5 Things to Watch for in Houston Texans’ First Preseason Game
5 Things to Watch for in Texans' Game Against Minnesota Vikings
As most NFL fans know, preseason games usually don’t reveal much about the teams, as starters usually take a maximum of 20 snaps and then warm up the bench for the rest game. For the next three quarters, second and third string guys come out to play and try to impress the coach, and those of us at home are left watching incomplete pass after incomplete pass or repeatedly seeing a third-string safety get burned by a second-string wide receiver. The game plods ever-onward, and we’re still left with questions like “do you think they’ll start Player X over Player Y once the playoffs start?” or “will that play suck that bad in a real game?”
Even so, preseason games are by no means negligible. Often times these games will become huge experiments as first-year coaches and players see first-hand what it’s like to play against people just as talented as they are, and plays are taken from the drawing board to the playing field for the first time. Sometimes these plays blow up and we’ll see situations like I described above; but every once-in-a-while they’ll click and you’ll see something truly magnificent. And as an added bonus, though many of the starters in the NFL hate these games because of the unnecessary injury risk they pose, many lower-level players rejoice that the preseason exists, because it gives them that one last shot at making it in the pros. If you’re really paying attention, you’ll catch when those players come on the field and see way more heart and fight from them than you’ll ever see from the multi-millionaires lounging on the pine.
That being said, here are 5 things to watch for in the Houston Texans’ first preseason game on Friday, August 9.
This is the Last Time You Will Ever See the Texans Play Here
This game is the final game that the Texans will ever play in Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (that’s a really long name). The Minnesota Vikings’ current stadium, which opened on April 3, 1982, was the second major sports facility to have a fiberglass fabric roof that is self-supported by air pressure. It is also the only stadium in the world to have hosted a Super Bowl (1992), World Series (1987, 1991), MLB All-Star Game (1985), and NCAA Division I Basketball Final Four (1992, 2001).
The Vikings are demolishing the Metrodome at the end of the 2013 NFL season due to the age and state of their current stadium, which had an infamous roof collapse in the winter of 2010. That same year, the Minnesota Twins left the Metrodome for the greener (and real) pastures of Target Field, which had been under construction since 2007. The Minnesota Golden Gophers have also moved on to a newer stadium, at which the Vikings will join them for the 2014 & 2015 seasons while their new stadium is being constructed. The Gophers’ stadium is called TCF Bank Stadium.
The Vikings will open their new stadium in 2016 to much fanfare and celebration, as the Metrodome is now the ninth-oldest stadium in the NFL.
DeAndre Hopkins Could Really Open Up the Passing Game
The past few seasons, Andre Johnson has had almost no help in the passing game, being double-teamed whenever possible. Johnson complained about the lack of other receiving threats on the team, and the Texans listened. They drafted DeAndre Hopkins, a three-year starter for the Clemson Tigers, with the 27th overall pick. Hopkins impressed almost everyone during his college days, amassing over 3000 receiving yards in his career with 27 touchdown catches. (As a comparison, Andre Johnson had just 1832 yards receiving and 20 touchdown catches in his three years at the University of Miami.)
With Hopkins on the opposite side of the field, not only is Andre Johnson impossible to double cover, but Matt Schaub should have a significantly easier time finding receivers to throw to.
Whether or Not Arian Foster Will Play in This Game
Arian Foster, who has starred for the Houston Texans the past three seasons, could now be considered a serious fantasy risk. His yards-per-carry average has sunk sharply in back-to-back seasons, and Foster set a career-low in yards per catch last season. This could be due to his long injury history, which still plagues him now. In May he suffered a calf strain and now is battling back problems. Like Tony Romo for the Dallas Cowboys, Foster may sit out this game and let the second string get some work in. Foster hasn’t even practiced in over two months.
If Foster doesn’t play, look for most of the first-team snaps to go to Ben Tate, even though he’s coming off of a groin injury. Tate performed well in 2011 when filling in for Foster, grabbing 942 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games as the second string. If Tate also sits, touches could go to Dennis Johnson, the undrafted rookie from the University of Arkansas.
The State of the Texans' Defense
Brian Cushing is returning from an ACL injury he suffered in the second quarter of the Texans’ win against the New York Jets on October 8, 2012; J.J. Watt will be playing with a brace on his arm this game, and maybe the rest of the season; and the Texans have some new players on the defensive side of the ball, including Ed Reed and Joe Mays (who hit Matt Schaub hard enough last year to take off part of his ear).
These additions and injuries could mean quite a lot to the Houston Texans, who have had a much-maligned secondary over the past few seasons of Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. If Reed can stay healthy and come back by Week 1, the secondary should improve tremendously; and a healthy Cushing paired with a healthy Watt is scarier than Justin Tuck and Michael Strahan ever were.
The Pistol Could Come Into Play
The NFL is supposedly a copycat league, and the Texans definitely reinforced that notion when they debuted the pistol formation at practices earlier this offseason. Coach Gary Kubiak claims that his team was only running the formation to give the defense a look, but don’t be surprised if you see a little bit of the pistol in Friday’s game.
The Pistol formation was developed by former University of Nevada head coach Chris Ault in 2004 as a way to add a power running game to the spread formation. A cross between the shotgun formation and under center formations, the Pistol lines the quarterback up three to four yards behind the center, which is closer than the seven yards or so the quarterback stands at in the shotgun. In this formation, the quarterback can read the defense easier and is still far enough back to have a few more seconds to find a receiver and get the ball off.