Beyond the Boxscore
NFL preseason games could make a man fall in love with Olympic curling. Even the very "best" preseason games disintegrate into an exercise in waiting — for the clock to finally, mercifully run out, for a kickoff that matters to arrive, for everyone to stop talking about a mildly good game from a fifth stringer (howdy Chris Ogbonnaya!) like it will mean anything come September.
And the super-lockout-rushed offseason has hardly brought out the best in anyone this August.
Still, there are a few important takeaways from the Houston Texans' Monday Night Football preseason opener at Reliant Stadium — as thoroughly meaningless as the 20-16 victory over the New York Jets is.
1). Wade Phillips will be as aggressive as a cougar facing last call. Sure, the Texans played without new free agent cornerback Johnathan Joseph, but it's obvious that Phillips still isn't overly confident in this revamped secondary. The man who would save defense in Houston seems to understand that the Texans are going to need to get to the quarterback before he gets to them.
Houston racked up seven sacks against a worthy Super Bowl favorite, including two of Jets starter Mark Sanchez. You can be sure that wasn't in bombastic New York coach Rex Ryan's gameplan. Phillips will be spending blitzers from all over the field once the games start for real. Heck, he's already scheming hard in the preseason.
Fourth-year linebacker Xavier Adibi appeared to be hardly touched on his two sacks.
"Coach was just dialing things up today," Adibi said moments after the game — a lone game in which the Texans had almost as many sacks as they did the entire 2010 preseason (eight). Phillips disputed the notion that he turned up the heat, saying he didn't call any blitzes, but this wasn't a pure vanilla preseason defense either. Phillips was making a little statement.
2). Gary Kubiak is getting smarter. I criticized Kubiak for playing lifeline receiver Andre Johnson well into the second quarter of a preseason game last August, so it's time to give the Teflon coach his due for holding out every slightly dinged-up player he could Monday night: Johnson, Joseph, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing, the list went wonderfully on. And Kubiak didn't stop there.
Think Matt Schaub looked rusty in his brief action? Good, Kubiak should let that needless worry build all month and save Schaub from as many hits as possible. The Texans starting quarterback is a proven commodity at this point.
Nothing is gained by playing him much now. Let him build his rhythm in practice.
3). Matt Leinart is nobody's star. So much for the Texans having the best backup quarterback in the NFL. This was a game for Leinart to star. Instead, the former USC Golden Boy showed he's as far as ever from being a Sanchize. (It's amazing how much a better pro Sanchez is then Leinart considering how they were both regarded in college).
It's not that the Texans $5.5 million backup played horribly. Leinart finished 8-for-14 for 78 yards, a short touchdown pass and a tipped interception. But he looked like the same dink-and-dunk quarterback that the Arizona Cardinals couldn't believe they ended up with after selecting him with the 10th pick in the 2006 draft.
It doesn't matter how much of a man crush Kubiak has on Leinart, you don't want your season resting on this timid arm.
4). QBs are going to still love playing the Texans. If they can stay upright. Just ask former Alabama folk hero Greg McElroy. At one point during the third quarter as the rookie quarterback ripped off a string of completions, he must have wondered who let Florida International's defense on the field.
Yes, the Texans weren't playing their starters — but this complete lack of depth in the secondary is still a major concern.
5). The fretting over Mario Williams is overblown. This idea that Williams looked "lumbering" or "hesitant" in his switch to outside linebacker in Phillips 3-4 is more than a little ridiculous.
Williams is a veteran coming off an injury playing the first preseason game of the year. He's not on audition. He doesn't have to impress anyone right now. He'll be ready to make an impact once the Indianapolis Colts roll into Reliant Stadium on Sept. 11. Mario will be fine — and the pass rush looks like it will be less and less of a Texans' problem.
6). Houston's luck has turned. There are two ways to look at the fact that the Texans would have given up another late, long, game-losing touchdown pass if Michael Campbell hadn't dropped an absolutely easy catch.
One is that it signals it's a new season and the often-beyond-belief horror that Houston experienced in 2010 cannot possibly repeat itself, that as Texans owner Bob McNair often said in defending Kubiak, it was part fluke. The other is that there is a reason Campbell is an undrafted rookie free agent, one who might be lucky to make it to Wednesday based on Ryan's drop-triggered sideline explosion, and that Plaxico Burress and any other legitimate NFL wideout would eagerly dance on the Texans grave in that situation in a real game.
It's only week one of the preseason though, the time when anyone can still believe whatever they want to believe.