NEW ORLEANS -- In the final tune-up for starters before the beginning of the regular season, the Houston Texans offense struggled to move the ball in Saturday night's 13-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Quarterback Tom Savage has said his focus this preseason is simple -- putting points on the board -- but the Texans were not able to do that in this game. Savage played four series and was 10-of-16 for 79 yards, without a touchdown or an interception.
QB depth chart: As expected, Savage got the start at over rookie Deshaun Watson. Savage was 3-of-4 on his last drive but was not as good as he had been in the first two games. In three games (and nine drives) this preseason, Savage was 27-of-36 for 246 yards. He threw one touchdown pass and did not have an interception. As for Watson, he had two passes that were almost picked off Saturday but were broken up by the receiver, then did throw an interception to Saints cornerback Damian Swann. Watson was 11-of-21 for 116 yards and that interception. Texans head coach Bill O'Brien has been clear that Savage is his starting quarterback right now, and it appears the fourth-year player will keep that title for Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Texans looked ...: Like the offense took a step backward from the first two preseason games. Savage and the offense could not get into a rhythm and were shut out by the Saints. The starting defense had another good game, this time holding Saints quarterback Drew Brees to 76 yards without a touchdown. Other than a 13-play, 59-yard field-goal drive, the Texans defense held Brees to two drives of three plays and two drives of four plays.
One reason to be concerned: It was even more apparent on Saturday how little depth the Texans have at wide receiver. With injuries to DeAndre Hopkins (hand), Will Fuller (broken collarbone) and Braxton Miller (ankle) and a Week 1 suspension for Jaelen Strong, Houston doesn't have many options at receiver right now. Hopkins is expected to be ready for the season opener against Jacksonville, but until then the Texans will have to continue to rely on training camp additions.
That guy could start: Wide receiver Bruce Ellington. The receiver has been with the Texans for only a few weeks, but in two preseason games he has eight catches for 122 yards. With all the questions at wide receiver, Ellington could win the starting role -- at least for Week 1 when the Texans are without Strong. Savage and Ellington have connected often, and all four of Ellington's catches on Saturday were on passes thrown by Savage.
Rookie watch: Undrafted rookie linebacker Dylan Cole tied for second on the team with six combined tackles, including four solo. O'Brien has praised Cole this preseason, saying, "He's got good speed, good instincts, helps us on special teams. Seems like he's got good instincts for getting to the ball, learning our defense, things like that. So there's been some good things with him." ... Second-round pick Zach Cunningham had three tackles but also was called for a holding penalty in the second quarter.
Ineffective running game: Texans starting running back Lamar Miller played two series and had 14 yards on three carries. Houston was without third-round pick D’Onta Foreman and Alfred Blue. Tyler Ervin, the Texans' 2016 fourth-round pick, had five carries for 10 yards. The group combined to average 2.7 yards per carry, the longest run being a 12-yard gain by Ervin.
Offensive line woes: The Texans are still without Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown, whose absence is thought to be contract-related. On Saturday, Kendall Lamm started at left tackle and Breno Giacomini started at right tackle. Neither Savage nor Watson had much time to throw, facing pressure most of the night. Texans quarterbacks were sacked four times on Saturday.
Injury report: The Texans did not announce any players leaving with injuries, but they did have quite a few players miss the game, including Hopkins, Braxton Miller, Fuller and Foreman. Defensive end J.J. Watt and outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney played one series before leaving the game.