NFL Nation: 2014 NFL Preseason Week 3 ATL at HOU Observation Deck

Observation Deck: Houston Texans

August, 16, 2014

A week after a disastrous preseason opener that created great doubt, the Houston Texans rebounded with a well-rounded effort in a 32-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Houston.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was horrific in the Texans' 32-0 loss at Arizona on Aug. 9, but he and plenty of his teammates bounced back in a big way even as defensive lineman J.J. Watt, linebacker Brian Cushing, running back Arian Foster, receiver Andre Johnson, left tackle Duane Brown and center Chris Myers got the night off.

Here are some other thoughts on the Texans' second preseason game of the year:
  • No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney had a remarkable sequence of back-to-back plays in the first quarter. First, he flew past guard Justin Blalock to level running back Antone Smith just a beat after Smith took a handoff from Matt Ryan. It was reminiscent of Clowney's hit for South Carolina against Michigan's Vincent Smith, though this Smith held on to the ball. On the very next play, Clowney raced past left tackle Sam Baker and quickly sacked Ryan. While Clowney's explosiveness was impressive, the plays were just as remarkable for Atlanta's nonchalance in attempting to block him. On both plays, Atlanta made weak efforts to get in his way. If opponents "block" him like that going forward, they will get skill people hurt.
  • Fitzpatrick left the game for rookie Tom Savage in the second quarter. But coach Bill O'Brien reinserted his starting quarterback with 1:32 remaining in the first half to allow him to engineer Houston's two-minute offense. Fitzpatrick led the team on a second touchdown drive, and finished 9-of-12 for 97 yards with an 8-yard touchdown pass to DeVier Posey and two scrambles for 25 more yards, compiling a 126.0 passer rating. Savage also returned for a second stint after he left the game for Case Keenum.
  • Safety D.J. Swearinger put a big hit on Julio Jones, and was compelled to stand over him afterward. The second-year safety also jumped tight end Levine Toilolo to break up a pass he nearly picked. But Swearinger's celebration with corner Josh Victorian earned them an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
  • Special teams produced several highlights: A solid kickoff return from Keshawn Martin to open the game, a punt deflected by Anthony Denham that was returned for a touchdown by Jonathan Grimes and a Matt Bryant field goal attempt blocked by Jawanza Starling. Coverage teams were sound all around. But rookie kicker Chris Boswell pushed two 33-yard extra points wide right, denting his attempt to unseat Randy Bullock. Boswell did hit a 33-yard field goal near the end of the game.
  • The Falcons' one scoring drive was strongly aided by Texans penalties. Victorian was flagged for illegal contact and two more defensive backs, Eddie Pleasant and Brandon Harris, were called for holds in addition to the unsportsmanlike conduct call against Swearinger and Victorian. In all, Houston committed 15 accepted penalties worth 117 yards and six first downs.
  • Seventh-round rookie corner Andre Hal had a 64-yard interception return of former Texans quarterback T.J. Yates for a touchdown and linebacker Max Bullough also contributed with a late pick against Yates.

Observation Deck: Atlanta Falcons

August, 16, 2014

HOUSTON -- The return of wide receiver Julio Jones for the first time since last year's season-ending foot fracture was overshadowed by yet another key injury to an Atlanta Falcons starter.

Left tackle Sam Baker went down with a right knee injury in the second quarter of Atlanta's 32-7 preseason loss to the Houston Texans. He had to be carted off the field.

Baker, who missed 12 games last season with a left knee injury, grimaced as he was unable to put any pressure on his leg.

The last thing the Falcons needed was an injury along the offensive line, but guys like Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder might get a chance to prove their value over the next two preseason games.

Jones, however, looked fine in his first action since last October coming off foot surgery. He caught a pass over the middle on the second play of the game for a 6-yard gain. Jones played four series and caught two passes for 20 yards while being targeted four times. He caught a deep ball down the right sideline but couldn't get both feet down in what would have been a long gain.

Matt Ryan completed 3 of 7 passes for 37 yards with a passer rating of 59.8 and a long throw of 17 yards to Roddy White. He was sacked once.

Yes, it's the preseason, but it's never a good thing when you lose to a team that was blown out 32-0 last week against Arizona.

Here are some other thoughts on the Falcons' second preseason game:
  • The defense was horrendous at times, with poor tackling, blown assignments, and a lack of pressure leading to a handful of big plays surrendered. Texans starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, not exactly among the league's top-tier quarterbacks, completed 9 of 12 passes for 97 yards and an 8-yard touchdown to receiver DeVier Posey between Falcons safeties Dwight Lowery and William Moore. Even steady cornerback Desmond Trufant allowed a big play to happen in front of him. Both Trufant and fellow starter Robert Alford got hit with defensive holding penalties in the game.
  • The positives on defense included an opening three-and-out, with nice tackles by Moore, Lowery, and Paul Worrilow, and some solid pressure from Osi Umenyiora on a couple of plays.
  • The first-team offense struggled on third down, and J.J. Watt wasn't even on the field for the Texans. When Ryan was in the game, the Falcons went 0-for-4 in such scenarios, including one in which Ryan was sacked by Texans rookie Jadeveon Clowney after Clowney beat Baker. Twice, Ryan couldn't connect with Jones on third down, although Jones did catch the one ball mentioned above but couldn't get his feet in.
  • Devin Hester showed his value as a receiver when he caught a quick screen pass from backup Sean Renfree in the second quarter and danced his way to a 12-yard touchdown. Remember, Hester did not play on offense as a member of the Chicago Bears last season. He still has his quickness and breakaway speed at the age of 31.
  • Safety Kemal Ishmael continued his strong preseason by picking off a pass near the end zone at the start of the fourth quarter. He was ruled down upon making the nifty pick. If projected starter Lowery continues to miss tackles like he did Saturday, Ishmael could find himself in the lineup because the Falcons definitely like his tackling ability.
  • Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong might have a headache right about now after watching punter Matt Bosher get a punt blocked by Houston's Anthony Denham and returned 17 yards by Jonathan Grimes for a touchdown. Then kicker Matt Bryant got a 51-yard field goal attempt deflected.
  • Rookie Devonta Freeman continues to show flashes of his great potential. He broke tackles and showed great vision on what appeared to be a 23-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the play was called back following a holding penalty on wide receiver Julian Jones. Freeman also showed some tenacity when it came to blocking in pass protection.
  • Quarterback T.J. Yates, the player the Falcons acquired in a trade with the Texans for linebacker Akeem Dent, didn't help his chances of securing a backup role. Yates almost got his first pass picked off. Then, he stared down his receiver and threw a pick-six as Texans cornerback Andre Hal took one back 64 yards for the score. Yates threw yet another interception with just over five minutes remaining in the game. Renfree looks like a much better option behind Ryan.
  • There was a Ra'Shede Hageman sighting as the rookie defensive lineman made a nice play on a tackle for loss in the third quarter. Hageman showed great quickness and fight on the play.