On Saturday against the Miami Dolphins, in the only home preseason game of 2023, the Texans' defense, largely the backups and backups' backups, put the Texans' fan base re-found positive energy to the test in a 28-3 loss, and while it was a disheartening three hours on the scoreboard, I would argue (given that preseason results, ya know, DON'T COUNT IN THE STANDINGS) that the Texans filled more boxes on their checklist for this game than the final score would indicate.
C.J. Stroud improvement ... CHECK. Pass protection, existent ... CHECK. Will Anderson nearly decapitating some poor bastard ... BIG CHECK.
Meanwhile, on the downside, the Texans' defense appeared to be paying some sort of weird homage to last year's horrific run defense by making tackling and setting the edge appear optional. So there was some good, some bad. Basically, it was preseason football, with some winners and some losers. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
4. Will Anderson's highlight reel
There's a lot to like about this Texans' rookie class, and right at the top of the list is Anderson, who has been everything, thus far, that the Texans traded up in the draft for. On Saturday, Anderson provided one of the team's few highlights defensively, when he played windshield to Salvon Ahmed's mosquito on his way to his first sack of the preseason:
Clint Stoerner and I asked Anderson about the play in the team's postgame show on SportsRadio 610, and Anderson was exceedingly happy over nearly murdering two men in the Dolphin backfield:
Wreak havoc ‼️ pic.twitter.com/7TqaCWs0gg— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) August 19, 2023
3. Juice Scruggs' "dawg" reputation
Sticking with the theme of the 2023 rookie class, the Texans are going to head into the season on a bit of ledge offensively, insomuch as they will be starting (presumably) a rookie quarterback and a rookie center. We will talk more about the quarterback in a minute, but about the center, Juice Scruggs, the second round pick out of Penn State — thus far, in camp, he has shown continual improvement, and in this clip appears to be ready to embrace the whole "play through the whistle" ethos of the new Houston Texans:
Things started out really well for the Texans on Saturday. In fact, the very first play from scrimmage was damn near a pick six from jersey number six on the Texans, inside linebacker Denzel Perryman, who has also had a solid camp, as he tries to regain his Pro Bowl form of two seasons ago in Las Vegas:
Let's start by acknowledging the starting offensive line, who according to Pro Football Focus, allowed zero QB pressures during their half of football. That's the foundation for everything, because I think C.J. Stroud has shown that, if he has time, his ball placement skills will allow the offense to move the football. On Saturday, and at this stage of Stroud's development, I'm really just looking for the right amount of plays to make me feel like the Texans knew what they were doing when they used the second overall pick of the draft on Stroud. On Saturday, I got what I needed.
On the Texans' second drive that ended in a field goal, Stroud threw a perfectly timed slant to Nico Collins, and then a well placed sideline route to Noah Brown, both for 14 yards. When he got put in a 2nd and 13 situation, he created a manageable third down with a short dump off under pressure to TE Dalton Schultz, and then had, in my opinion, his most impressive completion, on 3rd and 7, across the far hash to Robert Woods to keep the chains moving. Late in the second quarter, what is just an incompletion in the box score to Noah Brown, was actually a great read by Stroud to escape pressure and throw a dime that should have been caught:
Bottom line — there is a LOT to like about C.J. Stroud at this stage.
we watch Deshaun have issues with an unblock rusher for years yet CJ recognized it in his 2nd preseason game…the offensive coaching he’s receiving at this stage is night & day— NaronStradomus (@theTNShow) August 20, 2023
and that’s no knock on D4…it just encouraging to see my rookie make strides ✊🏾pic.twitter.com/w4jwEKgZan
I once heard a soon-to-be-great head football coach say "“It always comes down to situational football. If you don’t own those situations, you’re going to lose football games.” Who was that future great head coach, you ask? It was DeMeco Ryans, and it was after Saturday's game! (To be fair, most coaches, great and not so great, feel the same way about situational football, I just happen to like DeMeco.) So why was Ryans saying this after Saturday's game? Because, situationally, the Texans were abysmal on Saturday.
Early in the game, they failed to capitalize in the red zone on Perryman's interception. On third down defensively, they allowed a 60 percent conversion rate (9 of 15), and on two of the third downs stops, it didn't matter because they then allowed a fourth down conversion. Offensively, on third down, they were a wretched 2 of 12, including that drop by Noah Brown on a smooth roll out by Stroud to his left toward the end of the half. The Dolphins took over the football, and proceeded to close out the half with a 65-yard run Slavon Ahmed (Spoiler alert — WillAnderson didn't ACTUALLY murder him), followed by an 18 yard touchdown pass to Braxton Berrios. In summation, every situational check box on the Texans' dance card had a big red X mark. Not good.
3. Tank Dell fans
If we are power ranking the biggest stories of training camp, the early emergence of third round rookie (and U of H legend) Tank Dell as a potential key receiving option might be at the top of the list. He was the team's leading receiver against New England, and he was the most electrifying player for either team during the joint practices with Miami. Unfortunately, according to Ryans, Dell felt some tightness in his leg during warmups, so they exercised some caution. Ryans clarified in postgame that Dell's injury is not considered serious, but it's definitely something worth monitoring. Sad day for Dell fans who came out to the game to watch number 13 do his thing.
2. San Francisco fan fights
We interrupt the breakdown of yesterday's Texans game to check in on DeMeco Ryans' old coaching stomping ground, the Bay Area. I've had the good fortune of traveling to about a third of the venues around the NFL over the last decade or so. I've been in some great environments, and I've been in some sketchy environments, but the one where I felt the least safe was in San Francisco for the Texans' Sunday night loss to the 49ers back in 2013. The Niners have since moved to Santa Clara, but it appears that some things never change. Keep in mind, this footage is from a PRESEASON game:
The Texans were among the worst teams in the NFL last season in yards allowed per play (5.7). On Saturday, they allowed 5.8 yards per play, making Dolphins backup quarterback Skylar Thompson and backup running back Salvon Ahmed look like the second coming of John Elway and Terrell Davis in the process. The most disturbing parts of the defensive effort were the lackluster tackling and the Dolphins' ability to just voraciously devour the Texans' defense on the edges. It was ugly. I have confidence in Ryans to identify the issues (whether technical or motivational, or both) and fix them, but the Texans are three weeks away from facing Lamar Jackson, and that's scary as hell.
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