After seven excruciating long months, the Houston Texans finally take the field again in tonight’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers. But as many know, tonight doesn’t actually count for anything, so a full game preview is rather silly. Neither team is game planning or doing any in-game scouting, rather working on aspects of the team that need improvement. Most importantly, THE FINAL SCORE DOESN’T MATTER. The wins and losses of tonight’s game will occur on an individual basis as players fight for roster spots and regular season play time. Instead, lets lay out the game tonight and what fans should be looking for out of the starters and backups.
First, the starters on both offense and defense will only play about 12-15 snaps according to team sources. This should roughly take the starters to the near end of the first quarter, and then they’ll be done for the night. The Texans already know what they have from many of their starters, so avoiding injury takes top priority.
As far as the starters are concerned, there area a few things in the first quarter for Texans fans to keep their eye on. Tonight marks the first time since week 4 of last season that both QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson will be on the field together. Johnson probably won’t play all 12-15 snaps and may be limited to as little as one series, but nonetheless, it’ll be very encouraging to see these two together again.
Defensively, the starters will get the same treatment as the offense. They’ll be without ILB Brian Cushing, who didn’t make the trip with the team following his brief stint in the hospital this past week for a virus. The defensive front seven should get a nice test trying to stop both the two-headed RB tandem of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams and QB Cam Newton. If there is one thing to look for from the starting defense, it will be their contained rush of Newton on passing situations, putting pressure on him but now allowing him to escape the pocket and make plays.
As I said before, tonight’s game is not about the final score or really even the starters. We know Schaub will be taking the snaps, handing off to RB Arian Foster, and throwing to Johnson. Defensively, we know Cushing will control the middle, CB Johnathan Joseph will lock down the outside, and a healthy DE J.J. Watt will wreak havoc on the line. Tonight’s game is about the reserves and the guys pushing for roster spots.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on in tonight’s game:
Right side of the O-line: it’s been over talked about since free agency began, but now in game situations, it’s the time for two guys to separate themselves from the other two. As a reminder, it’s RGs Antoine Caldwell and Brandon Brooks and RTs Rashad Butler and Derek Newton.
WR battle: the other over talked about position battle since free agency. There is no question AJ is the #2 and Kevin Walter the #2, and through the first two weeks of camp it appears rookie Keshawn Martin is the frontrunner for the #3 spot. However, live defenses can have an adverse affect on a wide receiver, so look to see how this deep group separates itself in real game situations.
Backup QB: speaking of backup receivers, they’ll be catching the majority of their passes tonight from T.J. Yates. Yates filled in well last season when Schaub went down and has cemented himself as the team’s #2 QB. However, what the Texans will be looking from Yates this season is whether he can be a dependable NFL backup QB and if there is any possibility he is a starting QB in the making. With Schaub entering the final year of his contract and now in his 30s, the Texans have to begin to think about replacing him, even if it’s still several years away.
Defensive backs: arguably the most intense position battle on the team right now might be in the defensive backfield. The starters are pretty much set with Joseph and Kareem Jackson at the corners and Danieal Manning and Glover Quin at the safeties. The Texans are right now eight deep at CB with each player taking turns impressing the coaching staff. Safety is also another deep position with four guys battling for backup spots.
Injury replacements: several players will be seeing extra playing time with the first and second units due to lingering injuries to a few of the regular starters. Primarily on the defensive side of the ball, ILB Mister Alexander and DE Tim Jameson figure to get some extra playing time with the injuries to Cushing and Watt. ILBs and DEs in general will be seeing more playing time than normally allotted due to the injuries.
Extra Point: I haven’t made much mention of the kicker battle because frankly, they’re kickers. But it is worth keeping an eye on tonight, as veteran Shayne Graham and rookie Randy Bullock will do what they can to separate themselves from the other.
Be sure to check out other great articles at Sports Media 101.