COUNTDOWN TO THE SEASON

Cody Stoots: 11 observations from Texans-49ers preseason action

Deshaun Watson played one series. Houstontexans.com

1. Only a handful of what will likely be starters played for the Texans Saturday night. J.J. Watt, Tyrann Mathieu, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Johnathan Joseph and Benardrick McKinney were among the players held out. Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus also sat out for the defense and Keke Coutee is still out for the offense.

2. Deshaun Watson was in for one series leading the Texans on a scoring drive. His first pass was a quick decision to Bruce Ellington who took it 37 yards for a big gain. Later Watson was a bit behind Braxton Miller leading to Miller getting hit and an incompletion. There was a clear emphasis on quick stuff as Ellington caught another quick one. Ryan Griffin hauled in a big play as he came across the defense and Watson found him for 22 yards. A few more quick strikes had the Texans on third and goal from the one. 

3. With third and goal from the one, the Texans attempted to run a quick play to Bruce Ellington but Troymaine Pope appeared to run the wrong route disrupting the play and resulting in an incompletion. The Texans went for it on fourth down and Watson found Ellington just past the goal line to score the touchdown. Watson seemed to be behind his receivers on a couple of throws but it wasn't anything egregious. 

4. Duke Ejiofor showed up early and often for the Texans but in a different way from last week. He had two special teams tackles and sniffed out a reverse by Dante Pettis, son of Astros third base coach Gary Pettis, for a big tackle for a loss. The pass rushing wasn't as present as last week, however, but, he went against the 49ers first team for a good amount of reps. 

5. Kevin Johnson had a scary moment early in the game. Marquise Goodwin blew past him for a big gain on third down and as Johnson gave chase he stumbled smashing his head into the turf. He was on the ground for a long while and it appeared as though they would cart him out but he popped up and walked off under his own power. He did not return with a reported concussion. 

6. Aaron Colvin had a tough couple of reps tonight against the 49ers slot specialist. Second-year wide receiver Trent Taylor shook Colvin in the red zone for a touchdown beating him by a good margin. Taylor again beat Colvin for a first down on another drive hauling in a Jimmy Garoppolo dart. Colvin was an ace at the slot assignment for Jacksonville last year and has made a lot of good plays in practice. It was likely just a bad day but something to monitor next week against the Rams. 

7. Justin Reid had a bounce-back performance with still some room to grow. It appeared Reid, Zach Cunningham, and Aaron Colvin had a miscommunication allowing 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk to scamper almost untouched for a 24-yard pickup. Reid looked to get lost in the play but that was seemingly his only big mistake. Later, Reid diagnosed a play quickly and blasted the ball carrier stopping them short of a first down. He has flashed plenty of talent but will need to correct the small mistakes. He will be asked to play early in his career a good amount with Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu being the only safties ahead of him on the depth chart. 

8. Sammie Coates and Braxton Miller had a tough night in their competition to solidify a spot on the team. Coates had a couple of early snags linking up with Brandon Weeden. He also returned a kickoff. In the second quarter, his night ended as Weeden threw him a high pass that went through his hands and he was drilled by the 49ers defender. He wouldn't return due to a concussion. Miller didn't get a lot of opportunities in the game. He couldn't come up with an early Watson toss and with the offense struggling to get into a rhythm he didn't get much action his way. 

9. Rookie wide receiver Vyncint Smith caught the deciding score from Joe Webb on a 41-yard pass play that was reviewed and ruled a touchdown. Smith is an interesting candidate for the team as it is highly unlikely he can make the 53-man roster. He has skills and instincts that earned him the initial investment and with Sammie Coates in concussion protocol for an undetermined amount of time the rookie could see a few extra reps. He is certainly a candidate for the practice squad and could cement that status in the next two weeks of work and the game against the Rams. 

10. Texans rookie safety Justin Reid addressed the new tackling rules and the emphasis of those rules: "We got shown film right before the game started about things that happened in other games," he said. "It's a big emphasis." He said he pulled up a little on his big hit but he said you have to learn how to play around the rule. Showing the team examples is a nice touch. Any new rule is over-emphasized in the preseason but there will be plenty of controversy associated with this new rule in the preseason. 

11. "I'm not sure, he's at the hospital right now," said Bill O'Brien of Kevin Johnson after the win against the 49ers. "I think he's doing OK considering what happened. I think he's going to be OK." Johnson's health is paramount because the Texans aren't deep at cornerback. Johnson Bademosi isn't an every down player, though he had an interception against the 49ers. Dee Virgin hasn't impressed to a great degree and other players haven't shined. If Johnson is out for an extended time expect to see more than a few free agent names associated with the Texans. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent. 

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It more of the same from the Houston Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Sunday afternoon provided a high-res snapshot of the state of Houston sports. The Astros, already assured of the best record in the American League, played a game they didn’t need to win. The Astros won, ho-hum, their 104th win of the season.

Meanwhile, eight miles away, the Texans, mired in last place with fan support dwindling, played a game they really needed to win. The Texans lost 34-24 to the Los Angeles Chargers in front of (giggle) 69,071 fans at NRG Stadium. The Texans really ought to stop saying the stands are packed. Every time a team punts, and cameras follow the ball skyward, there are thousands of empty seats on display. I know the NFL methodology for determining attendance, (total tickets sold, no-shows don’t count) but it just looks silly when the Texans announce 69,000 fans.

The Texans came close as usual before sputtering to another defeat. The Texans now stand at 0-3-1, the only winless team in the NFL. It’s the second time in three years they’ve started a season without a victory after four games. It’s telling to note that not one of the Texans opponents has a winning record for 2022.

In other words, the Texans have played four games they shoulda/coulda won. Shouda against the Colts, Broncos and Bears, and coulda against the Chargers.

Should/coulda four wins. Instead, none.

That’s the Texans. They’re in every game but can’t close the deal. Yeah, yeah, on Monday we hear, “the Texans are playing hard for coach Lovie Smith” and “they’re competitive” and “they’re a young team.” These are NFL equivalents of a participation trophy.

Sunday’s loss to the Chargers at NRG Stadium was straight out of the Texans playbook. Fall behind, make it interesting, lose. The Texans stuck to their script, timid play calling, momentum-crushing penalties (nine for 67 yards), self-inflicted drops, lackluster quarterbacking and Rex Burkhead on the field for crunch time. After one play where a Texan player was called for holding, the announcer said, “and he did a poor job of holding.”

Statuesque quarterback David Mills keeps saying “we’re in a good spot” and “we’re improving.” Statuesque as in he doesn’t move – or barely moves to avoid sacks. Sunday saw his first touchdown pass to a wide receiver. He’s now thrown four interceptions in the past two games. Let’s go to the tote board: 5 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 4 fumbles, 11 sacks, qbr rating 28.5 – good for 28th in the league.

A bright spot, sort of. This was the first week the Texans didn’t cover the spread. They’re now 1-2-1 against Vegas oddsmakers, meaning you’ve won money if you took the Texans all four weeks. They head to Jacksonville next as early 6.5-point underdogs.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s brilliant quarterback Bryce Young, who will be available for the Texans when they draft first in 2023 (as Paul Heyman says, that’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler), suffered a shoulder injury last Saturday. The Texans need to take out a Lloyds of London insurance policy on Young.

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