McClain: While offense was going nowhere, the defense more than held its own.
NEW ORLEANS — The best thing about the Texans’ performance against the Saints was the continued excellence of their defense.
With the starters in the game and even after the backups replaced them in the second quarter, the Texans did a terrific job against quarterback Drew Brees and his explosive offense in the Superdome.
That’s no surprise, of course, considering the Texans finished first in defense last season. With the return of end J.J. Watt and cornerback Kevin Johnson, the defense is good enough to finish first again.
Last season, New Orleans finished first in offense and first in passing, but it was hard to tell Saturday night. Yes, it was a preseason game, but it was the most important preseason game, and the defense was outstanding against Brees.
After the offense played so well last week in the victory over New England, it was surprising the Texans looked so bad on that side of the ball against a New Orleans defense that isn’t supposed to be anything special this season.
With the offense struggling and crossing midfield once with Tom Savage at quarterback — reaching the Saints’ 49 but finishing on its side of the field — the defense excelled against Brees and his plethora of receivers. One series for Clowney, Watt
With Brees in the game, the Saints got a 26-yard field goal and led 3-0 at the half.
Watt and outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney played one series and didn’t break a sweat. Coach Bill O’Brien wisely determined Watt and Clowney are better off saving it for the first game of the regular season against Jacksonville on Sept. 10.
The Texans played offense like they’re saving it for the Jaguars, too.
They were shut out in the first half and looked bad in the process.
On the other side of the ball, Mike Vrabel’s defense appeared to be in regular-season form. With Brees playing most of the first half, the Saints had five possessions, and the Texans allowed a field goal.
Brees played until retiring for the night with less than two minutes left in the first half. Playing against the Texans’ starters and second team, Brees completed 11of-15 for 76 yards.
With Brees in the game, the Saints compiled 124 yards, including 48 rushing.
The Texans threw a net over running back Adrian Peterson, who came off the bench behind starter Mark Ingram. Peterson carried six times for 15 yards.
Brees’ favorite, second-year receiver Michael Thomas, had four catches for 24 yards.
With Watt and Clowney serving as cheerleaders, the Texans didn’t get a lot of pressure on Brees, but their coverage was excellent. Tight coverage on third down plays resulted in completions and punts.
The only time New Orleans scored was on its second series.
Brees took over at their 33. He completed six passes to take the Saints to the Texans’ 8, where he threw incomplete on third down. Wil Lutz’s 26-yard field goal accounted for all the scoring in the first half. Vrabel should be pleased
It didn’t seem to matter who was on the field for the Texans because just about everyone did the kind of job that’ll make the hardto-please Vrabel happy when he watches the tape.
While O’Brien and the offense coaches are going to be spewing four-letter words when analyzing their side of the ball, the defense can take a lot of pride in its performance against Brees as well as a Saints’ running game that features Ingram, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, and should be improved with the additions of Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara.
The Texans’ defense was so effective against Brees and the Saints’ offense that New Orleans crossed midfield once on the field goal drive.
Outside linebacker Brennan Scarlett, who replaced Clowney on the second series, led the team with seven tackles in the first half. Cornerback Kareem Jackson was second with five.
The Texans played smart, sound defense that didn’t produce big plays other than in pass coverage and against the run, but it was enough to get the job done against one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
Their performance showed again that the offense seems destined to struggle, and the Texans will go as far as their defense can take them.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) looked ready for the regular season, while the Texans offense struggled to find its rhythm.