiver room. I think the first four spots are locked in — DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, and DeAndre Carter. From there, it's a free for all, with about half a dozen guys vying for one, MAYBE two, roster spots. If I had to power rank the candidates right now, it'd go like this:
1. Vyncint Smith — was on the 53 man roster last season, and experience may count
2. Tyron Johnson — undrafted rookie has the best straight line speed and upside of any of these candidates
3. Steven Mitchell — was making a solid early run at a roster spot, but has tailed off a little bit
4. Jester Weah — practice squad guy last year, has some coaching up to do
5. Johnnie Dixon — undrafted rookie who got paid a decent signing bonus, just hasn't stood out to date
6. Chad Hansen — interesting lanky frame, has been getting work on punt returns in practice, too
So there you go. We will see what happens.