For the first time since leaving the field after disposing of the Connor Cook-led Oakland Raiders in last season's NFL wild card playoff round, the Houston Texans took the field at NRG Stadium on Saturday night. They did so against the New England Patriots, and of course, we should symbolically put air quotes around the names of both teams because this IS the preseason, and not at all an indicator of which personnel these two teams will trot out in Week 3 when they meet in New England in the regular season.
Thus, the Texans actually got the upper hand on the scoreboard against Bill Belichick's squad for a change, winning the game 27-23. However, it's the preseason, so the bigger stories are about position battles, rookies trying to make the roster, and patching the holes that have sprung up in training camp.
THAT'S the real scoreboard in August, so let's see how some of the players did...
4. D'Onta Foreman
A lot of the things we say about Deshaun Watson and the uniqueness of his skill set as relates to Texans history also apply to Foreman. While Arian Foster was a supreme running back and the third-best player in the history of the franchise, even he probably wasn't blessed with the God-given traits Foreman has. To that end, for a second week, the rookie out of Texas made a huge chunk play, this time a 63-yard catch-and-run to set up Watson's four-yard TD scamper. I realize Foreman is running against backups, but running back is the one position where I feel like you can reasonably expect someone with Foreman's skills to remain just as productive when he is running WITH first team players as his teammates. At a minimum, Foreman should be getting 15 touches a game once Week 1 of the regular season rolls around.
3. Bruce Ellington
Because the Texans were training in West Virginia, there are still a few players none of us have watched play in a Texans uniform. That's why, when we saw No. 12 making opponents miss and winning jump balls down the field, the reaction in the press box was jokingly like "WOW, that looks like a super souped up Keith Mumphrey!!" No, no it wasn't... it was Ellington, who, given how thin the Texans are at wide receiver, may have cemented his spot on the 53-man roster in one quarter of football Saturday. He missed last season with a hamstring injury, but could turn out to be found money and another nice street free agent pickup by Rick Smith.
2. Nick Martin
Given that Duane Brown is still in the midst of his holdout, with the end in sight hopefully being Week 1 of the regular season, it's accurate (and maybe a little scary, given he hasn't played a regular season snap in his life) to say that Nick Martin is, far and away, Houston's best offensive lineman in camp. If you need video proof, here's a pretty good tweet... watch 66...
When Martin was drafted he was labeled a "ten-year starter" for the Texans. Early on in his de facto rookie year (he was on injured reserve all last season), there is plenty of cause to believe that will be true.
1. Tom Savage
My feeling on this quarterback battle all along has been that the barometer is Tom Savage. In other words, he would have to lose the job more than Deshaun Watson would have to win it. Certainly, Watson would need to play well, but if Savage just held serve, made par, hit line drive singles, and whatever other cross sports analogy you want to come up with, he would keep the job. Saturday night, Savage led two drives that accomplished the necessary results for him to remain the starter, one stalling on a fourth down draw play in the red zone and the other ending with a pretty touchdown pass to (and pretty catch by) Jaelen Strong. At this point, injury is probably the only thing that derails Savage's being the starter coming out of training camp. My biggest concern is that, once the regular season rolls around, Savage's indecisiveness in the pocket, which is still there at times, even when he ultimately completes some of these passes, will lead to sacks. And Watson's escapability will be sitting over there on the sideline with a clipboard and a ball cap.
Tonight: Savage 8-9, 67yds, TD— Adam Wexler (@awexlerKPRC) August 20, 2017
Watson 2-7, 39yds.
Thru 1.5 preseason gms:
Savage: 17-20, 167yds, TD, (118.1)
Watson 17-32, 218yds, (74.7)
4. Deshaun Watson
Hey, speaking of Watson... Saturday night was probably the first backward step that we've seen him take. Some practices he had in West Virginia were up and down, but these games are obviously the most public displays we see of his skills. The numbers are not great — 3-10 for 102 yards (with most of the work on those yards being done by Ellington and Foreman with yards after the catch). However, Watson still made that one play, the dazzling four yard TD scramble on a busted play, where you realize he has a much better chance of finding unique ways to atone for his mistakes than Savage does.
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3. Jimmy Garoppolo
Hey, as long as we are discussing quarterbacks, I think it's entirely appropriate to do a paragraph on Garoppolo, who was reportedly a target for the Texans at draft time back in 2014, and has been linked to them on-again and off-again in trade rumors for a couple years. It's difficult to envision plugging anybody in for Tom Brady and just watching the Patriot machine to continue to cruise, but the Pats obviously love Garoppolo (or else they'd have traded him by now for a bounty of draft picks). Saturday night, he appeared to struggle a bit pushing the ball down the field, and two crucial turnovers — a fumble on a sack to set up a Texans field goal and a careless interception to set up Foreman's touchdown. I think Garoppolo is a good football player. The question will be "Is 'good' good enough for Patriot fans after Brady exits stage right?"
2. Lamar Miller
I posed this question to my postgame show host Ted Johnson on Saturday night — given how the Texans use him, what is the difference between Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue right now? They both get used largely between the tackles, and if anything, Blue is a more physical runner. Miller's key attribute is (was?) his top end speed in the open field, yet the Texans use him like he's Mike Alstott. I know they love Miller's professionalism, and he was steady, if unspectacular, last season. But the presence of Foreman now casts a whole new light (or at least it SHOULD) on the running back depth chart.
1. Zach Cunningham
As rookies go, if you think Deshaun Watson had a rough night, then go watch Cunningham's film. The two Patriots touchdowns were scored on literally the exact same pass play (halfback angle route out of the backfield) from virtually the same part of the field, and both plays involved beating Cunningham with the SAME head fake, and with him giving up the SAME inside position, and with the running back having the SAME amount of ungodly open field to get into the end zone. If NFL Network wants entertaining content, maybe they can put a camera in the linebackers film room this weekend and watch Vrabel skewer Cunningham. That will be even uglier than Cunningham's play on Saturday.
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