As tropical storm Isaac began brewing and moving close to the Gulf Coast, so too was there an outright whirlwind match-up brewing inside the New Orleans SuperDome on Saturday night . The slugfest between the Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints, as usual, did not disappoint. Record numbers of Texans fans made the trip down I-10 East to NoLa from Houston for the third preseason game of 2012 which looked much like a regular season dress rehearsal. Unfortunately for the Texans, they lost the most important game of the preseason (34 – 27) – important only because the starters got more playing time than they have in weeks.
The Texans jumped ahead early in the game 14 – 0 in the first quarter. However, unnecessary fumbles virtually handed the Saints 14 points, much to the dismay of the Texans coaching staff. The Saints then got the upper hand against the Texans 17 – 14 in the second quarter due to fumbles. “We got ahead, but then we looked up and we were down 17-14 because of turnovers,” Kubiak said after the game. “You can’t turn the ball over in this league. There’s no excuse for it.”
The only silver lining in the first half experience is that the starters were not to blame for the costly turnovers. Rookie WR Keshawn Martin was responsible for two fumbles in the first half. Martin’s performance does not bode well for him as he competes for the WR3 slot. Week 1 and 2 hero Trindon Holliday recorded his first fumble which was ultimately snatched up by the Saints for a touchdown in the second quarter. This error is sure to be on the mind of Coach Kubiak who is still questioning whether to keep the specialist on the roster for the regular season.
Despite the turnovers, the first team offense performed reasonably well. QB Matt Schaub connected for 15 of 18 passes and recorded 194 yards, including one touchdown. This follows an impressive Week 2 showing for Schaub. All in all, Schaub showed no residual signs of his Lisfranc injury from 2011. Instead, Schaub looked as close to ready for the regular season as could be expected. He easily connected with Texans receivers and presented a tight Texans passing game against the Saints.
The running game, however, proved that it needs some tweaking as the Texans inch closer to the regular season. The dynamic duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate averaged 3.5 yards per carry in the first half. On paper, that looks decent, but considering that the Texans ranked second in the NFL in average time of possession on the rush, the numbers were lacking. The good news is that both Tate and Foster have had as incredible a training camp as could be had. Thus, the argument is that neither player has truly kicked it into high gear as they probably will do in Week 1 against the Dolphins.
Overall, and regardless of the three fumbles in the first half, the offense looked solid in the game, racking up 245 yards by halftime and only requiring one punt in the first 30 minutes. The defensive game was a harder one to sell. This is especially the case due to the superior performance of Saints QB Drew Brees (179 yds, 2 TD) and the absence of starting linemen J.J. Watt and Shaun Cody who were out with an elbow and lower back injury respectively. OLB Brian Cushing also sat out with bruised ribs. All three defensive starters are expected to start against Miami in the regular season opener.