For the Houston Texans, beating the San Francisco 49ers on the road and the New Orleans Saints at home in Weeks 1 and 2 of the preseason was nice and all, but if we are to buy into Week 3 of the preseason being the most meaningful of the preseason weeks, then what happened in NRG Stadium on Sunday afternoon was something altogether different.
The Texans beat the Arizona Cardinals, one of about a half dozen teams on the short list of Super Bowl favorites for 2016, 34-24, but perhaps the score that mattered even more was 31-10 — that was the halftime score. Thirty minutes of football, largely with 1's against 1's, and the Texans were leading by 21, despite a complete inability to run the football.
I have no idea if the optimism coming out of Sunday translates into similar achievement beginning two weeks from now, but things sure are getting fun to think about. Let's see who won and lost the little battles on Sunday...
4. John Simon
While everyone sort of waits to anoint a healthy Jadeveon Clowney as the starting outside linebacker for this time, Simon continues to make plays this preseason. Of course, he scored the Texans first touchdown of the preseason two weeks ago in San Francisco, and on Sunday, his interception and score off of Carson Palmer was slightly reminiscent of J.J. Watt's pick and score against Andy Dalton in the 2011 playoffs. It's clear the coaching staff still sees Simon as a working part of this defense.
3. DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins isn't really listed here for anything he did in the game on Sunday, although his two catches were both for first downs, and the first one in particular showed off a shiftiness in tight space that I don't recall seeing in Hopkins last season. No, Hopkins is listed here because the top wide receiver in his draft class, Tavon Austin of the Rams, got paid this weekend. Here are the details on Austin's deal and the comparison between him and Hopkins:
TAVON AUSTIN (2013-2015):— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) August 27, 2016
123 catches, 1133 yds, 9 TDs
DeANDRE HOPKINS (2015 ALONE):
111 catches, 1521 yds, 11 TDs https://t.co/7iC6NgUXmX
Man., Hopkins's next deal, whether here or somewhere else in two years, just keeps growing and growing.
2. Dak Prescott
My putting Prescott here has become a weekly tradition, my one non-Texans related nugget, and if he would just stop being so awesome, then maybe I could find another non-Texans topic to talk about. However, not only was Prescott decent against the Seahawks (17-23, 116 yards, 1 touchdown pass), but he will now need to be pretty damn good in the regular season with Tony Romo out with a fracture in his back for six to ten weeks. As I've mentioned many times, Prescott is who I wanted for the Texans. How painful it will be if he turns into something four hours to the north. That said...
1. Brock Osweiler
.....the guy the Texans wound up with was pretty damn good for a second straight game. On Sunday, Osweiler was 11 for 13 for 146 yards and a gorgeous touchdown to Will Fuller. In fact, Osweiler and Fuller seem to have found a nice rhythm working with one another. I'm not sure what led to Osweiler's 26.7 percent completion percentage on deep balls in Denver last season, but I'll be damned if it looks like he's fixed whatever it was. Also, Osweiler has shown solid poise over the last two games. In particular, on the fourth and three call in the first series, he felt pressure, slid up, and completed a pass to Braxton Miller. Osweiler looks ready to make John Elway regret his decision to roll with Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian at QB this season.
4. Running game
All of that said about Osweiler, the Texans are going to need to run the football consistently at some point. It's one thing to blame underperformance in the run game on the herky jerky nature of the preseason, but it's another thing to rush for 48 yards on 23 carries. I mean, it's bad enough when a null set like Alfred Blue is your leading rusher, but it's even worse when he rushes for 17 yards on six carries, and that's enough to get that done.
3. Random outside linebackers
We all know the first three outside linebackers on this team — Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, and John Simon, in some order. After that, it's been a bunch of random (largely undrafted) names over the last three seasons. (Where have you gone, Kourtnei Brown?) One of those random names has been guaranteed a spot the last few years because most teams carry more than three outside linebackers. Well, go ahead and shut down the competition for the fourth OLB spot now... sorry, Eric Lee, Carlos Thompson, and Tony Washington. Brennan Scarlett nailed down that spot on Sunday with six tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. It reminded me of Bryan Braman making the team in 2011 with a multi-sack game against the Jets in the preseason.
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2. Cecil Shorts
In a battle for the fifth wide receiver spot, Keith Humphrey made a big 31-yard catch down the field with the second unit, and Shorts had one catch for seven yards. I'm just starting to get the sneaking suspicion that the Texans are going to roll into the season with Hopkins as their most experienced WR heading into his fourth season... and I think they're fine with this.
1. Matt Barkley
Yeah, yeah, Barkley threw two touchdown passes to get Arizona back into the game. He also had two interceptions and lost a fumble. Remember that time USC held a celebratory press conference when Barkley announced he was returning for his senior year? That was pretty funny. Oh, also, remember that time Barkley's personal QB coach, Steve Clarkson, compared him to a combination of Tom Brady and Joe Montana? Even funnier. But not as funny as the time Clarkson compared Jimmy Clausen to LeBron James.
Now, THAT'S comedy.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.