NFL PRESEASON

Some Texans players gave it all they had for a shot at the roster in preseason game 4

Bruce Ellington (left), Alfred Blue and Sammie Coates hopefully earned roster spots. Zach Tarrant/Houstontexans.com

The Texans enjoyed the comfort of home as they defeated the Dallas Cowboys 14-6 at NRG Stadium for the fourth and final game of the 2018 NFL preseason Thursday night. The game was a defensive battle between players from the bottom of each roster. No significant starters from either team took part in the action so it’s with a grain of salt that the stats can be analyzed. But the players desperate to make the final 53-man roster? Their effort and the plays they made are all important in the next few days when the coaches will make their final cuts.

The name that stood out the most early was Joel Heath. The third-year defensive lineman was in the backfield almost every play. He is only credited with two tackles, one of them for a big loss; but the pressure he put on the Cowboys’ quarterbacks was instrumental in getting his defense off the field in three or four plays every drive. Heath is probably not a borderline player but the Texans front 7 is loaded with talent and the final game was about playing time. If he can be a disruptive force like his counterparts Watt, Clowney, Mercilous and Reader; then he will see more action and keep the rotation on fresh legs.

Offensively, the Texans weren’t that great. The deeper players on the depth chart couldn’t get on the same page with the rotating tandem of Brandon Weeden and Joe Webb playing quarterback. They got a break on the Cowboys’ second drive when pressure up front forced an interception to rookie safety Justin Reid. Houston had a short field to work with and they took advantage getting a touchdown run by Alfred Blue. A big play on that drive was a first down pass to rookie tight end Jordan Akins that put the ball at the 3-yard line. Akins was able to get just enough separation and make a great catch for 16 yards. Plays like that are going to get him on the roster behind Ryan Griffin and give Houston another option in the passing game.

Braxton Miller was someone else trying to find his way on the bottom of the depth chart at his position. He hauled in 2 passes for 28 yards, most of that on a 22-yard catch and run. On both of his receptions he looked like a pro who was going to make the team. He probably did with his effort in the last two games. Special teams will need him but hopefully the offense won’t.

The biggest question mark on the entire roster is the cornerback group. Injuries are piling up and the talent just doesn’t seem to be good enough for an NFL defense. But if the only game you watched was this final preseason game you saw an all-out effort and some good play. Names like Dee Virgin and Andre Chachere are longshots to make the roster, but you couldn’t tell.

Virgin had eight tackles, one of them for a loss and two pass break ups. He still wasn’t great in coverage, but he managed to close on the ball and get his hands in there to break it up. He was flying all over the field and getting to be ball. Not to be outdone, Andre Chachere had four tackles and two passes defensed as well. He is probably an even longer shot to make the roster. But the special teams need to be filled out too. These guys might have worked their way on the team with sheer effort and will power.

Safety Ibraheim Campbell, cornerback Bryce Jones, and running back Terry Swanson are three more names who showed up with their best effort. Campbell and Jones were around the ball a lot too. Each had six tackles to finish the game. A really pleasant surprise was the play of Swanson, particularly the 37-yard touchdown run he had in the fourth quarter.  He hit the hole hard and with one cut he was into the secondary and down the sideline for the score. He showed off his quickness and speed, and with depth necessary at running back right now for Houston it may be enough to get him on the team. He finished the night carrying the ball 17 times for 69 yards and the score.

Overall, the Texans had the look of a team ready to play. The final game of the preseason is always about effort. These players had one last shot to keep their name on the mind of the coaches. Some will make the team because depth is needed, others will make it because they did just enough to earn a role on special teams. Whatever way it happens for them they will be glad they were able to put together one final good game. The roster will be set on Sept. 2 and the Texans will be at New England on Sept. 9. The make-up of the roster is going to be a factor in how well the Texans do in the regular season and beyond.

 

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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