Smith: With no Drew Brees at their disposal, Texans are betting it all on Savage.
Texans offense appears to still be a work in progress while Savage works out the kinks as new starting QB
NEW ORLEANS — He was smooth. Dangerous. Already locked in and just waiting to be unleashed for the real thing.
And when Drew Brees completed eight of his initial 10 passes for 65 yards and a length-of-thefield scoring drive in preseason game three, I was again reminded of what was unignorable during a four-day stay in Louisiana.
The Texans really could use No. 9 for the black and gold.
Instead, the back-to-back AFC South champions are betting it all on inexperienced Tom Savage in 2017. And the same things that were obvious at the start of exhibition play were still evident as the preseason all but ended Saturday night at the Superdome.
Has Savage technically been efficient? Sure. He was 10-of-16 for 79 yards in a 13-0 defeat to the Saints and is a combined 27-of-36 for 246 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in preseason play.
But has he ever appeared dangerous? No. Smooth? Rarely. Still figuring it all out — rhythm, timing, confidence, feel — and needing every bit of the preseason to lock in as Bill O’Brien’s next starting quarterback? Yes. “We didn’t coach well or play well on offense. … So we’ve got a lot of ground to make up there,” said O’Brien, whose team fell to 1-2 in games that don’t count. “I have to do a better job, and we all have to do a better job offensively. We will. We’ll do a better job.”
I’m sure the Texans’ air attack will rip open Week 1 at NRG Stadium. I’m certain it won’t all be dropoffs and checkdowns behind a pieced-together offensive line.
“Obviously you’re not going to show everything in the preseason. That’s just the way it is,” Savage said. “But there’s some shots that can be taken in the game. … We were just taking what they gave us, and a lot of times we shot ourselves in the foot there, with the penalties and stuff. The game is not meant to be second-and-15 and first-orwhatever.”
Savage soon will get No. 1 wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins back. Maybe the Texans will invite Duane Brown for a private Kirby Drive chat and give Savage his missing Pro Bowl left tackle. This was always going to be a run-first, pass-second offense that knows its elite defense can win games.
But in Thursday’s practice and Saturday’s final fake warm-up, Brees operated on another level. And at the Superdome, the Texans’ offense looked like it still had a ton to fix, while threatening to officially be a Week 1 work in progress.
“We didn’t score, so obviously that’s on the quarterback,” Savage said.
His team was often its own worst enemy, collecting eight penalties and rarely showing anything close to regular-season electricity.
“We were sloppy,” said tight end Ryan Griffin, perfectly capturing the offense’s uninspiring evening in just three words.
The last good look at Savage — if he plays in the preseason finale Thursday against Dallas, it should be absolutely minimal — was the most concerning.
The quick, nowhere drives were back. He averaged just 4.9 yards on 16 attempts and the field was rarely stretched.
“(Saturday) was a tough night,” O’Brien said. “They threw a lot of things at us. And he handled some of it. Some of it, we need to do a better job coaching. … I’m very comfortable with him.”
Key weapons are missing. No. 2 receiver Will Fuller is out, while Braxton Miller was unavailable Saturday.
But there’s no way around it: If the Texans’ offense is still this vanilla by Week 2 at Cincinnati and Week 3 in New England, the start of their season has 1-2 written all over it.
“We have to be better,” said O’Brien, who acknowledged his team isn’t at full strength but declined to use the missing players as an excuse. “We’ve got to get back to practice and fix some of the things that happened here.”
Also concerning: For the second consecutive game, first-round pick Deshaun Watson didn’t close the gap.
The short, quick-release darts continue to be there for No. 4. But the ball keeps sticking when Watson surveys the full field, and an up-and-down practice week dipped again Saturday in the Dome. He started 7-of-14 for 62 yards, which included a 4.4 yardsper-attempt average that was actually worse than Savage’s.
There were two promising plays when the rookie fought off an attacker, stood strong and found an open receiver. There was also an interception thrown high, two sacks and an intentional grounding flag thrown near the Texans’ end zone.
“I thought there was some bright spots,” O’Brien said. “They threw a lot of pressure at him.”
The Texans also rushed for only 37 yards on their initial 15 carries — not exactly the grind-it-out stats of a world beater — and Watson, like the QB he’s backing up, faced regular pressure up the middle and from the sides.
What was the Texans’ biggest problem in 2016 (outside of not having a lasting quarterback)? Touchdowns and offensive points.
How many did they score through three-plus quarters Saturday? Zero.
Watson clearly needs more time to watch and learn.
Savage has two weeks left to look like a starting quarterback and get his offense ready for Week 1.
Texans quarterback Tom Savage completed seven of 10 passes for 79 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions while playing most of the first half Saturday against the Saints in New Orleans.