RAMS 21, Texans 20

Texans: Tough decisions got tougher in week 3 of the preseason

DeAndre Hopkins made a brief appearance. Zach Tarrant/Houstontexans.com

Another week of the preseason has come and gone with the Texans dropping a game to the Los Angeles Rams 21-20.  More regular season starters saw action in this one, especially on defense. J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Tyrann Mathieu were all on the field to start the game for the first time this preseason. DeAndre Hopkins was also on the field with a 4-yard catch. But seeing the starters play early is not really what the preseason is about. Sure, it’s nice to see them get some game action but we know they don’t need it. There’s no reason to risk injury. There are some positions that don’t have a clear-cut depth chart and that’s why the third game of the preseason has significance.

The Texans have a glut of talent at wide receiver for Deshaun Watson to throw to. DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Bruce Ellington will be the starters; with Keke Coutee also probable to make the final roster. That leaves only one, maybe two spots available at the position. Sammie Coates and Braxton Miller are the two players in direct competition for that final spot. While Coates has turned in a decent preseason catching 5 passes for 70 yards, Miller has experience in the offense and has done better with 9 receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown.

Coates did suffer an injury and that might be compared to how Miller hasn’t done much since being drafted in 2016. But depth is important at some positions and there may be room for both. There just might not be room for everyone at running back and that’s why the battle between Alfred Blue and Troymaine Pope ramped up a little against the Rams.

Blue rushed for 45 yards and a touchdown Saturday while Pope added none to his 49 on the preseason. Blue has totaled only 31 yards in the first two weeks, so his performance today was a step up to secure the No. 2 spot behind Lamar Miller. Pope has shown his versatility with 7 receptions for 64 yards, but that makes him more of a specialist than a true back-up. And that role makes him more expendable when D’Onta Foreman returns from injury later this season.

The good thing about those decisions at running back and wide receiver are that they aren’t for a starting position. But safety is another story. Kareem Jackson and Justin Reid are listed as 1A and 1B on the depth chart for good reason. Jackson is converting from cornerback and his eight years in the NFL give him a wealth of knowledge to draw from. Reid is a rookie third round draft pick who arrives in Houston with a lot of talent but no experience at this level.

Reid had a solid game in Week 2 against the 49ers with three solo tackles (six total) in just a short night of work. He has flashed a lot of talent and his ability may develop more, but  Jackson showed in Week 3 against the Rams why experience matters. On a 2nd and 3 play for L.A., Jackson jumped the pass and made the interception. He returned it to the 3-yard line and set the Texans up for the first touchdown of the day.

The addition of Tyrann Mathieu in free agency has given the Texans a lot of wiggle room to work with at safety. The veteran Kareem Jackson gives a solid presence on the back end while Reid adjusts to the speed of the NFL. His ball skills will be great for the shaky cornerback group who will need help over the top. Reid may eventually become the starter and learn to make more plays but for now, he might lose playing time to the old guy who came out in preseason Week 3 and showed why he deserves the nod.

There is still one more game to play before they really count. That will be five days from now. And in eight days the roster will be cut down to 53 players. There are a lot more decisions to be made and a lot more nuances to consider. But these three situations warrant special attention. There is a lot riding on the Texans offense to be better this year and help compliment what should be a great Romeo Crennel defense. There is also a lot of pressure on the secondary to make sure teams can’t beat this stout defense by airing it out all day.

Still plenty of time to see what happens, but after three weeks, this is what stands out the most as the Texans roster begins to take shape and players step up their performances.


 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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