Ugly night for short­handed of­fen­sive line

Pass pro­tec­tion, run game strug­gle with­out Brown

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SAINTS 13, TEXANS 0 - By Aaron Wil­son aaron.wil­son@chron.com twitter.com/aaron­wilson_nfl

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.

Brett Coomer / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

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.

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