Sean Pendergast

NFL Preseason Week 1: Texans 26, Packers 7 — Four Winners, Four Losers

David Culley's first game as an NFL head coach had a favorable outcome.
David Culley's first game as an NFL head coach had a favorable outcome. Screen grab from YouTube
I never thought I would ever say this, given how trivial preseason football can feel at times, but dammit, it was great to have preseason football back over the weekend! Because of COVID-19, there were no preaseson games in 2020, which means that prior to Saturday night, the last time the Texans played in a preseason game (August 29, 2019), Jadeveon Clowney was actually still on the roster.

For a bit of perspective, Clowney is on his THIRD TEAM since being traded two days after that 2019 preseason game. Of course, if you're a Texans fan, then you know Clowney's departure is just the tip of the iceberg of what's happened with this team in the last two years. The remainder of that list requires its own post, if not its own documentary.

Putting all drama aside, something this version of the Texans has actually been quite good at throughout training camp, the game itself in Green Bay on Saturday, a 26-7 Texans victory, was a continuation of what we have seen out at practice for the first three weeks of the David Culley Era. A team that is engaged, enthusiastic, and seemingly well coached. Certainly, they seem better coached than the underachieving 2020 version of the Texans.

With 50 new faces on the roster, there is a ton of competition for jobs and slots on the depth chart. As with any game, there were winners and losers. For the first time in nearly two years, here are some preseason game action winners and losers:

WINNERS

4. Tyrod Taylor
One of the really nice developments from the last 10 days or so of training camp has been the comfort level Taylor has shown in the offensive system, and the manner in which he is carrying himself as a leader. Taylor is one of the more awkward situations that I can ever think of for a starting quarterback, where not only is he replacing a Pro Bowler, but said Pro Bowler is out at practice every day watching from the sideline while he waits for the team to trade him (or to to be charged by HPD with some horrific stuff). As for the game on Saturday, Taylor was 4 of 4 for 40 yards, showed a nice chemistry with wide receiver Chris Conley, and put three points on the board. It will be interesting to see what kind of run Taylor gets this season, because it's widely assumed that eventually rookie Davis Mills will need a few starts to show what he can do.

3. Scottie Phillips
On Saturday, Phillip Lindsay was the starting running back (5 carries, 14 yards), David Johnson was used sparingly as a third down back, and Mark Ingram didn't play. This opened the door for Phillips, who was with the team in 2020 as a rookie. Phillips responded with 13 carries for 66 yards, and a powerful touchdown run. The only negative on Phillips' ticket was a missed pickup of a blitz right up the gut that almost got Mills murdered. For a player like Phillips, running back may be one of the toughest positions to crack, with so many veterans on the roster, but Phillips probably couldn't have asked for a better opportunity on Saturday. At the very least, there is some good film out there on him for other teams to see, and possibly act upon, if he gets cut.

2. Jaleel Johnson
There are a lot of very interesting players in the interior of the defensive line for the Texans. Unlike Romeo Crennel's and Anthony Weaver's scheme, which looks for heftier run stoppers, Lovie Smith likes his defensive tackles to get upfield and make plays. We've seen a lot of improvement out of Ross Blacklock, we've seen flashes from rookie Roy Lopez, and then there's a slew of veterans who are in "one year contract" audition mode. Johnson was the one making the biggest impact on Saturday, recovering two fumbles. Causing turnovers was a major issue for the Texans in 2020, so being in on some turnovers in training camp is one way to separate yourself from a crowded pack.

1. The Culley coaching staff
Here was my assessment of the game, in the moment, on Twitter Saturday night:

I had a few people ask me why they think the team is better coached, which is a fair question. My semi-educated assessment is that the team just looks crisper in practice, they look more technically and fundamentally sound, and most importantly, young players who weren't getting developed under Bill O'Brien's staff are now being developed. Keep an eye on guys like Charlie Heck, Jonathan Greenard, Blacklock, and others who are still on rookie contracts. If Culley's staff can develop some of them, it will accelerate the team's rebuild.

LOSERS

4. Kahale Warring
Names like Heck, Blacklock, and Greenard, those are young players about whom I am optimistic. Then there's a player like Warring, the third year tight end who's barely seen the field since being drafted in 2019. In practice, he still struggles catching the ball consistently, and on Saturday night, he had a holding penalty that set a record for "number of referees who threw their flag on one penalty." It felt like it was raining yellow flags. Warring is already in an uphill battle because of what are likely three locks to make the roster in front of him — Pharaoh Brown, Jordan Akins, and rookie Brevin Jordan. Mistakes compound his struggle.

3. Texans punt returners of the Bill O'Brien Era (looking at you, DeAndre Carter!)
Here's another thing I like about Nick Caserio and David Culley, as opposed to Bill O'Brien — instead of employing a bunch of under-talented, "try hard" guys to perform jobs that require explosiveness, Caserio and Culley use ACTUAL EXPLOSIVE ATHLETES. So I say good riddance to all memories of DeAndre Carter, a nice guy who might be better suited to substitute teaching than returning punts in the NFL, because check out Desmond King, baby!
2. Jeff Driskel
Now, that said, not all Caserio/Culley employment decisions make sense. For example, Jeff Driskel being allowed to take any snaps as an NFL quarterback should be banned by law. Yet, right now, he is the Texans' third string quarterback. Sadly, while there are good things from camp that revealed themselves in the game win Saturday, there have been some horrific camp trends that also showed up, Driskel sucking at quarterback being the most noteworthy. He was 1 of 6 for 2 yards passing the football, and the numbers don't really indicate that at least two of the incompletions should have been intercepted. Driskel is bad.

1. David Johnson
David Johnson seems like a swell guy and a good teammate, but unfortunately for him, in Houston, he will always be the guy who came over in the DeAndre Hopkins trade. Last season, Johnson was miscast as "dude being used like he was a Pro Bowler in 2019, not 2016." Unfortunately, he was also paid that way, too. Now, his salary is more in line with his skillset, which is certainly more that of a role player than a frontline below back. That said, on Saturday, Johnson got one chance in the run game, on a 3rd and short and was stuffed in the backfield, a perfect metaphor for Johnson's Texans career, thus far.

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