This will be, by far, the most telling, and thus most interesting, of the three preseason games, with the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming to town, and with both head coaches committed to playing their starters for the entire first half of the game. For all of the positive vibes coming out of Texans camp, including a 2-0 record in the preseason, Saturday will give us easily the best gauge of exactly where this new regime is in developing this rebuilding squad.
For the last two preseason games, the Texans have been messing around with the backups of the Packers and Cowboys, figuratively bullying around kids on the playground half their size. On Saturday, for a half at least, the Texans are catching 1990 Mike Tyson in a street fight. Let's just hope it doesn't totally undo whatever shreds of optimism that may have been generated over the last month.
Here are four things to watch for....
4. What will the crowd be like?
I know this has to be at least a latent concern for the team. After a two-year period that's included a pandemic, Bill O'Brien's completely incompetent decimation of the roster, and also whatever the hell is going on with Deshaun Watson, the season ticket wait list no longer exists. If you've ever wanted to buy season tickets for the Texans, you can. We will likely see, for the first time, games that are not sold out in NRG Stadium. The optics on Saturday's crowd may be really bad, given the fact that COVID cases are rising again and it's a preseason game. If you're still hanging on as a Texans fan, you'll cite those exact things as the reasons why. If you're a former Texans fan who's been alienated by their decisions, you'll contend that the stadium is half full because the team has been poorly run. I think the only thing that's certain is that this WILL be a topic on Monday.
3. How does the running back position shake itself out?
If you would like to see my full 53-man roster prediction, it went up earlier this week. One of the most intriguing positions is the running back room, where literally every player is on a one-year contract. It's the ultimate "American Idol" for football! My hope is that the team wakes up, bites the bullet, and moves on from David Johnson (a walking reminder of the DeAndre Hopkins trade) and his $4 million cap hit. My fear is that Johnson gets 15 carries against the Jaguars in Week 1 of the regular season. At the top of the depth chart, I'd like a little more clarity over who's viewed as the lead back, Mark Ingram or Phillip Lindsay. I don't have Scottie Phillips making the 53-man roster, but I would be happy to be wrong on that one.
2. Is this the end of the line for Jeff Driskel?
Most NFL teams are at 80 guys on their roster right now. Soon there will be cuts down to 53 players, and at that point, the market should flood with quarterbacks, young and old, that the Texans can bring in to replace Jeff Driskel as one of the two backups. Driskel has been horrendous in camp, horrendous in the games, and doesn't belong on an NFL roster. If a football hit your kitchen window just now, chances are it was Driskel sailing another ball over a receiver's head at practice. Yes, I feel like he might be a heartbeat away from starting for the Texans in Week 1 if Tyrod Taylor were to get hurt this weekend. That is terrifying.
1. The last chance to make an impression
I mentioned Phillips as a guy trying to stick on the roster. Here are a few names at each position to watch for on Saturday night, bubble guys trying to survive the final cutdown:
QUARTERBACK: 6 Jeff Driskel
RUNNING BACK: 27 Scottie Phillips, 8 Buddy Howell
WIDE RECEIVER: 15 Chris Moore, 14 Alex Erickson
TIGHT END: 81 Ryan Izzo, 83 Anthony Auclair
LINEBACKER: 43 Neville Hewitt, 55 Tae Davis
CORNERBACK: 24 Tremon Smith, 38 Shyheim Carter
SAFETY: 33 A.J. Moore
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