Houston Texans vs. Atlanta Falcons: Report Card Grades for Each Texans Unit
What a difference a week makes, huh?
After getting embarrassed in Arizona by the Cardinals last week, the Texans reversed their fortune—their fans probably had a few reversals of fortune after watching their Week 1 game—by blowing out the visiting Atlanta Falcons.
The two biggest glaring weak spots from the Cardinals game—pass offense and pass defense—turned into strengths during most of this game out of the blue. After looking like he should be playing in the CFL and out of the league last week, Ryan Fitzpatrick was impressive—which I'll go into more detail later.
After being abused last week the secondary also had a good game, which was pretty surprising considering the passing offense they were facing.
Perhaps the biggest surprise and the biggest strength coming out of the game with Atlanta, however, was the special teams. The third phase of the game has performed poorly over the last couple of years but came out of this game with both a blocked punt and a blocked field goal attempt.
I know it was just preseason but it was a much needed step for a #Texans team looking for answers. They found some tonight.— PDS (@PatDStat) August 17, 2014
No one should come out of this game predicting the playoffs, but it was a certainly a very encouraging sign and a great bounce-back effort from the Texans.
Only one quarterback played well tonight, but luckily that one guy was the Texans' starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Just one week after looking like a dumpster fire, Fitzpatrick led two touchdown drives and finished with a great 126.0 QB rating. Fitzpatrick was accurate completing 9-of-12 passes, extended plays well with his legs and drove the ball down the field when he had to.
I'm not ready to retire his number and I still think he's an average quarterback, but if Bill O'Brien can get Fitzpatrick to play this efficiently more frequently the Texans offense with a healthy Arian Foster and Andre Johnson could be pretty solid.
Unfortunately as encouraging as Fitzpatrick's performance was the other two quarterbacks came up short.
The rookie Tom Savage barely threw for more yards than you and I did with eight yards on five attempts.
Case Keenum threw for more yards than Savage with 91 for the game, but he made some of the same mistakes against Atlanta that he did last year when he struggled in his final starts.
Keenum forced a couple of passes into tight double coverage but got lucky on the first attempt when the ball hit the ground which allowed Randy Bullock to kick a field goal. He wasn't as lucky the second time around when the pass was picked off by Kemal Ishmael.
The interception took three points off the board as the Texans were in field-goal range.
Young backs Jonathan Grimes and Alfred Blue looked very good in place of the veteran Arian Foster once again. The duo combined for 64 yards on 15 carries for the game.
Grimes also made a heads up play on special teams when he scooped up a short punt due to a block and returned it for a touchdown.
It's hard to say which back I'm more impressed by, but if Foster does get hurt during the season I really don't think the drop off will be that severe when they put in the reserves. Blue appears to have more big-play ability, but even Grimes ripped off a run of 22 yards against the Falcons.
Helluva run by Jonathan Grimes. Went left, almost went down, stayed up, cut right. 22-yard gallop. #Texans— Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) August 17, 2014
With Duane Brown, Chris Myers, Xavier Su'a-Filo and Brandon Brooks the Texans have a great group of run-blockers up front, so the production should be there no matter who is lined up in the backfield.
It also didn't hurt to have rookie fullback Jay Prosch back in action who looked like a younger version of Vonta Leach on the field against the Falcons.
Alfred Blue said he thought he scored on the play before he scored the touchdown. Added how rookie Jay Prosch blew up the hole for him on TD— James Palmer (@JPalmerCSN) August 17, 2014
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Nothing spectacular from the receivers against the Falcons, but they caught nearly everything thrown their way, which is all you can ask for most games.
Rookie tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz made a couple of catches on their first touchdown drive, but the rookie that grabbed my attention from this unit was Travis Labhart out of Texas A&M.
Labhart had three catches for 36 yards and displayed an ability above his draft status to get open in space and hang on to the ball. He'll be an interesting guy to track going forward to see how often he's used in the slot.
He looks like a perfect fit for the position but could be a victim of the numbers game with Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Thomas and DeVier Posey all pretty much guaranteed roster spots. Speaking of Posey, the third-year receiver also made a play with an eight-yard touchdown catch to end their two-minute drill.
The offensive line did a pretty solid job with their run blocking against the Falcons but didn't play a complete game. The Texans piled up 138 rushing yards on 4.2 yards per carry with a rushing touchdown; I have no concerns about their ability to run block.
The first unit was solid for the most part, but Derek Newton missed several blocks and was flagged for a couple of penalties. No surprise there, he'll be the group's limiting factor all season as was the case in previous years.
The other concern was with the backups. Hopefully they won't have to play much because the second string offensive line really struggled in the second half.
Case Keenum has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long, but he was facing pressure for other reasons against Atlanta as their defenders blew past the line.
As long as the starters on the offensive line stay healthy they should have a solid year; if one or more goes down with an injury, look out.
Solid job from the defensive line against the Falcons.
They didn't get to the quarterback much—Lawrence Sidbury had a late sack—but played the run well and plugged up holes, which is their job in this version of the 3-4 defense more than rushing the passer.
All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt and third-round pick Louis Nix III didn't play against the Falcons, so we still haven't received a look at how dangerous this unit can potentially become.
However, they did what they were supposed to by holding the Falcons to just 3.8 yards per rushing attempt for the ball game.
Besides Sidbury, who I mentioned earlier, Ricardo Mathews also stood out as playing well as he was able to get pressure on the quarterback on a couple occasions.
Great job by the linebackers tonight.
Of course I have to start with Jadeveon Clowney, who was just a beast against the Falcons. Clowney showed flashes of what made him a star in college when he closed in from the edge quickly to land a knockout blow on the Falcons ball carrier for a tackle for loss.
The very next play Clowney beat the Falcons left tackle before he even got out of his stance for his first sack in an NFL—non official—game.
This is just the beginning; Clowney will win defensive rookie of the year if he keeps making plays like that.
Also making plays were rookie Max Bullough, who had an interception and a big hit, and Quentin Groves, who had a sack that was called back for a penalty on the secondary.
Mixed bag of results but overall they played much better than last week.
One of the negatives came early in the game when A.J. Bouye got beat badly by a double move, but he was lucky when the pass from Matt Ryan was led a little too close to the sideline and Julio Jones wasn't able to come down in bounds.
Bouye rebounded later in the game to make a pass breakup.
D.J. Swearinger also had some good and bad mixed in as we've become accustomed to seeing from the second-year safety. Swearinger made a great pass breakup, but he was immediately flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, which gave the Falcons a first down and led to their only touchdown.
Personally I thought the flag was an overreaction from the referee, but those types of mistakes have become a trend from Swearinger.
Rookie seventh-round pick Andre Hal also made a play with an interception off T.J. Yates that Hal returned for a touchdown. Hal was sitting in zone and had his eyes on the quarterback the whole time as Yates stared down his receiver. Great play from the rookie.
Another bright spot was safety Kendrick Lewis, who was almost invisible on the field last week against Arizona. On back-to-back plays Lewis broke up a pass and then put a big hit on a running back. The Texans need him to have a big year to allow Swearinger to roam as a playmaker.
Kenrick Lewis with a nice pas breakup up. Almost had the INT. #Texans— PDS (@PatDStat) August 17, 2014
This one is easy.
I mean, come on, a blocked field goal and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the same game? Where has this been over the last couple of years? Once upon a time the Texans had good special teams units yearly, but that production had disappeared over the last several years under Joe Marciano.
I'm glad to welcome back a special teams unit that doesn't cause me to pull my hair out.
The Texans also played well in their coverage units on kickoffs and punts, which included Andre Hal nearly downing a punt at about the two-yard line, but the ball just barely touched the goal line as he batted it back into the field of play.
There was one lone blemish on the special teams, however, which came from rookie kicker Chris Boswell. The undrafted kicker, who was brought in to compete with Randy Bullock, missed two extra point attempts during the win over Atlanta.
OBrien praised Texans special teams. Except for Chris Boswell missing 2 extra points.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) August 17, 2014
Of course the extra point attempts are over 10 yards longer during this part of the preseason than they normally are, but they were still kicks he should have made. Bullock on the other hand made two extra point kicks and a 40-yard field goal.
I'm not saying Bullock has won the competition, but he's definitely comfortably in the lead.
I liked the play-calling from Bill O'Brien, who did a nice job of mixing up the power-run game with short passes before calling for deeper routes once the defense crept closer to the line.
Overall I don't have any complaints about the coaching decisions made by the Texans tonight, which isn't surprising considering the outcome.
The move to bring Ryan Fitzpatrick back in for the two-minute drill at the end of the second quarter was also a wise move. Tom Savage isn't ready for that type of situation yet and it gave Fitzpatrick a good chance to gain more confidence and build more chemistry.
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