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Zach Strief: Saints vs. Texans preview

Zach Strief
September 09, 2019 - 8:49 am
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Every year the start of football season is exciting.  The promise of a new year, a fresh record and the ability to shape your own destiny are exciting realities a new year brings.  For Saints fans, you can add to that list, a new year is like therapeutic mouth wash.  The taste not completely gone, your teeth not completely clean, but still feeling a lot better than you did before it. 

It’s been an interesting offseason for Saints fans.   We started it off with a bang, parading down the street, boycotting the Super Bowl, watching the rest of the country misunderstand us.  Missing that we have decided to party, rather than sulk.  It would have been interesting to see a bad call like that happen in a city like Philadelphia.  A city where I forbid my family to attend games in week 3, let alone in the playoffs.  Let’s put it this way… I wouldn’t have parked my car on the street, if that unbelievable no call  happened in Philly. 

But, alas, a new season is here, and we can all wash our hands of this.  I’ve heard fans say things like, “I will never watch again.”  I’ll never understand the logic.  Few things bring this city together like Saints gameday.  Few things bring more joy.  Few things we look forward to as much. 

I will never let anyone take that away from me.  Not a bad call, not a lack of accountability or refusal to admit fault.  I will never let someone take football away from me.  I recommend you do the same.  That all being said… it’s game week, and that means it’s time to preview the Saints-Texans game. 

When the schedule came out, one thing was absolutely clear.  The Saints cannot afford to start this season like they have started previous seasons.  The Saints are 5-13 in their last 18 games in September.  I’m sad to have been a part of that run.  The last time the Saints won an opener, Blurred Lines was number one on the billboard charts.  That’s 2013.  That season the Saints started 5-0.  If they pull that off this year… start packing your bags.  It’s not going to be easy. 

It all starts off at home vs. the Houston Texans.  That’s an unusual team for the Saints in general.  Only 4 matchups between the two in Texans history, with each team winning their 2 home games.  So count 1 for the home team.  The Saints have been excellent in primetime games in the Sean Payton era.  Texan’s quarterback Deshaun Watson has as well.

For a long time when you thought of the Texans you thought of J.J. Watt.  Not that he isn’t still on our minds, but it’s shifting to Deshaun Watson.  Most of you probably remember him better from his back-to-back runs to the National Championship at Clemson, but he has been putting together a very good pro career over the last couple of seasons in Houston.  I mentioned him in primetime games, he had a 131.3 quarterback rating, going 3-0 in primetime games for Houston last season.  That is an impressive run. 

Deshaun Watson’s also doing it in a non-traditional way.  Watson is the lead returning rusher for the Texans.  His 551 yards on the ground last season ranked 3rd among NFL quarterbacks in 2018.  His 686 passing yards from outside the pocket also ranked third last season.  The Saints single largest challenge in this game is whether they can keep Watson in the pocket, or if they let him break contain and get on the run. 

With the trio of wide receivers the Texans come to the dome with, a 6 or 7 second long roll out of the pocket could result in a host of big plays.  The benefit the Saints have at the defensive line position is that they have two defensive ends very capable of power rushing to the quarterback.  That’s what we should expect to see.  Saints defensive line coach Ryan Neilson has been excellent at developing rushers, who understand the constrains of playing a running quarterback.  I think the Saints will be able to keep Watson generally constrained in the pocket, but that doesn’t mean the Texans can’t be successful offensively. 

The running game is a big question for the Texans after losing starting running back Lamar Miller in the preseason.  They traded for Carlos Hyde, who’s coming off a season averaging just 3.3 ypc.  Duke Johnson gives them a good third down option, but with the history of the offensive line and the possibility they start two rookies, gives no real confidence that Houston will be able to get the running game going. 

Let’s not forget, the Saints field one of the top run defending defenses in the NFL from a year ago.  Their only question is whether the absence of Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata will have a disastrous impact on the run defense.  I put a lot of faith in that defense’s staff.  I think they will be ready for the run game.  If they are able to force Deshaun Watson to be a pocket quarterback without a steady running game, the Saints will find a lot of success.  None of this will help the Saints offense move the ball, though.

Most Saints fans feel confidence every time the Saints offense runs onto the field, a reputation earned over the past 13 seasons.  One of the few times in the last 13 years that offense failed them, was the previous game vs. the Texans.  I understand the irony in me writing this, seeing as I was one of the major reasons.  J.J. Watt can wreck game plans, bottom line.  He will be the focus of the offense this week and was mentioned as such by both Drew Brees and Sean Payton, when I interviewed them. 

The Saints are countering with an All-Pro of their own in Ryan Ramcyzk.  That’s the battle I am going to have a hard time looking away from this week.  Past that, you have a questionable secondary for the Texans who struggled last season.  Houston signed two in the secondary in Bradley Roby and Jahleel Addae, neither of which make up for the loss of Tyrann Mathieu.  The Saints need to be able to take advantage of the secondary, because the front 7 has been elite vs. the run. 

Saints fans have had front row seats to what a top run defense looks like, as they had one of their own last season.  The Texans ranked just behind the Saints, 3rd in the NFL vs. the run, but ranked first in yards per carry.  The structure of the defense in general is tough to run the ball on. 
Look to see the Saints try to stretch the weak side of the defense to try and loosen it up.  With Benardrick Mckinney, at close to 260 lbs, playing the mike in the center of their defense, the inside zones and man schemes the Saints like to run will be tough sledding.  Again, Watt is a force against the run, but with Ramcyzk being one of the top run blockers in football, it will be fun to watch that battle ensue. 

Bottom line is this.  Football is finally back.  The Saints start their season at home, on primetime, a position that has brought the Black & Gold a lot of success over the years.  Saints fans will again be counted on to make the day difficult on Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense, and I would suspect they will do just that. 

The last two years, while ending in heartbreak, have been a lot of fun for Saints fans.  If nothing else, I’m excited to watch our city come alive again.  Hope to see you in the Dome. 

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