Jadeveon Clowney's first two series in a Houston Texans uniform went well on Saturday. Unfortunately, football is a team sport, and Houston quickly fell behind as players not named Jadeveon Clowney or J.J. Watt also attempted to play NFL football.
The Texans played a fairly vanilla game plan, with Clowney dropping back into coverage on occasion. Clowney was beaten over the top for a touchdown on a play that was called back on an offensive penalty. When Clowney and Watt crowded the line of scrimmage, though, they generated plenty of early pressure on Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer.
Clowney showed off his speed and power by bull-rushing past tight end Darren Fells to pick up his first tackle for loss. Arizona free-agent addition Jared Veldheer repeatedly succumbed to Clowney's physicality, and Clowney came inches from a strip sack on Arizona's second touchdown pass. Watt picked up a sack by beating Jonathan Cooper with his hands.
The Texans only let the duo play two series. Clowney looked a little overaggressive on some run plays and bit hard on a few play-action fakes. All in all, it was what you'd expect from the rookie.
Clowney's overpowering strength was on display, but he's not yet a polished piece. He called to mind former Houston defensive end Mario Williams—another impressive specimen who tended to rely on his physical gifts.
Learning to integrate NFL defensive technique will be Clowney's goal this year. The quicker he learns, the sooner he'll become a force to be reckoned with.
Arizona repeatedly exploited cornerback Brandon Harris, who was starting for a resting Johnathan Joseph. Harris yielded a pass-interference penalty, was called for illegal contact and gave up Arizona's first touchdown—an easy strike to Larry Fitzgerald.
Harris could be a long-term problem for Houston this year. Brice McCain was torched early and often during the 2013 season, but Houston continued to play him because Harris, a 2011 second-round pick that the Texans traded up for, was clearly unready. Harris has consistently been a walking penalty flag throughout his on-field career. Houston is counting on Harris to be the slot corner this year, but the way-too-early returns show that this may be an overly ambitious assignment.
|Brandon Harris Penalties, 2012-2013|
|NFLPenalties.com, Football Outsiders|
Meanwhile, Houston's quarterback situation played out as you'd expect it to given it spent the entire offseason pretending that the position didn't exist.
First-string quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick played the entire first half, completing just six of 14 passes for 55 yards and two interceptions. His throws were routinely off target. Fitzpatrick's second interception was so far ahead of his target that a linebacker who had blown the coverage was still able to pick it off. Another near-interception that was dropped by an Arizona defensive back marred his first series.
Perhaps the best way to sum up his play is with head coach Bill O'Brien's TV comments heading into halftime that the quarterback snaps were "not very good."
Case Keenum started off the second half with a delay-of-game penalty en route to his typical 2013 game: misplaced dump-offs and hurried throws that went nowhere. Keenum finished 3-of-5 for 29 yards. Tom Savage played two series, underthrowing a potential third-down conversion and then taking a pair of horrendous sacks, the second of which occurred in the end zone for a safety.
This is not the epitaph of Houston's season, but for a team that came into the season with depth questions, this was a statement that those need to be a glowing, neon warning sign for any who would project a huge bounce-back year for the Texans.
This wasn't even a close contest. It would be underselling it to say that the Texans need a lot of work before the regular season starts.