Best and worst of Texans on display in heartbreaking opening loss to Saints
Oh, so close. Again.
The Texans played an instant classic Monday night, showing off all their best features - and their worst - in a dramatic, heartbreaking loss to the Saints. Deshaun Watson once again showed off his clutch gene. So, too, did Drew Brees. In a frenetic last minute, the Saints scored on the final play to send the Texans home disappointed.
It was an incredible finish to a game that could set the tone for the 2019 season.
From a fan's perspective, the first game of the season takes on extra meaning. The preseason teaches us nothing, so the excitement of seeing what your team can be is what makes opening night special.
In reality, it does not mean a lot in the grand scheme. Some teams are better prepared for the start of the season than others. Most teams are healthy, which they will not be as the season goes on. Some teams don't develop their identity until several games into the season. Others hit their stride right away.
Last year, the Texans took a while, starting 0-3 before getting a miracle win in Indianapolis and going on to finish 11-5.
Monday night, they almost pulled off an opening night miracle, falling to the Saints 30-28 on a last second 58-yard field goal. We saw the potential of what they can be, and what their issues will be. Let's take a look:
Positives: Deshaun Watson and the offense have a chance to be explosive. He pulled off a huge, clutch final drive, hitting DeAndre Hopkins and Kenny Stills with big plays to give he Texans the lead with under 40 seconds to play.
They had more than their share of moments otherwise, with Watson throwing three TDs and an interception, leading a balanced attack and making plays with both his arms and legs. He looked poised and professional, other than the interception. The running game looked better than expected at times, with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson both making plays running and in the passing game, and teaming with Watson to average almost 8 yards per carry. When things were clicking, they played Bill O'Brien's perfect idea of complementary football. Watson finished with 268 yards, three TDs, 1 pick on 20 of 30 passing and added another 40 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He played well enough win the game.
Negative: The new offensive line was just like the old one, and it limited what they could do. It was basically the same starters as last year with Laremy Tunsil at left tackle. Tunsil looked a lot like a guy who had only been practicing with the team for a week. For what they paid to get him, he has to be better. In general, Watson took too many hits besides the six sacks. On his touchdown run, he should have gone out of bounds, but instead dived for the end zone and had to go to the injury tent. He simply can't take these hits and last the season. Some of it was on the O line; some on Watson. DeAndre Hopkins had some uncharacteristic drops, and an unnecessary penalty after Watson's interception. But overall, the struggles to protect Watson - the dominant theme last year - were on full display again.
Positives: They got a red zone pick to stall a Saints drive and held New Orleans to just three points in the first half. But the Saints also missed a field goal and the Texans were able to control the clock and keep the defense off the field. Whitney Mercilus had a pick and a sack and looked good.
Negatives: With no Jadeveon Clowney, the Saints were able to double and triple team J.J. Watt, essentially taking him out of the game. The secondary, a mess last year, looks to be every bit as concerning this year. Yes, Drew Brees and the Saints are going to torch a lot of secondaries. But this was a serious problem for the Texans in 2018, and looks to be again. They allowed a 40-yard pass on third down late in the game, hurting their chances, then allowed Brees to get the Saints in field goal position with less than 40 seconds to play. They also struggled stopping the run - allowing a ridiculous 7.0 yards per carry, something else Clowney helped with last season. In essence, the Texans just aren't good enough to stop a high powered offense and will have to outscore teams like this. It won't be easy.
The bottom line
The Texans look very much like a team that will be able to handle mediocre squads and slow down average offenses. They are going to have a tough time with the explosive offenses on their schedule. The Saints are a legitimate Super Bowl contender and there is no shame losing in their building. But if the Texans want to be serious contenders in the AFC, they have to find ways to win against teams that have better talent. It will have to come with improvement on the offensive line, because the defense looks very shaky. Sean Payton's staff made better adjustments in the second half, but that was to be expected. All in all, not a bad effort for Week 1, and they should win a lot of games if they play like this.
Just not this time.