Sean Pendergast

NFL Preseason Week 3: 49ers-Texans — Four Things To Watch For

We should get our first preseason look at Brandin Cooks tonight.
We should get our first preseason look at Brandin Cooks tonight. Photo by Jack Gorman
Heading into the 2021 season last year, the NFL restructured its overall schedule to lengthen the regular season (the MONEY games!) and shorten the postseason (the non-money, NUISANCE games!), so now the third preseason game is the final one, and thus, we have a weird balance of starters trying to get their final competitive work in before the regular season and fourth string guys trying to make the team.

That's what's on tap tonight at NRG Stadium, as the San Francisco 49ers come to town for the third and final preseason game of 2022. The most noteworthy thing nationally about this game is that it will be the first game streamed on Amazon Prime as part of their new Thursday Night Football package. Word is Amazon is going deep on resources — 56 total cameras! — to bring a new level of immersive to the telecast.

Locally, though, we just care about the Texans, so let's look at four storylines to keep an eye on tonight:

4. Running back world order
In the last preseason game in Los Angeles, rookie running back Dameon Pierce didn't see the field. It wasn't because he was hurt or in the doghouse. Quite the opposite, actually. It's because five carries in the first preseason game were enough to show the coaching staff that he is THE MAN in the backfield. With starters playing tonight, it will be very intriguing watching Pierce run behind the first string offensive line, and similarly it will be very intriguing to watch the scrum for carries behind Pierce. Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead figure to make the team, but Royce Freeman and Dare Ogunbowale have flashed some things in camp, and are hoping to snag one of the last roster spots.

3. Defensive line job battle
Head coach Lovie Smith confirmed on Tuesday morning that former second round pick Ross Blacklock will not play in tonight's game. He was sidelined at practice with an ice pack on his groin. That is not ideal for a guy who was struggling to make the team, even when he was healthy. Because of some offseason veteran free agent signings at defensive end (Rasheen Green, Mario Addison, Jerry Hughes) and some unexpected rapid development of young defensive tackles, particularly rookie free agent Kurt Hinish, the musical chairs are about to nip Blacklock in the bud. It would be surprising at this point to see him make the team.

2. Kenyon Green time
The rookies, to this point, have been boom or bust for the Texans. OK, maybe "bust" is a little hyperbole, but it's undeniable that Texan fans are a little concerned as to how little we've seen from first round pick left guard Kenyon Green to this point. Green's preseason has been curtailed, in part, due to a concussion suffered in a practice early on at camp. However, there have been conditioning issues, as well. Tonight, we get our first look at Green in game action, likely with the second unit of the offensive line. With as thin as the Texans' roster is of talent, they need these high draft picks to work out. Green will be under the microscope tonight, for sure.

1. Get it in gear, Davis!
Green's health has certainly been a source for anxiety, but let's face it — the story of this season is the development (or lack thereof, possibly) of quarterback Davis Mills, To this point, there's been a lot more to make us nervous than there has been to make us confident in the second year signal caller. Granted, he hasn't had his full complement of weapons or offensive line protection in the first two preseason games, but that's no excuse for the two or three near picks he tossed in the game against the Rams. Tonight, my wish list for Mills is an early scoring drive on the first series, and no turnover-worthy throws that make us cringe.

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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 the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast