AFC South: 2011 nfl preseason

Not much to take out of Texans' loss

September, 2, 2011
We could pretend a lot of things about the Texans during Thursday night’s 28-0 preseason loss in Minnesota.

Like, for example, that Christian Ponder's eight carries for 61 yards indicates some deficiency in Houston’s ability to defend a running quarterback.

But who are we kidding? Of the 22 starters listed in the NFL’s official game book, none should be in the starting lineup on Sept. 11 against the Colts.

On a night when everyone in the division played, no one put less into it than the Texans.

There is little to interpret here, except maybe jostling by guys looking to solidify backup roles and late impressions by third-stringers on the fringe.

It was good that Matt Leinart had an efficient outing, though Matt Schaub's backup was with backups against backups. Three completions to newly added receiver Bryant Johnson were nice, as he looks like he could upgrade the team at No. 4 receiver.

Other than that, let’s say the Texans had a very impressive three-game preseason and a nice night off for their starters.

With the season opener against the Titans looming, the Jacksonville Jaguars have protection issues to go with questions about their quarterback pecking order.

David Garrard was under fire in Thursday night’s 24-17 preseason loss to St. Louis. Of particular concern was the offensive line’s play, as left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Will Rackley were ineffective in pass protection.

Garrard did not have a good preseason. While Jack Del Rio is on record as expecting Garrard to be his starter, he once cut his starter nine days before the season commenced in order to give Garrard the job, which leads to a bit of doubt.

Veteran backup Luke McCown -- not Blaine Gabbert, the No. 10 pick from the April draft -- worked as the second quarterback. Broadcaster Tony Boselli said Del Rio told him in production meetings that McCown would operate as the backup to start the regular season as well.

I’m not certain I understand that. The Jaguars don’t want to rush Gabbert, but they shouldn’t be doing too much to slow him down, either.

Perhaps at this stage, Del Rio and his staff are so wary of the protection, they want to keep their future quarterback as far from harm as possible.

Rookies solid for Titans in finale win

September, 1, 2011
Confidence gained in a game like the Tennessee Titans' Thursday night 32-9 drubbing of the New Orleans Saints is useful. But only if everyone who gained some remembers just what the New Orleans was trying to accomplish.

Just seven days away from a prime-time opener against the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, the Saints played second-and third string guys and didn’t show much urgency.

Drew Brees wouldn’t have held the ball in the end zone to take a safety or thrown across his body across the field for an interception.

The Titans took full advantage of Sean Canfield, the seventh-round rookie who played in Brees’ place. Tennessee’s defense found a lot of plays including five takeaways.

Mike Munchak sat several key guys and didn’t play his starters too long in their preseason finale, either.

Several of Munchak’s rookies performed well.

Defensive tackle Karl Klug had that early safety. Jake Locker was 15-of-17 for 132 yards and a touchdown to go with three runs for 39 yards and another score. Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy made seven tackles and forced a fumble. And cornerback Tommie Campbell had an interception for the second game in a row.

The Titans finished the preseason 3-1. They’ll soon be reunited with running back Chris Johnson, whose holdout ended earlier in the day.

The big question now is whether the good things we saw in the preseason will translate for the rookie coach and revamped roster.

Kerry Collins does fine in Colts debut

September, 1, 2011
Quarterback Kerry Collins first game as a member of the Indianapolis Colts was not about the stats as much as it was whether he could show that he was comfortable.

And while five-for-10 for 45 yards hardly made for a big evening, he looked like he knew what to do and where to go with the ball.

Twice he got hit by Michael Johnson. The Cincinnati defensive end got pushed wide by Indy rookie tackle Anthony Castonzo, but kept working and managed to land a meaningful swipe on Collins anyway. The first time hit forced a red-zone incompletion and the second resulted in a lost fumble.

Collins made a great deep throw down the middle for David Gilreath on his first snap and drew a pass interference penalty. And later he hit Chris Brooks deep on the left side, a pass that was dropped.

The quarterback didn’t get a completion or yardage for either.

After Collins yielded to Dan Orlovsky, owner Jim Irsay tweeted: “#5 looked good 2nite,gonna help us if #18 needs a few more weeks getting ready...but Peyton is improving rapidly..steady progress!”

Collins is No. 5 while No. 18, of course, is Peyton Manning.

I think it has to be considered an encouraging start for the backup, He could play in the season opener on Sept. 11 in Houston if Manning isn’t sufficiently recovered from the May neck surgery that kept him out of action until a recent return to limited practice.

And hey, the Colts actually won a preseason game, 17-13. It was their first preseason win since August 20, 2009.

One defensive note: Linebacker Philip Wheeler started with Kavell Conner and Ernie Sims.

Wheeler seemed a prime culprit in the Colts’ struggles against the run, getting run through on multiple occasions. Brian Leonard ranks as Cincinnati’s third back, but got the early work and managed 5.2 yards a carry.

And running back Cedric Peerman stiff-armed Wheeler after a short catch, watched him slip off and ran for more yards.

Wheeler did make a nice play tracking and dragging down Jermaine Gresham after a short catch.

Preseason finale storylines

September, 1, 2011
The big storyline or two for the AFC South preseason finales, all of which will be played tonight…

Colts at Bengals

It would be silly for Kerry Collins not to start, and Jim Caldwell has said the new quarterback will play “a lot.” They should give him a reasonable amount of time with the starting line and the weapons he needs to sync up with if he’s starting on Sept. 11 in Houston. That would stray from the typical philosophy in the fourth game, but the change of circumstances dictates a change in approach. Unfortunately, Collins won’t have a chance to work with Austin Collie (foot) or Anthony Gonzalez (hamstring).

Titans at Saints

Depth decisions are the big story for Tennessee at this point. It’s a big night for wideouts Lavelle Hawkins and Kevin Curtis, defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, offensive tackles Mike Otto, Troy Kropog and Pat McQuistan, linebackers Rennie Curran and Patrick Bailey and safeties Vincent Fuller, Robert Johnson and Anthony Smith. Jake Locker should see significant time and it would be nice to see him cap the preseason with a performance that shows his growth since the starts of camp.

Rams at Jaguars

Running back Maurice Jones-Drew and defensive end Aaron Kampman are both coming back from knee injuries and they will see their first action of the preseason. Odds are we don’t get great reads on either, but it’s a significant thing for them to be involved in a bit of live action. A sack, at any time, by anyone, would really help in dealing with pass rush concerns. David Garrard will only get a series or two. He can do a lot for himself and the team but putting together an effort that helps create confidence.

Texans at Vikings

We’ll see some kids play a lot, a whole game in some instances. Matt Leinart will have a big chance to show why Gary Kubiak is so high on him, and it would be good if he could connect some with newcomer Bryant Johnson. Like the Texans, the Vikings are expected to have a bunch of guys in street clothes. So while I’d like to see guys who’ve shined for Houston in a great preseason -- like Xavier Adibi, Jesse Nading, Troy Nolan -- fare well early in this game, it won't mean much more than them faring well a bit later in previous games.

My plan

From AFC South blog HQ, I expect to watch the first hour of the Colts and the first hour of the Titans and post something on those two games when they are over. The Jaguars and Texans may need to wait until morning depending on how things unfold. Odds are against me seeing all four games start-to-finish by the time I post some thoughts on them. And by "odds are against," I mean it can't happen.

Quick thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 35-32 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium …
  • On a night when he could have done much to ease concerns heading into the season, David Garrard managed a 66.8 passer rating. He did his best work of the night against the Bills second teamers and on a nice 4-yard touchdown run. But 11-for-21 with a sack seemed shaky. Blaine Gabbert wasn’t better, with a touchdown and a pick in relief.
  • Meanwhile, while Ryan Fitzpatrick is better than a lot of people think, should he be completing 11 of 12 passes for 165 yards, two touchdowns and a 158.3 passer rating against your first-team defense even if you’re missing a couple key pieces? Aaron Kampman didn’t play again and Jeremy Mincey and Tyson Alualu were also out, but the Jaguars went without a sack again and game statisticians credited the Jags with just three quarterback hits.
  • I expected the team would look to sort through three rookie receivers, Jamar Newsome, Armon Binns, and Dontrelle Inman. The three were targeted four times and had one catch between them -- a 22-yarder by Inman. Not too much to help sort through them there.
  • Backup quarterback Tyler Thigpen gave Jacob Cutrera a gift with a pick-6. He threw it straight to the linebacker who had an easy 13-yard return.
  • I am completely anti-preseason overtime. If the league refuses to insert a rule allowing for ties, then a coach has to do what he can with 2-point conversions during the game to ensure no overtime scenarios can arise. Chan Gailey didn’t do so early, so he has to take the grief that comes with kicking a late extra point to lose rather than going for 2 to force extra time.
A couple quick thoughts on the Houston Texans 30-7 win against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park Saturday night ...
  • The big issue is Arian Foster's left hamstring. He left the game in the first quarter after re-injuring it. The team feels good about its depth with Derrick Ward and Ben Tate, but make no mistake -- a major countdown of Foster’s readiness for the Sept. 11 opener against the Colts is now underway. Ward ran for a score and Tate had a 4.7-yard average including a very nice two-cut run on a draw that showed patience and vision. Jeffrey Martin described the Foster scene here.
  • Jacoby Jones had a Matt Schaub pass in the end zone go through his hands early on. Yes, it was on him quickly, had a lot of zip and required him to reach for it. But it’s the sort of catchable pass he misses that drives his critics crazy. It killed a drive that turned into the first of Neil Rackers' three field goals.
  • Troy Nolan took an interception off Colin Kaepernick 73 yards for a touchdown after picking Alex Smith, too. Good news for a backup safety at a position where depth is a question. Kaepernick's was a horrible, telegraphed throw. Houston's defense was good against bad signal-callers, who managed to combine for a 7.6 passer rating. [I initially wrote that Dominique Barber had the pick of Smith. I did not see that play for myself, and the official NFL game book credits Barber. Apologies.]
  • While Houston played starters into the third quarter, the 49ers went to backups far earlier. That’s nice that the Texans can push them around and build confidence and continuity. I understand Jim Harbaugh is sticking to his plans and not allowing an opponent to dictate what he does. But how does such a scenario benefit the home team?
  • Twenty-eight guys earned a mention on the defensive stat sheet. Mario Williams was not one of them.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans got good news about Kenny Britt: he’s not suspended.

They got mixed news on Nate Washington: he settled in and made a couple catches. He and Matt Hasselbeck fixed one early mistake and made it into a play that worked.

They got bad news on Damian Williams: he had two drops and no catches until the Titans targeted him a sixth time.

Receivers are always an issue for Tennessee, and they still have a lot to sort out. They were flat in a 14-13 preseason win over the Chicago Bears at LP Field Saturday night, winning on the strength of a 90-yard interception return by rookie corner Tommie Campbell off a gift-wrapped throw from Caleb Hanie.

Britt found out early in the evening he won’t be suspended for his chain of issues with police during the lockout. He said after the game he was pleased. When camp started, he’d said he needed to get out of New Jersey where most of his problems have occurred. His wife and daughter are now with him in Nashville, he said, and he intends to be a Tennessean going forward.

He said he hoped never to hear from Roger Goodell again unless it was to convey a message of "good job on the field."

Britt has dealt with a hamstring issue since the start of camp, has been limited in practices and has yet to play in a game.

“One of my hopes is that he can get out there and start taking reps with the offense instead of taking reps with the scout team,” Hasselbeck said. “We didn’t have an offseason, we didn’t have OTAs and now we really didn’t have training camp together. So it would be great to get on the same page. You saw tonight, there was a lot of sloppy play in the passing game. Mixed reads and mixed signals and just some missed opportunities. We need to get that cleaned up.

Among the missed opportunities: Two throws intended for Washington on the Titans' first possession. Washington didn’t seem to me to go hard enough after the first pass up the right side. The second pass up the left side was overthrown.

“We missed a seam route on the second play of the game,” Hasselbeck said. “I thought he was going to do this and he did that. We talked about it on the sideline, [offensive coordinator Chris Palmer] came over, we talked about it and said, ‘Next time we’re going to do this.’

“And later in the game we had a similar thing going the other direction. It was tighter coverage, it was a tougher throw, it was a tougher catch and he did it great, I think that was the [21]-yard catch that he had.”

Williams, meanwhile, is a guy I’ve been pushing. I’ve bemoaned why the team won’t give him every opportunity to work ahead of Justin Gage.

He had his chances against the Bears, and didn’t do a lot with them. Hasselbeck said the team started working Williams at Britt's split end spot five or six days ago looking to expand things for him, and praised the second-year man's solid camp. But he dropped two passes and was a non-factor in five targets before a 13-yard reception.

“I think it was just a bad game,” Williams said. “Fortunately they haven’t seen any of those from me other than today. We’ll go back and watch the film and we’ll correct it.”

Britt’s presence eases the pressure on the rest of the crew provided his hamstring is sound.

Newly added Kevin Curtis didn’t play. A guy the Titans courted in 2007, when he was a coveted free agent who chose Philadelphia, has since beaten testicular cancer and dealt with knee problems.

“It’s kind of on me,” he said of his chance. “We’ve got one game left, the window is kind of small. I’ve got one game to show them that I can help them out.”

Three things: Bears-Titans

August, 27, 2011
Three things to look for in tonight’s preseason game for the Titans against the Bears at LP Field, where kickoff is set for 7 p.m. CT.

The Titans need some plays from receivers. Through two games they’ve been without Kenny Britt and he won’t play tonight either. Their other top four -- Nate Washington, Justin Gage, Damian Williams, Lavelle Hawkins and Marc Mariani -- don’t have a play of more than 28 yards. Gage doesn’t have a catch and Washington has only one. Kevin Curtis was just added yesterday, so odds are he doesn’t play. Matt Hasselbeck may key on Jared Cook, but he’s got to develop some feel with receivers too. Playing beyond the half will afford that chance. Red zone efficiency is an area that can improve.

The running backs will be led, again, by Jamie Harper. With Chris Johnson holding out and Javon Ringer (hip) hurt, the Titans will still be looking to run. Harper made great strides from his first game to his second. Now he’s got a great chance to give the team even further assurance that if Johnson’s not around, he can be the alternative to Ringer on offense.

Defensive end depth will have a chance to make an impression. The Titans want to be bigger there, but with the injured Derrick Morgan and Jason Jones they lose their top big ends. Pannel Egboh (6-6, 287) will have a tough time making the roster because there is little room. But he was good last week and will probably have a chance to impress again. If you don’t see him much it means they hope to get him on the practice squad.

With Kerry Collins on the roster and poised to take over as the primary backup to Peyton Manning, Curtis Painter fared much better working with the Colts’ offense.

In a 24-21 loss to Green Bay at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday night, the Packers utilized one defensive element Manning typically helps Indianapolis avoid: the blitz.
Manning is masterful at making teams pay when they subtract from coverage to add to the rush. But Green Bay rolled out a steady stream of blitzes, many of which featured cornerback Charles Woodson, with no fear of such repercussions from Painter.

[+] EnlargeCurtis Painter
AP Photo/Michael ConroyWithout Peyton Manning, the Packers blitzed again and again on Curtis Painter.
Indy’s offensive line is still being sorted out, and the group didn’t do particularly well or get particularly good help in minimizing the pressure. Painter didn’t get hit so much as he had to hurry, and he was hardly at his best in such circumstances.

Desmond Bishop got flagged for roughing on one blitz, and Painter threw a ball away when Woodson looped between left tackle Anthony Castonzo and left guard Joe Reitz untouched. Another time, the quarterback made a nice throw to Reggie Wayne, who had a favorable matchup as Woodson came untouched.

No. 2 running back Donald Brown actually did reasonably well in blitz pickups, I thought, managing to keep himself between rushers and the quarterback on a couple of occasions. Still that rusher frequently contributed to a closing pocket.

The right side of the starting line, guard Ryan Diem and tackle Jeffrey Linkenbach, struggled with Clay Matthews, whose speed was more than they could handle.

Not every team is equipped to blitz the way the Packers are. But if it’s Collins instead of Manning on Sept. 11 in Houston, odds are the Texans will blitz more often and with less fear. And the Colts and Collins will have to be prepared to handle it.

Some other thoughts on what was nearly a rare Colts preseason win:

  • While Painter was better, it took a blown coverage that left Wayne wide open for a 57-yard touchdown to get him going. His second touchdown pass, to Chris Brooks, was very nice. Earlier Painter suffered because of a drop by Wayne and another by Pierre Garcon.
  • Ernie Sims was active in a lot of first-half action, his first since he signed with the Colts. Tommie Harris played for the second time, and made some plays with a sack and a tipped pass.
  • Jermichael Finley's touchdown catch on Pat Angerer was great. Angerer was tight but not turned. There aren’t many linebackers who could make a play against that.
  • According to CBS, Robert Mathis injured his hamstring in the first quarter hamstring and did not return. His counterpart at end, Dwight Freeney, made things very difficult on Green Bay tackle Chad Clifton, bulling over him a few times before using the patented spin move.
  • Diem, who false started too much last season at right guard, got called for one. An injury forced him from the game for a time, but he returned to action. Mike Pollak stepped in briefly. Jeff Saturday was the lone offensive lineman who didn’t play into the third quarter, as Pollak replaced him. Then the second-team offensive line was, left to right, Michael Toudouze, Kyle DeVan, Jamey Richard, Mike Tepper and Ben Ijalana. Richard was flagged for holding but it was declined.
  • I expect good things out of rookie running back Delone Carter, mostly because I very much like the idea of Carter. This team needs a short-yardage goal-line back. He was hardly working against front line defenders, I understand. But he not only got a tough yard -- converting a third-and-1 when there was nothing there -- but he had a couple of nice longer runs. A lost fumble was overturned by challenge, and a wide run with a spin move suggested he can be more than just a between-the-tackles pounder. He did look lost in one pass-protection situation.
  • Defensive back Chip Vaughn was waved off the field by Jim Caldwell after back-to-back penalties. After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty worth 15 yards and a taunting penalty worth 11 yards, the Colts gave up a touchdown and a two-point conversion, lost an onside kick and saw Green Bay move to a game-winning field goal. Vaughn will not have a good weekend. And the Colts just about refuse to win in the preseason.
Quick observations and thoughts on the Houston Texans 27-14 preseason win over the New Orleans Saints at Reliant Stadium Saturday night:

The big guns: The three main guys on offense all looked great. Matt Schaub threw with precision and was in control, hitting on 12 of 16 passes for 163 yards and a 107 passer rating. In his first preseason action with Andre Johnson in the lineup, he found his No. 1 guy four times for 100 yards, even with a Johnson drop. Arian Foster ran very well, with 47 yards and two touchdowns on five carries.

Emerging: Ben Tate did some very nice work as the second running back behind Foster, showing just why the Texans found him such a system fit when they used a second-round pick on him last season. He carried nine times for 95 yards and a score and also caught a 13-yard pass. Once Derrick Ward and Steve Slaton are healthy, the Texans will have quite the loaded backfield.

Run room: The defense did well sniffing out screens and short stuff from Drew Brees and frustrated the quarterback. But New Orleans ran well with their frontline offense finding 86 ground yards and a 4.6-yard average in the first half including a 17 yard run and a touchdown run. The new defensive front would surely like to be more discouraging to an offense looking to hand it off.

Also: First round end J.J. Watt was disruptive and energetic, again. … Kareem Jackson did well to let Devery Henderson get in trouble for taking a couple swings in an after-the-whistle incident. … Xavier Adibi started in place of DeMeco Ryans (elbow) as one of the inside linebackers. Adibi was way late diving in to hit an already-down Lance Moore, drawing a personal foul early. … Chase Daniel's 56-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Morgan came over new safety Danieal Manning.
A few quick thoughts from the Tennessee Titans' 17-16 loss at the Edward Jones Dome against the St. Louis Rams Saturday night:

The veteran quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck was very good again, with seven completions in nine attempts for 74 yards. He’s done well to find a rhythm with his new team and the Titans should have gotten more than 13 points while he was in game. Still, three scoring drives in the first three possessions with him at quarterback is a nice development. He left the game after getting the wind knocked out of him when his neck was bent awkwardly as he went to the ground on a hit. But indications are that he is fine.

The rookie quarterback: Jake Locker did not do well when he took over for Hasselbeck. His first throw, however, was a perfectly placed pass up the right side on a roll out to Jared Cook, who made a great stretching catch. Locker finished, however, 8-for-18 for 82 yards and an overthrow interception. A week after he posted a passer rating of 130.8 his number was 35.0. Undrafted receiver James Kirkendoll should have held on to a touchdown throw that would have helped things a great deal.

Bad start: The first play from scrimmage brought back memories of last season when the secondary struggled. Cortland Finnegan let Brandon Gibson go, thinking he was passing him to a safety. But there was a mix up and Michael Griffin wasn’t close. So Sam Bradford hit Gibson for an 83-yard touchdown. Finnegan looked great in the slot as a rusher, with multiple impact blitzes that caused the Rams problems.

Also: Rookie corner Tommie Campbell actually looked to be in good position on a Donnie Avery 19-yard touchdown catch from A.J. Feeley but didn’t find the ball. … The Titans are running and defending screens far better than they did in the 2010 season. ... Rookie linebacker Colin McCarthy had a sack and was among the team’s most active defenders in the second half. … Kicker Rob Bironas looked to get on track with field goals of 46, 25 and 23 yards.

Quick observations and thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 15-13 preseason win over the Atlanta Falcons Friday night.

David Garrard's deep interception to Brent Grimes was well over Mike Thomas up the middle. It was an overly hopeful throw that killed a possession and wasn’t necessary. He also missed Marcedes Lewis on a much shorter touchdown pass opportunity, though his ankle was clipped by a rusher as he let it go. Those are the sort of plays that make some people say, “Why not just play the rookie?”

Cecil Shorts should have simply fallen on the ball after he failed to cleanly take a handoff from Garrard on a reverse. His failure to do so meant another turnover.

Defensive end Jeremy Mincey caused problems for Atlanta, bearing down on Matt Ryan at least three times with high-effort rushes. One forced an intentional grounding.

Montell Owens, a fullback who operates almost exclusively on special teams, got a couple early carries as the Jaguars looked to spread the workload on a night they were without both Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings because of injuries.

Drew Coleman didn’t seem determined enough to stick close to Harry Douglas early in his route on what turned into a 76-yard touchdown catch out of the slot against the Jaguars new nickelback.

Fox commentator Daryl Johnston felt like Blaine Gabbert left the pocket prematurely a couple times when he probably could have stayed put and given a play more of a chance. I thought it was good analysis. Gabbert didn’t play as well as he did in last week’s start at New England, with a 59.3 passer rating. It was still nine points better than Garrard’s.

Loved, loved, loved Jack Del Rio going for 2 after the go-ahead touchdown. Not because it gave the team an opportunity to work on the play, but because it eliminated the possibility of a field goal making for a tie game and possible overtime. Preseason games should not, by rule, include the possibility of overtime. Who cares if the meaningless result is a regulation tie?

The Indianapolis Colts fell to 0-2 in the preseason, dominated by the Washington Redskins 16-3 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The final numbers were ugly, as the Redskins finished ahead 415-150 in total yardage, 215-55 in rushing yardage, 22-8 in first downs and 36:29-23:31 in time of possession.

Tim Hightower gashed the Colts on a 58-yard run on the second play from scrimmage and Roy Helu had a 51-yard run early in the second quarter. Indianapolis doesn’t much care about preseason results, but it should care about struggling against the run to that degree.

Strong safety Antoine Bethea left the game after that first big run with an apparent hamstring injury, and the Colts lack of depth at safety showed.

They were without several receivers too, as Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez all sat out.

The Colts shuffled the offensive line some in practice, but didn’t carry it all over to the game as Ryan Diem started at right tackle and Mike Pollak at right guard. The first team offensive line had two false starts -- back-to-back penalties against Pollak and left guard Joe Reitz. Pollak’s replacement, Kyle DeVan, got one in the first half too.

While there were spurts of good pass pressure, including three sacks of Washington starter John Beck, he threw for 140 yards and posted a 101 passer rating.

The Colts’ star of the game was Pat McAfee. The punter averaged 57.3 yards on four punts with a 46-yard net average.

Observation Deck: Jets-Texans

August, 15, 2011
The Houston Texans are scheduled for only one prime-time game in the regular season, Week 16 at Indianapolis. But the new-look Texans got the Monday Night Football spotlight on the opening weekend of the preseason.

Viewers saw a team already thinned out at running back get thinner as a revamped defense did some nice things in a 20-16 win over the New York Jets.

One man's quick observations…
  1. The Texans lacked some of firepower, with Andre Johnson (finger), Arian Foster (hamstring), Brian Cushing (knee) and prize free-agent cornerback Johnathan Joseph (groin) sitting out. We saw more, sooner, of Jacoby Jones, Derrick Ward, Darryl Sharpton and Jason Allen as a result.
  2. Ward started and didn’t last long before suffering a head injury, leaving the team with only Chris Ogbonnaya and Javarris Williams as its running backs. Houston tried running Ogbonnaya inside too much, but got him going more as a bootleg pass target for Matt Leinart. He caught a short touchdown pass among his team-high six receptions for 67 yards. He ran for the game-winning touchdown from a yard out with just under 2:00 left.
  3. Ankle injuries to Antoine Caldwell and Kasey Studdard could mean the team could be thinned for a time at guard as well.
  4. Matt Schaub hit on just 2 of 5 passes before yielding to Leinart. Schaub was just a touch off and two of his targets, Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter, were unable to pull in balls they got their hands on.
  5. The Texans shouldn’t feel obligated to use James Casey as the first-string fullback just because he was the primary plan once Vonta Leach left. They later signed free-agent Lawrence Vickers. He shouldn’t be waiting until the second half for a chance to impact the game. He quickly had a 22-yard catch and run.
  6. Second-string inside linebacker Xavier Adibi had a nice night, though he was unblocked on one of his two sacks. Another No. 2, outside linebacker Jesse Nading, was also productive with a sack and a forced fumble. Second-round pick Brooks Reed looked good, showing good burst at the snap. He had one good rush followed by a nice recognition in which he stopped chasing to jump and knock down a pass.
  7. The late work of undrafted rookie outside linebacker Bryan Braman out of West Texas A&M is the sort that makes a guy impossible to hide for a practice squad spot. No matter the caliber of the people attempting to block him, he showed a knack for getting to the quarterback, even if he allowed rookie quarterback Greg McElroy to shrug out of a sure sack on the final possession of the game.
  8. Quintin Demps fielded kickoffs and punts early on without much affect. Trindon Holliday was out hurt and the team wisely didn’t choose to look at Jones and Danieal Manning, veteran starters who didn’t need to be exposed to injury risk on special teams.