Saints 34, Texans 27: Five Things We Learned
With the defense missing Shaun Cody, J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing, there isn't that much use to reading fortunes on that side of the ball. The Saints are an elite offense, especially at home, and the Texans didn't have the personnel to accurately gauge their readiness.
On the other hand, the Houston offense was largely healthy. Led by a resurgent Matt Schaub (15-for-18, 194 yards, 1 TD), the Texans put up 24 points in their first-team half, all on the road against one of the NFL's elite.
It was an encouraging performance for a likely Super Bowl contender, but it didn't come without any question marks. Here's a look at what stood out, the good and bad:
5) Run blocking remains a work in progress
It's time for the Texans to pick a right tackle and stick with him. Arian Foster and Ben Tate rushed a combined 13 times for 42 yards -- barely over three yards per carry for the best running-back tandem in football. On several occasions, the Saints blew up the revamped right side of the Houston offensive line and were in the backfield before the play could even start.
The guess here is that Rashad Butler is the guy. The Texans want to believe Derek Newton, a 2011 late-round pick, can carry the load. That's because Newton is under contract for multiple seasons on the cheap, while Butler's deal expires after this year.
It would be nice for the future to begin now, but Newton doesn't appear ready to be a starter on a Super Bowl contender. In fact, Newton struggled to hold up against New Orleans' second- and third-team linemen late in the game. Butler isn't elite, but he proved capable as a starter in 2010 when he replaced Duane Brown during a four-game suspension. There isn't the same downside risk.
"I think where we're at right now, we need to make a decision and move on and see how they handle it," head coach Gary Kubiak said Sunday.
Whomever the choice, he needs to get full-time repetitions with the first team in practice and early in the regular season, as opposed to the 50-50 split that has gone on this preseason. It won't be easy to replicate the production of Eric Winston, but consistency may help.
4) Keshawn Martin faces first adversity
The fourth-round rookie has been the talk of exhibition play for the Texans. Matt Schaub found instant chemistry with Martin in the slot during training camp, and it continued into Saturday, with a 10-yard scoring strike that put the Texans up, 14-0. But Martin then fumbled twice and only had one additional catch for two yards to show for his night.
The quickest way to get into Gary Kubiak's doghouse is through turnovers. For better or worse, Kubiak has repeatedly turned away explosive-but-risky young wideouts for Bryant Johnson-type veterans that he can trust not to make critical errors. One game isn't enough to put Martin in the "risky" category, but it's the first true adversity he'll face after an almost flawless training camp. Kubiak will closely watch how he responds.