The Texans were unable to hold off the 3-0 Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. Here are my Harris Hits from the matchup.
I'll start with rookie QB Davis Mills. I thought he played with a toughness that will serve him well in the future. His numbers aren't going to wow anyone (19-of-28 - 68% for 168 yards and one touchdown) but he avoided any questionable throws, didn't make any major bad decisions and threw no interceptions. For a rookie QB, those nuggets, especially against that defense, are massive. He'll tell you after he watches the film that there were plenty of corrections he can make in the future, but he stood up tall in the pocket and took some shots against free blitzers. That's going to happen against that Carolina defense, but he also delivered some solid throws throughout the night as well. I know many people thought he was going to be a total bust because he had a rough day in training camp, but he made a ton of progress from that fateful Saturday and will need to make even more with a trip to Buffalo on the horizon.
The touchdown throw to Anthony Miller was a perfect example of what he can do. Sure, Miller was wide open, but Mills scanned the defense with a route presumably designed for David Johnson out in the flat. But, Carolina jumped Johnson with THREE defenders, leaving Miller wide open. Mills scanned quickly and delivered a strike for the touchdown to cut the Panthers lead to one just before the half.
The run game couldn't get out of neutral against the number one run defense in the NFL. But, there was one moment when OL Justin McCray came in the game as an extra offensive lineman in the second half. He pulled across on a power play and just BLASTED the Panthers best defensive player Jeremy Chinn who was a thorn in the side of the Texans all night. The hole actually opened, not wide open, but open enough, however, the Panthers ended up snuffing that run for a few yards. That was the best block I saw all night as McCray just nailed Chinn and left a mark.
The box score said just five tackles for Chinn but he was a major problem for this Texans offense.
WR Brandin Cooks was outstanding again. He was the one Texan getting open consistently, challenging DBs for the football, picking up DPI calls. There were some that didn't want to believe that Cooks was a number one, but he's more than that for this team.
On the first play of the game, Cooks should've had a touchdown. OC Tim Kelly called the absolute best play he could've called against that fast flow defense - a reverse to Cooks. When Mills flipped the ball to Cooks coming to the left side, I saw the whole Texans sideline get excited and then I saw why. There was one defender, just one, between Cooks and a huge run to get the night kicked off. But, Panthers CB Donte Jackson did a wonderful job avoiding the block and making the tackle.
The second play of the game should've also been a huge play and it was another brilliant call against a fast flow defense - slip screen to RB Mark Ingram II. Again, there was just one defender available to make that play for the Panthers, but it was perhaps their best one - LB Shaq Thompson who fought around, and through, a block attempt to tackle Ingram II for a loss.
Man, it was GREAT to see DL Jon Greenard get the strip-sack in the first half. After having a game changing strip-sack in the preseason at Green Bay, Greenard injured his leg and missed the remainder of training camp. As such, he wasn't able to be at 100% in the first two games and missed those as well. But, on Thursday night, he broke the seal of the Panthers protection by beating both tight ends, driving the second one into Panthers QB Sam Darnold and getting the ball out. That sack seemed to wake up the entire defensive front for the rest of the half. They were relentless going after Darnold and that really came to be in the second half on the key play of the game, honestly.
The Texans trailed 7-6 after the first drive of the third quarter when Texans P Cam Johnston pinned the Panthers at their nine-yard line. Darnold threw for a first down to the Carolina 20, but RB Chuba Hubbard was shut down by linebacker Christian Kirksey for no gain on the following first down. On second down, DL Jacob Martin ripped inside the right tackle and seemingly had Darnold dead to rights with another Texans rusher on the way as well. Darnold fought off both sack attempts and picked up four yards only to be hit helmet-to-helmet, tacking on 15 more yards. Instead of it being 3rd and very long with the crowd amped on a sack, Carolina now had the ball at the Carolina 39-yard line. Darnold then hit D.J. Moore for 16 yards and a few plays later Alex Erickson for 25 more, which led to the TE jet sweep TD for rookie TE Tommy Tremble. Back. Broken.
Kirksey had that penalty in the game which he acknowledged after the game as one he'd love to have back, but I love that he is in the middle of this defense. He had ten tackles on the night and he had one of my favorite plays. I was standing in the end zone when the Panthers were backed up and they tried to run an inside play (probably Duo) but it got clogged up so Chuba Hubbard bounced the run to the outside. From my angle, there wasn't a blue shirt on the perimeter, but out of the middle, Kirksey came flying to the rescue and made the tackle for no gain.
One player who flashed nearly all throughout the game was DL Ross Blacklock who came up with the other strip-sack in the game. He was a menace in the pass rush and his quickness and power are showing up more and more. He seems to be gaining confidence each time he's on the field. He burst through on his sack, leaving the guard grasping air. That potential is starting to shine a bit.
After Greenard's sack, it was evident how the defense fed off of that play. On the very next play, Darnold threw across the middle to tight end Dan Arnold. It looked like a sure catch until WHAM!, DB Desmond King II put his helmet right on the football and knocked it out. Arnold didn't possess it long enough to be a forced fumble, but it was enough to create the pass breakup, setting up 3rd-and-15 for the Panthers.
With the score 7-0 and the Panthers on the march, it looked like they were going to punch it in again to make it 14-0 near the beginning of the second quarter. On that drive, they made it look relatively easy, until the Texans bowed up in the low red zone. On 4th-and-1, the Panthers didn't even think about a field goal...but should have. Chuba Hubbard was stuffed by Christian Kirksey and Zach Cunningham short of the first down sticks, reminding me of a stop made against the Tennessee Titans in 2018 on MNF. If only Lamar Miller could've come back into the building to go 95-yards for a touchdown.
Alright, well, I'm going to cut it there and start thinking about Buffalo in Week 4. Be safe and enjoy the weekend, everyone. See ya next Sunday.
See the Texans at home as they host the New England Patriots on October 10th. Kickoff is set for noon CT. Click here for tickets