August 25, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the first quarter of a preseason game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
Poor pass defense & fumbles are a problem going into the season
The Texans suffered their first loss of the preseason on Saturday but the loss itself wasn't as concerning as how they lost the game. No shame in losing to the Saints in the Super Dome, but some of the mistakes they made are inexcusable for this late in the preseason. Every ball carrier, even the ones who didn't fumble on Saturday should have the ball duct taped to their hands this week during practice because as talented as this team is, no team can overcome the types of turnovers they had that give the opposing offense easy points.
This would have been an A had it not been for the two fumbles from Keshawn Martin and more issues running to the right side. For now I believe Martin's fumbles were a fluke because he didn't have that problem in college losing only five fumbles in four seasons at Michigan State. Matt Schaub was sharp again going 15-18 for 194 yards with one touchdown, and no picks. Overall Schaub has completed 70.6 percent of his passes this preseason and hasn't shown any signs that the lisfranc injury that ended his season last year is still bothering him. Maybe he has a chip on his shoulder being in a contract year or maybe it's new targets like Martin and Lestar Jean making plays, but Schaub isn't showing any signs of rust and appears to be at the top of his game.
In the running game, Arian Foster's final stat line was again deceiving. Overall he averaged four yards a carry (which still isn't great) with 32 yards on eight carries but 18 of those yards came on one carry; he averaged two yards a carry (7 attempts, 14 yards) on his other attempts. Last week was the same thing, one good carry but bottled up on nearly every other attempt. Is the problem Foster? I don't believe so. Overall 74% of the Texans run plays went either up the middle or to the right side last season and both starting lineman from the right side last season are gone. Eventually I think the running game will come together, but there was a reason why Rashad Butler, Derek Newton, and Antoine Caldwell were backups and I'm a bit concerned about the running game. One positive note from the running game is Ben Tate seems to have better vision for the cutback lanes which he was almost blind to last season. I've noticed several runs over the last two games where Tate ran the stretch to the tackle, but instead of running up the back of his blocker and into a crowd of defenders like he did last season, made a hard cut and picked up yards on the backside of the play; a very encouraging sign in his development.
This grade would have been an 'F' but I'll cut them a little slack since Brian Cushing, J.J. Watt, and Shaun Cody all missed the game with an injury. Stopping the run, which has been an issue the entire preseason, was a problem once again as they gave up 4.9 yards per carry on Saturday to the Saints. That average per rush number isn't acceptable, but that number is inflated with the three starters missing like I mentioned earlier. When everyone returns, I have no doubt their run defense will start to look like it did last season.
The bigger problem on Saturday was their pass defense that gave up 179 passing yards and 2 touchdowns to Drew Brees during the 1st half. Overall I'm not worried about the pass defense going into the regular season and I think they'll rank inside the top five once again. However, teams that can spread them out with four wides or have dynamic tight ends like the Saints will give them fits. When facing three wide receivers or fewer, the Texans are able to give Kareem Jackson safety help over the top, but against four and five wide sets he gets exposed. I thought he had turned the corner a little bit, and he still looks good on shorter routes, but when he's asked to run with a receiver over 20 yards, he looks like the same Kareem from the last two years. When he has safety help over the top and can sit on underneath routes without having to worry about getting burned for a touchdown, he looks alright, but he'll be a liability in games this season against New England and Green Bay.
Special Teams: B
The kickers were perfect with both Randy Bullock and Shayne Graham making one field goal each including a 53 yard kick from the veteran Graham. Unfortunately Bullock suffered a groin injury and was put on injured reserve ending his season. I have high hopes for Bullock as the Texans future at the kicker position and I'm positive he'll be their starter next season. I wasn't high on Graham coming into training camp, but he's kicked it well so far going 5-5 including made kicks from 49 and 52 yards. It's not the outcome I was hoping for, but he's at least as good as Rackers was last year and probably a little better. I was most concerned about his leg strength at age 34 but he's answered those questions and he's always been accurate; Graham ranks 3rd among all active NFL kickers in career field goal percentage.
In the return game, Trindon Holiday nearly undid all his good work with his fumble in the 1st quarter that the Saints returned for a touchdown. Holiday making this roster was much like a small school (no pun intended) upsetting an Oklahoma or Florida in football; they have to play a perfect game with no mistakes to pull it off. Through the first two games Holiday was perfect, but that fumble could have got him cut if he hadn't responded in a big way with a 62 yard return early in the 2nd quarter. Even when he hasn't returned the kick for a touchdown, he's getting to the 30, 35, 40 yard line which is a huge advantage. Kubiak has said Holiday will return every kick on Thursday against the Vikings, if he doesn't fumble, I think he'll make the team; it's his job to lose at this point.