Houston Texans gain clarity on position battles against Packers

The Houston Texans learned a lot about their position battles after their first preseason game against the Packers. Which players gained an edge over their peers?

Following a few days of joint practices, the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers took the field as the preseason kicked off this past Thursday. While the game had its moments, it certainly held the vibe of your typical preseason affair. The Packers controlled most of the contest. However, Houston scored the last 16 points of the game as their comeback effort fell short in a two-point defeat.

These teams could’ve opened up multiple Great Adventure venues with all the flags that were thrown in this one. Although, that’s typically the case as even the referees are experimenting and treating it as a preseason of their own.

Joe Webb provides mixed bag performance

A.J. McCarron‘s thumb injury proved to be impactful. Who would’ve thought we’d have to sit there and endure 40 pass attempts from Joe Webb? He made some blatantly poor decisions and it’s apparent his arm isn’t NFL caliber. However, his evasion skills stood out as he was forced to extend plays and use his legs. Considering the state of the offensive line, keeping Webb’s athleticism as your QB3 isn’t the worst idea. Although, I look forward to seeing Jordan Ta’amu next week as he was signed in response to McCarron’s injury.

The longest pass of the night for the Texans went to Tyron Johnson. Webb continued to rely on his evasion skills throughout the night and was able to hit Johnson for 44 yards, although it was an under-thrown ball.

Coutee’s injury hurts receiver depth

The first score of the preseason came at the demise of the Texans. Keke Coutee got his shot at punt returner. A boomer with plenty of hang time off the foot of Green Bay punter J.K. Scott. Coutee struggled to track the ball and backtracked all the way into the end zone where the punt was muffed. A fight for the loose ball ensued, but it was the Packers who recovered in Houston’s end zone for the score. A turnover ensued on the following drive. Taiwan Jones got going into the second level and was stripped while trying to execute a stiff arm.

Coutee was given a chance of redemption a couple of drives later. This time he showed off his jets and took the punt for a 21-yard return. The next offensive snap, however, he caught a pass but was slow to get up as he favored his right leg. It was later diagnosed as a minor ankle injury. I understand you want to get these younger guys reps, but there was no reason for Coutee to be out there with his already extensive injury history.

Runningback battle continues

Entering the preseason, the battle for RB3 was one of the top items on the docket. Undrafted free agents Damarea Crockett and Karan Higdon were each given a handful of carries. Crockett had a nice pickup in pass protection which allowed Joe Webb to escape and scamper for a first down on third-and-nine. Crockett went on to pound it in from the goal-line for the team’s first touchdown a few snaps later.

Higdon brought a change of pace and looked more imposing running the ball. He and Crockett are surely neck and neck at this point. It’ll all come down to how these next three preseason games go for them. Jones, Buddy Howell, and Josh Ferguson are also in the mix. Although, the latter two combined for just two carries. Howell is expected to make the roster largely due to his special teams prowess.

Houston Texans Offensive line

As for the offensive line, they held up and put forth an encouraging effort. Most notably, Matt Kalil was impressive manning the left tackle spot. He looked crisp in pass protection where he took advantage of his length and generated tremendous depth in his kick step. A scrutinized signing this past spring, if Kalil keeps at this pace he could prove to be a diamond in the rough. He played until the late first quarter and holds a strong chance to crack the opening week starting lineup.

The spotlight was on the rookies in this one. Tytus Howard started at left guard while Max Scharping took over at right guard following a Greg Mancz leg injury. Mancz started at center as Nick Martin has been absent for most of training camp. As Scharping assumed right guard, Zach Fulton shifted over to center.

The first-round pick for the Houston Texans had a pleasant outing. Howard relieved Kalil at left tackle but switched back to left guard once Roderick Johnson moved from the right side to the left. Howard looked composed for the most part in pass protection. However, he got burned by Rashan Gary a couple of times towards the end of the first half. He was exposed a bit there but excelled on the interior.

Scharping immediately flashed some traits. He displayed a solid anchor blocking for the pass and showed knee bend and leverage on engagement. He figures to have a key rotational role due to his versatility and should compile a few starts in year one. The aforementioned Johnson played among the most snaps of any linemen. Known for his physical tools coming out of Florida State, he could earn a backup spot and force a guy like Seantrel Henderson off the roster.

Defensive details

The Week 1 preseason contest for the Texans presented a tremendous opportunity to get a look at potential backups and role players on defense. Bill O’Brien cautiously played only a couple of starters in minimal snaps. However, we did get our first glimpse of Bradley Roby. The free-agent signing allowed a couple of catches over the middle to Jake Kumerow. Still, he stood out in man coverage and had an overall good showing.

Lonnie Johnson had an up and down day which was highlighted by a touchdown given up working against the 6-foot-5 Allen Lazard. The rookie out of Kentucky was tenacious between his physicality and willingness to pester opposing wide receivers with his hands. Aaron Colvin had a solid day in limited snaps but should open the season as the team’s slot corner.

The linebackers played well and I was especially impressed with Dylan Cole. The 2017 undrafted free agent plays with tons of energy at an extremely high motor. His processing skills were on full display and he gets downhill in a hurry to plug gaps. Cole is in for a breakout year after missing nearly all of 2018. He’s primed to emerge behind the starting duo of Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham.

Defensive line lacking energy

Upfront the Texans were underwhelming. Fresh off a three-year extension, Angelo Blackson struggled to get off blocks and was overpowered against the run. On back to back plays, he allowed huge running lanes which sprang big runs. I was hoping to see more from fifth-round pick Charles Omenihu. Like Blackson, he too struggled against the run and didn’t have much of a presence in the trenches.

Joel Heath has started fifteen games for the Houston Texans over the past three seasons since going undrafted in 2016. There’s a reason he’s stuck around Houston for multiple years. Against the Packers, he clearly played with the most effort and hustle among the defensive linemen on the field. With his quick hands, he was able to shed blocks and make an impact in the running game.

Another sleeper standout was undrafted rookie Austin Exford from Appalachian State. His ability going downhill was remarkable as the Houston Texans deployed him in a dime backer role. With little college production and lack of name recognition, Exford has a chance to be this year’s preseason MVP. He’s someone to keep an eye on next week as a potential practice squad player.

Jonathan Valencia is an AFC South writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter @JonValenciaPFN.