INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Texans rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. flipped his hips, retreating adeptly in pass coverage to shadow Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Landen Akers on a pass pattern. Stingley planted his cleats and redirected to charge on the football and smoothly deflected a throw from backup quarterback John Wolford.
“I was really just reading the quarterback,” Stingley told Pro Football Network after the game inside the Texans’ locker room. “I felt good out there.”
Derek Stingley Jr. showcases skills against the Rams
The third overall selection out of LSU flashed his skills during his NFL preseason debut Friday night as he started against the defending Super Bowl champion Rams during a 24-20 victory at SoFi Stadium.
Although Stingley was playing against a backup instead of starter Matthew Stafford and star wide receiver Cooper Kupp was watching on the sidelines, he nonetheless looked as advertised against the Rams in three defensive series.
The Texans have been ramping up Stingley’s activity level, bringing him along cautiously due to a previous Lisfranc foot injury. Stingley showed what he’s already displayed in practice: his foot is fine, and he’s ready for the season, as general manager Nick Caserio and coach Lovie Smith had predicted.
“It felt good,” Stingley said. “I was excited to get back. It was good. I’m glad I was able to be out there. It felt good going out there on the field. I was just ready to be out there. I feel good, but there’s always stuff you can work on, any position, any player on the field.
“I think there’s always more you can learn and more that you can do going into the next practice. That’s what I did. I always have fun.”
There was one rough moment for Stingley against wide receiver Lance McCutcheon. In the first quarter, Stingley surrendered too much room on a crisp route by McCutcheon for a 22-yard catch.
“It wasn’t nothing,” Stingley said. “It was just a play.”
Overall, though, it was a solid start for the Texans’ top rookie. At 6-foot, 190 pounds, with a recorded 4.37 40-yard dash, Stingley has speed to burn.
The Texans followed a disciplined, ramp-up approach with Stingley with a concerted plan to get him through the entire season.
“I mean, I think it was the best thing that could have happened,” Stingley said. “Obviously, I wanted to be out there way sooner. They know what they’re doing. Everyone involved with the Texans, they know what they’re doing.”
A two-time All-SEC selection, Stingley is a former five-star recruit who finished his college career with 73 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
“The plan was to get him 10 plays, so I think he got 15 plays,” Smith said. “That’s out of the way. That was good for him to get his first action. We’ll keep increasing his minutes. He’s a good football player.”
Rough start for Texans’ first-team offense
Sputtering and sloppy to start the game, the Texans’ first-team offense closely resembled the uneven outfit that struggled throughout last season.
Until a crisp final drive engineered by quarterback Davis Mills capped by a touchdown pass to Nico Collins to end the first half, the offense was inconsistent and unproductive.
During the first seven drives of the game, the Texans produced just four first downs and had three tackles for losses with two sacks and a fumble. Left offensive guard Max Scharping struggled in pass protection, yielding the sack that led to a Mills fumble that Scharping recovered and a lost fumble by the usually reliable Rex Burkhead.
“We did start off kind of slow,” Collins said. “I don’t know why, but we were out there trying to get a spark going.”
Mills passed for 50 of his 96 yards on two late completions to end the half and completed 10 of 17 passes overall. The Texans, though, had only 31 net yards of offense until there were 14 seconds left in the first half.
“It was awesome,” Mills said. “Obviously made some big-time plays. Didn’t have much going on before that, so it was nice to end the half with a score. We’re confident when we’re spreading the ball around like that and the line is protecting, we can go up against anyone.”
Mills had a 94.2 passer rating. Most of the effectiveness he showed was in the final minute of the first half as he went 4 for 7 for 60 yards.
“Early on, we didn’t have a lot of success,” Lovie Smith said. “We decided to let the offense keep playing. You always want to finish on a high note.”
The Texans were playing without top wide receiver Brandin Cooks and left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
“We wanted to see Davis finish there offensively,” Smith said. “That was a great throw by Davis to give Nico an opportunity to catch the ball. We’re not first-game-of-the-season-ready yet, but we see good things each week.”
Houston put the game away on a touchdown catch by tight end Mason Schreck. It marked the second week in a row that Jeff Driskel threw a game-winning TD pass.
“Two weeks in a row where offensively we needed to score, and defensively we need to stop them at the end,” Smith said. “I talk a lot about situational football and how we love as many of these opportunities as possible.”
Mills recently said the Texans are “ready to go out and shock the world.” The comment drew attention and raised a few eyebrows about the prospects of a 4-13 team from last year.
“I don’t think I need to elaborate on it,” Mills said. “I don’t think the media nationally is giving the Houston Texans a lot of attention. I think we know better than anyone else in the building. Our guys have full confidence in what we’re capable of, and we’re excited to get rolling with this season.”
Nico Collins exploits size advantage
When Collins is lined up against smaller defensive backs, the Texans’ imposing wide receiver likes his chances.
As he should.
At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, with the leaping ability and strength to elevate over or muscle the football away from cornerbacks, Collins leaped for a contested catch in the end zone to haul in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Mills to close out the first half. Collins bodied a defensive back away from the path of the football.
“We took a shot in the red zone, and Davis trusted in me as a quarterback,” Collins said. “No doubt, I’m going to get it. I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got to go get it. I’m a tall guy. I’m going to make the play.'”
Collins caught four passes for 48 yards on six targets.
“Nico’s a big target, with a lot of talent,” Smith said. “We want to get him in those types of situations. If we run the ball well, we’ll get more one-on-one situations for Nico.”
Collins is one of the larger wide receivers in the NFL, and his chemistry with Mills keeps building.
“The biggest growth I’ve seen from him has been off the field and how much he’s matured,” Mills said. “Going to work each day, trying to be the best player he can be, I think he’s made a big jump.”
What’s going on with RBs Dameon Pierce and Marlon Mack?
Rookie running back Dameon Pierce intrigued the Texans — and fantasy football players — with his powerful running style during his NFL debut against the New Orleans Saints. It wasn’t just that Pierce rushed for 49 yards on five carries. It was how he punished the defense and displayed explosiveness in the open field.
Having seen that and still evaluating how to move forward with who will be the primary running back, the Texans opted not to play Pierce against the Rams. They love what they’ve seen so far from the fourth-round draft pick from Florida.
Houston went with former Indianapolis Colts starter Marlon Mack to start the game. Although he played somewhat better than he did a week ago, he wasn’t super productive as he rushed for 29 yards on eight carries while Royce Freeman rushed for 30 yards on nine carries.
“We just held him out,” Smith said of Pierce. “We just wanted to see Marlon. We have a plan. We got a good look at Dameon last week.”
A former 1,000-yard rusher with the Colts who tore his Achilles two seasons ago and has been trying to regain his form, Mack had one good run, an eight-yarder where he bounced outside and beat defenders around the perimeter.
“Definitely, it was a great night,” Mack said. “I feel like I’m going out there and doing my best. I had a great burst on that run. I got something accomplished. I was just trying to make something happen. I’ve got to keep doing that.”
Houston’s pass rush is clicking
Rams backup quarterback John Wolford was under siege, dealing with heavy pressure from the Texans’ front seven. Wolford was sacked five times, and the Texans finished with six sacks overall. They have 11 sacks in two preseason games.
“We have a talented defensive line,” said defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who had two quarterback hits. “We’ve got depth. We’re hungry. We’re coming after the quarterback relentlessly. Everybody is locked in. It’s very contagious pressure. We’re getting pressure with four rushers.”
The Texans had 11 quarterback hits against the Rams, and sacks from linebacker Christian Kirksey, safety Grayland Arnold, defensive tackle Roy Lopez, and defensive ends Jonathan Greenard, Demone Harris, and Derek Rivers. Rivers leads the Texans this preseason with three sacks.
“We have depth there,” Smith said.
Kenyon Green held out of game as a precaution
As a precautionary measure, the Texans held rookie offensive guard Kenyon Green out of Friday night’s preseason road game against the Rams.
The first-round draft pick from Texas A&M and former blue-chip recruit from Atascosita High School just returned to practice Wednesday from a concussion that sidelined him for two weeks after clearing the NFL concussion protocol. Green was replaced in the starting lineup by Scharping, who as previously mentioned, struggled.
Already declared a starter by Smith, Green is regarded as a top candidate to start the first game of the regular season. The Texans want to get him some preseason work as soon as next week against the San Francisco 49ers.
Green missed time this offseason due to surgery to repair a lateral collateral ligament, but the knee has improved significantly and he wears a brace for protective reasons.
“Kenyon Green was able to get back into full-speed work,” Smith said this week. “Eventually we’ll get him out there. The biggest thing was to get him back into the mix. He missed a couple weeks, so we’ll gradually get him back into the full-time mix, but no issues, right on track. We’ll see how it goes.”
Green sustained the concussion despite wearing the new league-mandated helmet covers designed to lower the chances of suffering a head injury.
“I mean, it’s not 100 percent wearing those covers,” Smith said. “Of course, you lessen the odds of getting a concussion, but nothing is 100 percent in football. It wasn’t a big blow or anything like that.
“The game of football, there’s no way we can eliminate concussions in our game, but you stay out, and eventually you get back clear. We’ve really taken our time with him. We make sure a guy is really ready to go, where there’s no symptoms before we put him on the football field, and that’s how we took it with him.”
Texans’ injury updates
According to Smith, there were no major injuries. Offensive tackle Tytus Howard jammed his pinkie, but said afterward it wasn’t anything serious as he got it taped up and kept going.
The following players didn’t play due to injuries: Green (concussion), linebackers Garret Wallow (ankle), Christian Harris (hamstring), and Kevin Pierre-Louis, tight ends Pharaoh Brown (hamstring) and Antony Auclair (right knee), and wide reciever Drew Estrada (leg).
In addition to Pierce, Cooks, and Tunsil, the Texans held out several other players as a precautionary measure, including center Justin Britt, defensive takcle Maliek Collins, and defensive end Mario Addison, who recently returned to practice after testing positive for COVID-19.
Houston’s quick hits
Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, competing for playing time at the slot position, had a strong performance. He caught all three passes thrown to him for 48 yards. He also drew a defensive pass interference penalty that led to Driskel’s game-winning touchdown pass to Schreck.
“He’s extremely valuable,” Mills said. “Especially with his speed to be able to take the top off the defense. He’s been really good at a lot of the short and intermediate routes, too. Just catching with strong hands and protecting the ball over the middle.”
Chester Rogers needs to be more consistent. The wide receiver had an outstanding 30-yard punt return, but he fumbled on a subsequent return. That just can’t happen.
Former New York Jets linebacker Blake Cashman keeps showing up and making plays. He has a real nose for the football.
Defensive tackle Ross Blacklock has got the penalty bug, and the former second-round draft pick’s game was emblematic of how his first two NFL seasons have unfolded. Blacklock had two QB hits, but the penalties showed a lack of concentration and focus. He had three penalties in a two-play span — two offsides infractions and a facemask call.
Backup quarterback Kyle Allen, back after missing one game following a positive COVID-19 test, was sharp. He completed 9 of 12 passes for 71 yards and one touchdown pass.
“We like the way Kyle Allen led the offense,” Smith said.