Sean Pendergast

NFL Preseason, Week 2: Texans 20, Cowboys 14 — Four Winners, Four Losers

The David Culley Era is off to a 2-0 start in the 2021 preseason.
The David Culley Era is off to a 2-0 start in the 2021 preseason. Screen grab from YouTube
Last season, there were very few things the Houston Texans did well, and most of the things they did do well were executed by a player who (a) no longer wants to be here, and (b) is being sued by 22 civil lawsuit plaintiffs for some alleged sketchy behavior in massage settings. The real issues were on the defensive side of the ball, where their leading sack getter had just five all season. (Oh, have I mentioned he's gone now, too?)

However, the most embarrassing aspect to last year's team was their complete impotence at turning other teams over. NINE TURNOVERS, that's all the Texans defense could force last season. NINE. It's a ridiculously low, practically historically low, number of turnovers.

Well, last night, in the second game of the preseason (and yes, I know, it's JUST THE PRESEASON), the Texans rode four forced turnovers to a 20-14 win over the Dallas Cowboys. (Ah, the five most beautiful words in football — "win over the Dallas Cowboys," but I digress.) That's on top of the three turnovers they forced in Week 1 of the preseason at Green Bay.

So for those of you scoring at home, that's seven turnovers in TWO games. This gives us the perfect segue into the winners and losers for last night's victory, a victory that makes the Texans a preseason 2-0 in the David Culley Era! Here we go....


WINNERS

4. Lovie Smith
If we are attributing this newfound propensity for stealing the football to one person, it all must trace back to Lovie Smith, who was hired this past offseason to run Culley's defense. Smith's signature as a defensive coach has always been —- drum roll, please — FORCING TURNOVERS, in his aggressive-up-front, ball hawking "Tampa 2" scheme. You can see out at practice each day how much stripping the football and trying to coax takeaways are points of emphasis. If this team is going to overachieve in 2021, they'll need to win the turnover battle in games. It's almost non-negotiable, because as I said earlier, the one guy making all the plays in 2020 will not be around, and if he is around, he won't be in uniform.

3. Cam Johnston
Did a punter make my list of "winners" for this game? Hell yeah, he did! Just to take you back out to Texans practice for a moment, as I've been at practically every sweltering minute of it, one of the biggest spectacles each day is watching Johnston punt. The Australian style punter has a rocket launcher for a right leg. Seriously, I don't think I've seen him shank a single punt in practice, and on Saturday night his first three punts were two 56 yard boomers WITH HANG TIME, and then a shorter punt that dug into the turf at the one yard line and spun backwards like a pitching wedge. Johnston was the only free agent given a three- year deal by Nick Caserio, and it's quite evident as to why.

2. Lonnie Johnson
1. Charles Omenihu

If the rebuild is going to accelerated for the Texans, the coaching staff is going to need to develop some of the former draft picks who have either stagnated or regressed under O'Brien's staff. On the defensive side of the ball, the two defensive players left over from the 2019 class, safety Lonnie Johnson (2nd round pick) and defensive end Charles Omenihu (5th round pick), both had monster games on Saturday. Johnson had a pick six that turned the game around for the Texans, who were trailing 14-7 in the third quarter at the time:
Meanwhile, Omenihu was a monster all night long, with three tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery.
This night was not a fluke for either guy. Both have shown great improvement throughout training camp.

LOSERS

4. David Johnson
In Saturday's game, six different running backs carried the football. David Johnson was not one of them. It's not because he didn't play. He played. Not that you'd notice, though. The only reason I know he played is because he had one errant target that showed up in the box score. Look, let's call it what it is — the only reason David Johnson would be kept around on this team would be (a) because the team doesn't want to take a $4 million cap hit by cutting him, and/or (b) they're trying to save face and get SOMETHING out of the only "name" asset to come back in the sports-tragic DeAndre Hopkins trade.

3. Shaq Lawson
Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the football, Lawson is in a similar situation. He came over in a trade from the Dolphins this past offseason, although not for nearly as coveted an asset as Hopkins. Lawson came over to the Texans for linebacker Benardrick McKinney, who was likely going to be cut if he weren't traded. The hope with Lawson is that he would regain some of the form that made him  highly paid free agency signing by the Dolphins. Instead, Lawson has been invisible in practice, and is playing in the fourth quarter of preseason games with guys who will be bouncing at local taverns in September.

2. Situational football
Hey, the Texans are 2-0, so we will take it. However, we can't ignore in victory what we would attend to in defeat. This team is struggling offensively, and it's magnified by how poorly they are doing in crucial situations. In the first preseason game, against the Packers, they were forced to kick four field goals because of red zone ineptitude. (Granted, it was nice to be IN the red zone so many times, unexpectedly, but still!) On Saturday, they were 0-10 on third down. I don't know what the winning percentage is for teams that don't convert a single third down in a game, but I am guessing the Texans used up their allotment for the next several seasons by winning on Saturday. Not to go into coach speak, but they need to clean that up.

1. Ben DiNucci
If you're watching HBO's annual trying camp series "Hard Knocks," then you know that DiNucci is one fo the "under the radar," fringe-of-the-roster stories that they are choosing to highlight. DiNucci is an undersized, plucky, chess-playing scrambler put of an FCS school, who was drafted in the seventh round a couple years ago. He is also not great at football. On Sunday, DiNucci gift wrapped the game for the Texans with three second half picks, including the pick six to Johnson. Hey look, I can kind of see what Jerry Jones is trying to do with the unknown, small school, underdog QB with the Italian last name — he is trying to create Tony Romo 2.0. Unfortunately, this kid is just Ben DiNucci 1.0.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast