The preseason offers us three almost meaningless games each year, but the third game of the preseason is different. The Houston Texans travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints in the "dress rehearsal" game of the preseason and it will be a great test for a team that considers itself a Super Bowl favorite. The Texans have built their roster in a similar fashion to the Saints, are striving to reach their level of consistent success, so this will be a great measuring stick for the up and coming team. The Saints like the Texans were considered a loser of a franchise for years, but with a new coach and a new offensive scheme hoped to turn their franchise around. The Saints obviously turned it around much quicker than the Texans, but in a lot of ways the Saints have been over the last three or four seasons the team the Texans want to become.
Here are the players I'll be focusing on the most on Saturday:
1. Kareem Jackson - The 2010 first round pick made small improvements last year but was still clearly their worst starting defensive back and lost snaps to Jason Allen. Jackson has looked pretty good this preseason so just maybe the coaching from Wade Philips and mentoring from Johnathan Joseph have paid off. Looking good against Carolina was a nice sign, but facing a team that can spread it out like the New Orleans Saints is the ultimate test. Last season the Saints put up 40 points on the best Texans defense in team history, including 23 points in the 4th quarter. Drew Brees was masterful in the 2nd half, picking apart the Texans soft zone defense in a come from behind win. I have faith in Joseph, Danieal Manning, and Glover Quin, but guys like Kareem Jackson, Brandon Harris, and Bryce McCain will have to step up their games against opponents like the Packers and Patriots this season who have four or five great receiving targets. If the Texans defense can slow down the Saints, including Jackson playing well, I'll be a lot more confident in their ability to beat the Packers and Patriots.
2. Trindon Holiday - With two return touchdowns in two weeks, I think he's made the team, but it wouldn't hurt to take another back to the house. He doesn't necessarily have to return another kick or punt for a touchdown, but another good return of maybe 40-50 yards wouldn't hurt. To borrow a boxing philosophy, don't let the judges decide, knock him out. Don't give Kubiak a choice, make his decision obvious and easy to keep you on the roster. I'd rather keep a great return man over an 8th linebacker or 9th lineman who will never see the field, but Holiday needs to be impressive again to convince Kubiak to keep a specialist on a roster this deep and talented.
3. Hebron Fangupo - With Shaun Cody still dealing with an injury and Sunny Harris out for the season, undrafted rookie free-agent nose tackle Hebron Fangupo will suddenly be expected to step in and play. Houston native Earl Mitchell will still be the starter until Cody returns, but Fangupo will see a good amount of playing time. What can you expect out of a 27-year-old undrafted rookie? I have no idea, I don't know much about the 319 pound tackle out of BYU. Wade Philips said of Fangupo:
"Loni will get a good look," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said Wednesday. "He’s got some potential. He really hasn’t shown it yet, and so this is an opportunity for him."
The Texans only kept two defensive tackles last season, Cody and Mitchell, and if they're both healthy they'll be the guys once again. However, if Cody's situation doesn't improve soon and Fangupo plays well Saturday, the longshot has a good chance to come through. In particular I'd like to see Fangupo play well against the run which was a problem last week when Cody missed the San Francisco game.
4. Derek Newton/Rashad Butler - My guess is they'll split the snaps on Saturday pretty evenly and a decision on the regular season starter will be made after the game. It's a tough call at this point, neither player has looked great and neither has shown the ability to excel in both the run game and passing game. At this point Butler seems like the better pass blocker while Newton is the better run blocker. If I had to choose now, I'd pick Newton because I think his deficiencies in pass protection can be fixed easier than Butler in the run game. Newton won't be tasked with going up against the opponents best pass rusher each week since that player will be lined up on Schaub's blindside. Eric Winston was never a great pass blocker and they're offense was consistently one of the best in the league with him at right tackle. Unless Butler shows improvement on Saturday, I'll take Newton.
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