Observations From the Texans vs. Jets Game (Warning: Long Read)

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Houston Texans‘ fans have been waiting for months to see if the 2011 team would live up to its much anticipated hype. If last nights game was any indication of the year to come, I believe that fans will not be disappointed this season.

While watching the game there were many different things that stuck out to me. The defense looked like it had a new spark but the offense looked lackluster. Additionally, Joe Marciano’s special teams looked like they did last season, which is well below par.

Disclaimer: The following observations are based solely on what I was able to see from the comfort of my couch.

Running Backs

The Texans seem to have a secret recipe for discovering diamond-in-the-rough running backs.

In 2008, the Texans selected Steve Slaton in the third round (89th overall) of the draft. The little known RB from West Virginia rushed for 1,282 yards, and nine TDs, earning himself the Houston Texans Rookie of the Year honors.

The next year the Texans picked up UDFA (undrafted free agent) Arian Foster who was promptly placed on the practice squad. After a lackluster season by Slaton, Foster took the reigns of the Texans’ ground game. Foster became the starting RB for the 2010 season and filled the NFL with “shock and awe” as he accumulated 1,616 yards on the ground, 604 yards through the air, and a cumulative 18 TDs.

Now, with the 2011 season upon us – enter Chris Ogbonnaya.

With RBs Slaton, Foster, and Derrick Ward sidelined with injuries, the Texans were digging deep into their depth chart to find someone to run the ball. Ogbonnaya stepped onto the field and set out to prove that he belongs on the Texans’ final roster.

About halfway through the second quarter Ogbonnaya took a short pass from QB Matt Leinart into the endzone for the Texans’ first TD of the night. Then, with less than two minutes remaining in the game, he lowered his head, squared his shoulders, and drove the ball into the endzone for the Texans’ second (and winning) touchdown.

When all was said and done Ogbonnaya had 37 yards rushing and 67 yards receiving. He also had the Texans’ only two touchdowns. He appeared to be quick on his feet and was able to break away coming off the corners. His versatility in the run-and-catch game should secure his spot on the Texans’ final roster.

Lestar Jean

The Texans are looking for a fourth wide receiver.

Lestar Jean made a strong statement in this game. He wants the job.

Lestar is the type of WR that Gary Kubiak fawns over. He is tall, quick, and freakishly athletic. He is not afraid to go up for a ball, meanwhile sacrificing his body, for his team.

While Jean was targeted only twice in the game, his sure handedness ensured that he snagged both passes thrown his way. He had two receptions for 53 yards (26.5 yds/reception avg.) and was less than a yard away from turning one of those receptions into a touchdown.

It was with 2:31 left in the game, however, that Jean showed that he really wants the fourth spot on the roster. The Texans were down 16-13 and were about to enter the 2-minute drill. Lestar tore off down the field, went up over the defender, adjusted his body to the pass, and caught the ball. He was dragged down at the half yard line after the field judges touchdown was overturned.

In a game where every play can make or break your chances of making the team, Lestar did everything that he needed to in order to prove his worth to the Texans. Look for him on the final roster if he continues to play this way.

Fullbacks

Many Texans fans were distraught when they learned that the team did not resign FB Vonta Leach. James Casey, they argued, would never be able to replace Leach as fullback.

Perhaps they were right.

Fullbacks Casey and Lawrence Vickers would like you to believe otherwise.

Casey looked solid as a converted tight-end/fullback. He picked up his blocking assignments and, on a few occasions, left the opposing defender picking grass out of his helmet. While the Jets defense did not allow him to open any gaping holes, Casey did have a solid performance as the teams starting fullback.

Vickers, on the other hand, was looking to silence his critics who said he was too one-dimensional. They claimed that he was a great blocker but lacked the hands to make a catch for the QB check-down.

He proved otherwise.

With just under four minutes remaining in the third quarter, QB T.J. Yates checked-down and passed to Vickers who took the pass for a 22 yard gain.

While neither Casey or Vickers are Pro Bowl caliber FBs, they are both solid players at their position who should provide the Texans with plenty of options. With both of them possibly sharing FB duties the Texans could still have a great running game this season.

Wade’s 3-4 Defense

Perhaps the biggest acquisition of the offseason was that of Wade Phillips. Known to many in the NFL as a defensive “Mr. Fix-It” Wade had his job cut out for him in Houston. Taking the leagues worst defense from pretender to contender would be a feat of monumental proportions.

If the game against the Jets is any indication, the defense could win games for the Texans this season.

There were seven – yes seven! – sacks against the Jets last night. That is almost double what the Texans had in all of the preseason games combined last year. It seemed, at times, like the Texans were getting sacks at will. Texan defenders were blowing up the Jets’ offensive line, coming off the edges with blinding speed, and running unblocked through gaping holes.

This is a new defense.

Some of the players who were most fun to watch were J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed, and Jesse Nading. Watt, the rookie DE from Wisconsin, has been touted as having a constant motor in practice. That same motor translated well in this game as Watt brought a ton of pressure on every down. His size and speed allowed him to get around the defenders on many downs. With some improved handwork he will be able to break away from more offensive linemen as the season progresses.

Brooks Reed was everywhere.

His long locks were reminiscent of Green Bay LB Clay Matthews, as was his playing. Wherever the ball was, he was there. He blew past defenders and constantly put pressure on the quarterback. He batted down passes and was an all-around menace on the field. I expect to see Brooks around for a long time and his play against the Jets went a long way to ensure his longevity with the team.

Jesse Nading was simply a beast. His hit on Jets QB Greg McElroy was monstrous, forcing the fumble which eventually led to six points for the Texans. He was constantly applying pressure to the QB and helped keep the defensive line balanced.

I was mildly impressed with the new Texans defense and can’t wait to see what happens when they have to face New Orleans.

Special Teams

Special teams this game was much like special teams from last season…bad!

The Texans had three punt returns for 11 yards and five kickoff returns for 77 yards. This was less than half of what the Jets were able to put together as they returned five punts for 69 yards and four kickoffs for 114 yards.

Joe Marciano should be embarrassed.

Our punting and kicking teams looked disoriented on most of their plays. They ran directly into coverage and were often cut off as they lumbered towards the returner. Tackling looked horrid as the kick returner was able to easily slip out of many loose tackles.

Kickoff and punt returns were no better. The blocking quickly broke down and spread out, leaving the returner scrambling for any place to run. In addition, the returner ran backwards on many of the kicks.

While I am aware that most of these players are second or third string, it is undeniable that the special teams was the worst part of our team for the night. We started in bad position while allowing the Jets to achieve good or great field position on most of their returns.

Conclusion

Altogether the Texans looked like a team that is ready to go places this season.

The offense is still hobbled with many of its starters nursing hamstring or other minor injuries. Star wide-receiver Andre Johnson is sitting out with a dislocated/broken finger and probably won’t see any playtime until the last game of the preseason.

In spite of this, the Texans were able to finish their drives in the redzone and put points on the board.

Defensively, the Texans are a new team.

Players are flying around the field making plays on the ball with consistency. Pressure on the QB is forcing many quick throws and sacks. The backfield still needs some work but looks much improved over last years team.

As of right now Lestar Jean and Brooks Reed look to make the biggest impact for non-starters. Shilo Keo, on the other hand, looks weak and could lose his job if he doesn’t learn how to wrap up players.

Overall, this was a solid performance for the Texans who needed the victory (albeit in the preseason) to begin building momentum for the season.

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