Ugly night for shorthanded offensive line
Pass protection, run game struggle without Brown
NEW ORLEANS — Sheldon Rankins busted up the middle with a classic rip move, driving his right arm underneath the left armpit of Texans right offensive guard Jeff Allen to create strong leverage.
The New Orleans Saints’ 6-2, 305-pound defensive tackle outmuscled Allen to penetrate the backfield and slammed running back Tyler Ervin to the turf for a loss of 3 yards.
It was emblematic of an extremely rough night for the Texans’ offensive line Saturday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, regressing markedly in pass protection and as run blockers during a 13-0 shutout loss.
Texans starting quarterback Tom Savage wasn’t sacked but was under plenty of duress. He had precious little time to pick out his targets as he completed 10-of-16 passes for 79 yards.
And the running game ground to a halt, as the Texans gained only 34 yards on the ground in the first half on 10 carries as a shorthanded group of running backs didn’t have adequate holes to run through.
For the game, the Texans allowed four sacks and nine quarterback hits. They rushed for just 57 yards on 21 carries, an average of 2.7 yards per run.
A former first-round draft pick, Rankins and Saints Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan were disruptive at the line of scrimmage throughout the first half. Jordan had a tackle for a loss and batted away a pass by Savage at the line as he bull-rushed Texans center Nick Martin. Rough outing
By halftime, Shane Lechler had punted five times as the Texans’ offense was limited to eight first downs and 149 yards of offense. When Savage and the first-team offense were in the game, there were four consecutive drives that ended with a punt.
It didn’t get any better for Texans rookie backup quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was under heavy pressure. The firstround draft pick from Clemson was intercepted once by Saints cornerback Damian Swann on a high pass intended for wide receiver Wendall Williams. The former Heisman Trophy finalist and consensus All-American was sacked twice and intercepted once.
The absence of three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown was glaring, as Kendall Lamm started at left tackle with former New York Jets tackle Breno Giacomini manning the right side. Chris Clark missed the game with leg soreness.
The impasse between Brown and the Texans has no end in sight and could drag into the regular season, a potentially alarming problem for an offense that struggled to generate points last season and has relied heavily on Brown’s blocking and leadership skills in the past.
Brown remains on the Texans’ reserve-did not report list. He’s racked up $40,000 in daily fines for skipping training camp.
Brown already had his $9.65 million base salary reduced to $9.4 million for this year because he triggered a de-escalator clause in his contract for skipping the entire offseason.
Brown has two years remaining on his six-year, $53.4 million contract that included $22.081 million guaranteed, a $12.5 million signing bonus and an average annual compensation of $8.95 million.
Brown is due non-guaranteed base salaries of $9.4 million and $9.75 million for the next two seasons. That ranks him 11th in 2017 and 12th in 2018 among left tackles in terms of cash compensation.
Although the Texans need Brown in their starting lineup, they have traditionally refused to renegotiate contracts with two remaining years. The lone exceptions to that style of business: defensive end J.J. Watt and wide receiver Andre Johnson, arguably the best two players in franchise history. Plenty of work to do
The Texans don’t have an adequate replacement for Brown on the roster currently, but Lamm has displayed signs of improvement throughout training camp.
The entire offensive line took a step back on Saturday, failing to match the Saints’ intensity and tempo as they were repeatedly beaten to the punch at the point of attack.
It was an ugly game for the offense overall. In the third quarter alone, Watson completed only 4-of-8 passes for 60 yards and an interception for a 35.4 passer rating.
There was no running game to speak of, with reserves Dare Ogunbowale and Jordan Todman in relief of Lamar Miller and Ervin. Ogunbowale and Todman combined for just nine yards on seven carries in the third quarter, with Todman tackled for a threeyard loss on his lone carry.
The offensive line clearly has some work to do heading into the fourth and final preseason game.
Resolving the contract dispute with Brown would be a good start.
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, right, was under pressure all game long against a stingy Saints defense, completing four if eight passes for 60 yards while being sacked twice and throwing a pick.