The Houston Texans Preseason Finale
By Emin Avakian
So, did you hear the news out of Houston?
Case Keenum started Thursday's final preseason game with the San Francisco 49ers.
This should surprise nobody. However, there are two different reasons why it shouldn't: One, starters don't see much playing time, if any, in the fourth preseason contest. The other, however, is for skeptics like yours truly -- the Houston Texans needed to give Case Keenum a closer look.
Of course, the latter hasn't been mentioned and first-year head coach Bill O'Brien is insisting on the former, while giving no room for implications:
“We’ll start Case in the game and then we’ll determine based on the amount of plays because it’s a difficult thing in a game when you try to make a fair evaluation," head coach Bill O'Brien said Tuesday. "We’ll start Case and we’ll see how many plays we get there with him and then we’ll put Tom in at some point.”
Basically, Fitzpatrick is the starter and the other two have one more opportunity to secure the backup position.
With no doubts? Really? O'Brien has surely seen Fitzpatrick's numbers this preseason (25 of 43 for 232 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions). Does Fitzpatrick's performance over the three preseason games spark unquestioned confidence and warrant sitting him against a potent San Francisco defense, rather than giving him extra reps?
San Francisco, with a superior quarterback, is taking that route.
“I’d like to see him out there Thursday,” Jim Harbaugh said on KNBR Tuesday morning. “That’s the way we’ve always done it, where the quarterback plays some in each game, not necessarily more in any one game than in any of the four other games.”
The Texans offense, as a whole, has looked mediocre thus far compared to their preseason opponents --Arizona, Atlanta and Denver --despite a 2-1 record. Houston has compiled close to 300 fewer passing yards than the three aforementioned teams and 265 fewer total yards.
Of course, that's not all on Fitzpatrick. Houston's first-year quarterback has played only portions of each game, after all. But, as stated above, he hasn't exactly lit up the scoreboard or the stat sheet. Moreover, and more importantly, he will have to lead this team when it really counts. And if we're being honest, there ought to be questions if he's capable of doing so.
Is Keenum the answer to all of Houston's problems? Probably not. But Houston put itself in this position, with, sigh, let's go over it again: not drafting a quarterback with the first overall draft pick, not trading for a younger and more promising option and signing a 32-year-old who has struggled for most of his forgettable career.
How many games has Jadeveon Clowney won this preseason? Is he that much more of a catalyst than Player X? What's his WAR (Wins Above Replacement)?
The real season hasn't started yet, but if the preseason is any indication, then Houston is in for a very long season.
By the way, Clowney has three tackles thus far, and excluding a big hit on Atlanta's Antwone Smith, has had little-to-no impact. Blake Bortles, meanwhile, is looking like a future Pro-Bowl quarterback. Johnny Manziel looks like an impact player, as well. I digress.
Clowney, at least, has taken the field. A bigger concern for O'Brien and the Houston brass is Arian Foster, or lack thereof.
Foster said he's "feeling good" physically, and has shown flashes of the All-Pro running back in practice. However, he is yet to fully silence the doubt, as he has not played a game since midway through last season.
The team's other superstar on the offensive side, Andre Johnson, has caught three balls for 18 yards and is also uncertain for Thursday's game.
What we have is uncertainty in all facets of the Houston Texans football team. Whether the cause is injury or subpar play is not important, because the Texans' window to reach the Super Bowl was supposed to still be open. They put all their chips on the defensive side, but that side of the ball has been irrelevant, as the offense continues to struggle.
The window is closed, ladies and gentlemen. You know how I know? I looked at O'Brien's goals going into Week 4 of the preseason:
They're listed below, in his words to the Houston media on August 27.
1. "We want to come out of the game playing a smart football game,"
2. "meaning don't turn it over,"
3. "be good situationally,"
4. "no line of scrimmage penalties,"
5. "make sure that we don't have a bunch of missed assignments."
6. "Make sure that our special teams do a really good job of tackling, protecting and trying to knock the ball loose."
7. "Play smart on both sides of the ball."
8. "do a good job on third down,
9. "(do a good job in) the red area,
10. "and (do a good job in the) two minute (situation).
That doesn't sound like a coach ready to lead a team deep into the postseason. That sounds like a coach trying to hone the fundamentals in his first year of a rebuilding project.