Critical concerns, observations heading into Houston Texans preseason finale

The Texans face the Saints this Sunday. Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images.

The preseason finale is upon us. That means we're less than two weeks away from REAL football games! When I say “real,” I'm referring to regular season games that count. This also means the Texans are about to embark on the first season under new head coach DeMeco Ryans and his staff.

This is also general manager Nick Caserio's third season in his role. For Ryans, he can almost do no wrong. As a former franchise great, his homecoming as the new head coach (and perception as franchise savior) has him setup for a grace period. On the other hand, Caserio needs all his player personnel moves to pan out, or he may be on the hot seat.

CJ Stroud is going to play in the finale!

The last preseason game is often little more than a last gasp at making the roster for the 37 guys that'll be cut on August 29. Key players and starters typically don't see much playing time. However, C.J. Stroud will be starting. The plan is to give him two series and see how that goes, the Texans head coach said on Wednesday. I'm not opposed to this idea. In fact, I love it!

I think as a rookie quarterback drafted number two overall and expected to be the franchise guy, he requires as many reps as possible (within reason) in order to prep him for the season. If I'm DeMeco, I'd play Stroud for the first quarter.The offensive line isn't all there, so I'd be hesitant to trust him playing more than that.

While Stroud has been getting reps and improving, so has fellow first round rookie Will Anderson Jr. Anderson has been a menace! In the second preseason game, he blew up a play in the backfield, caused a fumble while getting the sack. His PFF grades were the highest amongst all defensive rookies.

While his pass rush skills have always been at the forefront, his run defense has been pretty good as well. The rest of the defense, not so much. If you can't stop the run, you won't win. No matter how much the league has gone to the pass game, the run game is still a prominent factor. Running backs aren't valued as they once were, but teams stockpile them like rations during a drought. Something needs to be done and fast! Whether it's changing gap responsibilities, angles of attack, or run blitzing more, something needs to be done.

Giving up 205 yards on 38 carries to the Dolphins was abysmal. The Patriots only ran it 25 times for 78 yards, but that was both teams' first game. The second preseason game is often the dress rehearsal. If that's an indication of what this defense will look like during the season, get your livers ready.

The only other thing I'm looking at right now is what the rest of the AFC South is doing. The Titans seem to be gearing up for one last hurrah, but don't have as much talent as they used to. They've tried moving on from Ryan Tannehill with Malik Willis. Now they've drafted Will Levis, but Tannehill is still listed as the starter.

The Colts have managed to alienate their star running back while having a rookie quarterback who could use him. Not to mention their receiving corps leaves something to be desired. The Jags are still in the driver's seat. They've added Calvin Ridley, Zay Jones, and brought back Evan Engram on offense. On defense, their young core is one year older and possibly wiser.

If this team wants to make headway, they'll need to figure out how to win at least three or four division games. I can see them winning at least three or four games outside the division. Six to eight wins is where I had them after the draft and schedule release. I'll expand on that thought before the season starts.

Where you make your name known is winning games you're not supposed to by keeping them close. That's where the run game and Stroud come into play. So does Anderson's pass rush skills. If these two high profile rookies step up into their roles, if the run defense corrects itself, if both lines stay healthy…you get the point. There's a lot to look forward to. The season can't get here fast enough!

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The Houston Texans are turning heads after their upset of the Jacksonville Jaguars last weekend. But it's not just that, QB CJ Stroud recently won offensive rookie of the month and the national media is taking notice.

ESPN's Dan Orlovsky called Stroud the best “mover in the pocket” since Joe Burrow, and said the Texans' 2023 Draft Class might be the best in the NFL.

With that in mind, we discuss if Houston should have the highest ranked draft class this year, and if so, will that be enough to keep GM Nick Caserio in the good graces of ownership?

Be sure to watch the video above as we break it all down!

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And listen to The Bench with John Granato and Lance Zierlein weekday mornings on ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 FM.

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