ReFo: Falcons @ Texans, Preseason Week 2
After being shutout 32-0 in their preseason opener in Arizona, the Texans turned it around at home against Atlanta, putting up 32 points, while the Falcons managed just a single touchdown, with their first team offense held scoreless.
Conversely, the Texans scored in every quarter, and in all three phases of the game, on their way to a dominating victory. Let’s examine some of the eye-catching performances, both positive and negative, from the two sides.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
With tackle Sam Baker lost for the season, it will be up to the combination of rookie Jake Matthews and Lamar Holmes to pick up the slack up front. Judging by their performances in this game, the Falcons should be encouraged, as both players churned out some quality snaps. After a rough outing last week, particularly in run blocking, Matthews bounced back to grade at +1.9 overall in 33 snaps, with a couple of seals of end Jeoffrey Pagan (though neither play went anywhere) and some nice work at the second level. He did have one big miscue in pass protection, giving up a sack to Quentin Groves (2Q, 1:45), though he was bailed out as a defensive holding call nullified the play.
As for Holmes (+1.4), he held up well in 25 snaps in pass protection, aside from a pair of pressures – both to Whitney Mercilus (one nullified by penalty) – while not making any big mistakes in the run game.
Losing the Backup QB Battle
Playing against his former team, QB TJ Yates sure did little in the way of revenge. He completed just four of 10 aimed pass attempts, with only one of those coming on a throw that traveled more than 10 yards in the air. Watching the film, he’ll particularly regret three fourth quarter throws, the first coming at 14:13 backed up inside his own 10; it was a late sideline throw and very close to being pick-sixed by Josh Victorian. The Texans eventually got him, for two brutal interceptions, though, one of them (7:09) taken by Andre Hal for a touchdown. And the next came two plays later, when Yates made an equally poor read while locking onto his receiver, throwing a perfect pass to Texans linebacker Max Bullough in the middle of the field.
Standouts on the Defensive Front
While the Falcons struggled as a team, a couple of reserve defensive linemen stood out for their positive contributions. Travian Robertson graded at +2.1 in run defense with all four of his tackles counting as defensive stops. He made life difficult for center James Ferentz in the middle, whether standing him up, squeezing the point of attack, or disengaging for the tackle – check out 7:51 of the second quarter for an example.
And while Robertson was plugging the middle in run defense, Malliciah Goodman put forth a solid showing as a pass rusher. His four pressures were the most of any Falcon defender, with a forced holding penalty and another bull rush also counting toward his positive grade, though neither play qualified as pressure. Unfortunately he didn’t have the same effort on special teams; tasked with blocking two defenders on Atlanta’s field goal attempt at 8:43 of the fourth quarter, he didn’t slow down either as Jawanza Starling got in to block Matt Bryant’s attempt. And later blocking on a kick return, he allowed his mark inside for the tackle.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
Another Glimpse of Clowney
Though he only played nine snaps, we got another tantalizing look at what top pick Jadeveon Clowney can do, as he made several big plays on Atlanta’s second possession. He opened the drive by standing up fullback Patrick DiMarco, forcing the ball-carrier away from his intended path before later adding two consecutive highlight-reel plays. Yes, the big hit at 9:03 came effectively unblocked, but his explosion off of the line was such that LG Justin Blalock, who needed to sell an initial interior block on the trap play, had no chance. And on the next play, Clowney proved too much for the Falcons, as he met little resistance from Sam Baker on the way to a drive-ending sack.
With more plays like these, teams might want to keep it simple when it comes to blocking Clowney, as puling linemen won’t be able to match his speed at the snap. However, as we saw on his sack, blocking him straight-up is its own challenge, even without the presence of JJ Watt.
It’s always nice to see rookie undrafted free agents contribute, which is exactly what receiver Travis Labhart did as he clocked in over +2.0 in 20 snaps after logging just three last week. He only caught three passes for 36 yards, but each of them went for first downs, including an impressive sideline catch at 12:58 of the third (Case Keenum’s throw wasn’t too bad either). Labhart rounded out his grade on a pair of positive screen blocks, helping to spring Keshawn Martin for first downs on both plays. Making the most of his limited snaps, he even showed value on special teams, forcing a missed tackle on a 16-yard punt return.
Coming off of a -3.1 graded preseason opener, Ryan Fitzpatrick rebounded nicely against the Falcons. He led the Houston offense to the end zone on one of his two first quarter drives, coming back in for a successful two-minute drill before halftime that culminated in an 8-yard touchdown pass to DeVier Posey (2Q, 0:25). Outside of his throw under pressure at 0:48 a few plays before the touchdown, Fitzpatrick had a solid outing that saw him complete nine of 11 aimed passes in addition to two first down scrambles. He had particular success when the Falcons elected not to blitz, ending with a 12.2 YPA and 156.9 QB rating on those plays, compared to just a 4.0 YPA and 60.4 rating on the seven drop backs where he did see extra rushers.
– It wasn’t a great day for Atlanta’s 2013 first-rounder, Desmond Trufant, who surrendered a perfect QB rating and catches on all three passes into his coverage.
– Kicker Chris Boswell did himself no favors in his competition with incumbent Randy Bullock, missing an extra point, while averaging just 59 yards on his four kickoffs to Bullock’s 71.
– The Falcons rushed 15 times to the right of center, compared to just eight attempts left of center.
PFF Game Ball
This one goes to corner Andre Hal, who notched a pick-six for the Texans while allowing just two receptions on five targets.
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