Last night’s preseason game against the 49ers was the Houston Texans’ best by far. Davis Mills had a terrific outing, despite a wonky interception that wasn’t really his fault. Marlon Mack finally broke out, and Dameon Pierce had some amazing runs too. And finally, the Texans were able to cut way back on penalties and sloppy mistakes.
Houston Texans’ Offensive Performance
On paper, Davis Mills didn’t really put up outstanding numbers. He went 6 for 10 for 58 yards and 1 TD and 1 INT. But some of his passes were broken up, taken away by penalties, and even just dropped right out of receivers’ hands. His overall accuracy and quickness in and out of the pocket were outstanding. And the one interception he threw actually hit its target. Receiver Chris Moore struggled to gain control of that pass and ended up knocking it right into the hands of a 49ers defender.
Mills kept playing all the way through the 1st drive of the 2nd half. Although he wasn’t able to connect on some of his passes on that drive, that was actually due to penalties on the 49ers. One incompletion triggered a defensive pass interference call. Another was cleared after a roughing the passer penalty. The 49ers’ sloppy defense and a big run from Marlon Mack helped push them into the red zone. But it was a sweet 16-yard pass from Davis Mills to Chris Moore that scored the Texans their 2nd TD.
Along with dropped passes, the offense also suffered quite a few hits on quarterbacks. Davis Mills was sacked twice but only lost 4 yards. He was also hit twice after the pass, drawing penalties on the 49ers. Kyle Allen was also sacked once. Overall, the offensive line provided less consistent protection for quarterbacks than it did for running backs. Their run blocking actually greatly exceeded the expectations of most, myself included.
Rookie RB Dameon Pierce racked up nice yards on the ground early in the game. On his second run, he cut back across the field twice in different directions, to evade tacklers and pick up 9 yards. He then ran for 12 yards on the next play, and later ended the drive with a TD.
Marlon Mack also had an impressive night with the help of Houston’s reinvigorated offensive line, gaining 55 yards over 10 carries. Early in the 2nd half he was able to show off his speed, running for 24 yards on a single play. Royce Freeman also showed some good potential but was less consistent than Pierce or Mack. 2 of his 6 runs ended in negative yards.
None of the receivers really stood out as clear favorites Thursday night. No one caught more than 2 receptions. Chris Moore made the most of his 2 catches, going for 35 yards and a TD. But it was also Moore who bobbled an early TD pass, causing Davis Mills’ only interception. The Texans’ current strategy of rationing out passes and not relying on any one receiver may be their best option moving into the regular season.
Houston Texans’ Defensive Performance
There’s really nothing more you can expect from a defense beyond holding an opposing team to 0 points. That’s it, that’s the whole point of defense. In the end it doesn’t matter how many yards or first downs the other guys get. If they can’t score a single point, they literally can’t win.
The Texans’ secondary coverage was a little spotty last night, allowing the 49ers to make deep passes down the field. 11 different 49ers receivers were able to catch passes of at least 10 yards, the longest of which was 30 yards. But somehow, the Texans were able to keep them out of the red zone for almost the entire game. The one time the 49ers even made it past the Texans’ 20 yard line was with less than 30 seconds to go in the 4th quarter.
The Texans’ secondary also greatly contributed to the team winning the turnover ratio. Desmond King II snatched a pass right out of a receiver’s face near the end of the 1st half, returning it for 16 yards. Jake Hansen had an arguably easier interception late in the 2nd half, and was able to return that for 18 yards.
The pass rush brought by the Texans’ defensive line also continued to dominate in last night’s game. They sacked prospective starter Trey Lance once for a 7 yard loss, and backup Brock Purdy twice for 16 yards combined. Overall they also had 10 tackles for loss and 8 passes defended throughout the game.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise from last night’s game was the change in penalties the Texans were drawing. The defense looked much more organized and professional than they did in earlier preseason games. They drew a few silly penalties near the very end of the game, but those ended up having no effect on the 49ers’ ability to score.
Backup cornerback Isaac Yiadom, who almost caught an interception earlier in the game, was tagged for barely touching a receiver past 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Neville Hewitt found a 49ers player’s loose shoe, tossed it a few feet, and was penalized for delay of game. And one player just couldn’t get off the field in time during the 49ers’ final 2 minutes. These 3 penalties in the final minutes represented half of the Texans’ 6 penalties over the entire game.
Ready for Some Football!
The biggest takeaway from the Preseason week 3 game is that the Houston Texans finally look ready to win in the regular season. The 49ers were the first team the Texans faced who actually played most of their starters for a substantial period of time. And even then, the Texans were able to totally shut out one of last year’s Super Bowl contender. They played a very clean game as well, greatly reducing the penalties they’ve been getting recently.
The Houston Texans’ defensive performance was nothing short of inspirational. Even when the 49ers connected on long passes, almost every time the Texans were able to tackle the receivers right away. And to have played so well with so few penalties just proves that they really can compete with even the best in the modern NFL. Many people will underestimate them this year, because of their ongoing rebuild and the lack of superstar names on the roster. But shutting out a Super Bowl contender is no joke, even in a “meaningless” preseason game.