After a long, anticipated wait, football returns to Houston on Saturday night as the Houston Texans prepare to take on the New Orleans Saints in their second game of the preseason. While preseason games usually lead to fan boredom and empty stadiums in the second half, some meaningful conclusions can be taken from the game. This preseason, the Texans have a revamped offense and injuries across the field, so the team has plenty of judgments it needs to make. Here are some things the Texans should look for on Saturday night.
Brock Osweiler: Missing the bulk of his offensive line, the Texans’ new franchise quarterback had a hard time adjusting to his new digs. The former Broncos quarterback underwhelmed in the Texans trip to San Francisco, finishing with a 65.8 quarterback rating and 27 yards passing on three offensive series. A lot of this could be caused by Osweiler missing most of his offensive line, but Houston fans will want to see their new quarterback perform better in his second appearance.
He’ll receive more reps tonight than he did last week, so he’ll have more opportunities to prove he’s a more consistent passer. If he can engineer a couple of productive scoring drives, fans and coaches will feel much better about their big investment.
Offensive Line: Speaking of that depleted offensive line, the Texans are going to look for better production from its first unit. Missing starters Duane Brown, Derek Newton, and Nick Martin, the line had a hard time protecting its quarterback and creating a meaningful push on run blocking assignments. Guys like Kendall Lamm, Greg Mancz, and Jeff Adams will need to do a better job and prove they can hold the back up positions on the depth chart, especially if these injuries to the starting lineman prove to have long term consequences.
Speed Kills: The offseason was all about adding faster weapons to an offense that was bland and inefficient in 2015. We caught a glimpse of what that looked like in the first preseason game. Will Fuller looked comfortable in the new offense with flashes of improved hands and his excellent speed. Former Miami back Lamar Miller showed nice bursts of speed too and found the open field a couple times. One of the best surprises of the night was Braxton Miller. Most believed his transition to the NFL as a receiver would be more difficult because he only spent one season at the position during his time at Ohio State, but he impressed in his first game. He made a couple nice grabs and looked like he has the makings of a plus NFL slot receiver, which obviously would be huge for the Texans. This week, the Texans need to continue to see production and improvement from its new assets.
Defensive End Battle: With JJ Watt sidelined for the time being, someone needs to step up in case the Defensive Player of the Year misses a couple games during the regular season. The two likely candidates for that opportunity are former Rice standout Christian Covington and fan-favorite Devon Still. Covington showed well in his first start of the year, including forcing a fumble on a run stop, but lost contain on a couple pass plays that concerned me a little bit. Still didn’t grade all that poorly, but he still has some work to do before he takes over the second spot on the depth chart. If Covington continues to produce and show new pass rushing abilities, he’ll earn the starting job while Watt is out.
Benardrick McKinney: This offseason, I wrote about people should have high expectations for McKinney because he’s so talented. Bill O’Brien even chimed in during training camp, saying he expected big things from the second year player. However, with Brian Cushing out, McKinney was the sole starting linebacker in the middle last week. He looked solid in run defense, but was burned on a pass over the middle that went for a 49ers touchdown. This week, I want to see how he matches up in space and see if he can transition from an above-average run stopper to an every down linebacker.
The Texans host the Saints tonight at NRG Stadium at 8pm Eastern, 7 Central.