HOUSTON — Deshaun Watson did it all for the Houston Texans in their opener against New Orleans, throwing three touchdown passes and running for a score.
The Texans still left New Orleans with a 30-28 loss Monday night because of a variety of problems, namely struggles on the offensive line and in the secondary.
Watson capped his big game by moving the offense 75 yards in just two plays, capped by a 37-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills to give Houston a 28-27 lead with only 37 seconds left.
“He’s a very instinctive, great player, plays with poise,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “He’s always looking to improve. And he’s a winner.”
But he didn’t win Monday night as Houston’s porous secondary didn’t keep Drew Brees from getting the Saints into field goal range, and the Texans lost on Wil Lutz’s 58-yard kick as time expired.
“There’s things we can do communication-wise and coaching that we can do better,” O’Brien said. “We just have to keep working to improve.”
Watson excelled Monday night despite taking another beating. The third-year quarterback, who was sacked an NFL-high 62 times last season, was sacked six times and hit another 11 by the New Orleans defense, despite playing behind new left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
Houston sent two first-round picks and one in the second round to Miami for Tunsil and Stills on Aug. 31 as the Texans looked for a way to better protect Watson. Though he still got hit way too much in the opener, O’Brien said Tunsil did some good things in his debut and that he’ll only get better with more practice time.
Houston’s offense looked sharp against the Saints, with Watson connecting again and again with DeAndre Hopkins on a night the star receiver finished with eight receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Will Fuller also looked good in his return from knee surgery that cost him the last nine games in 2018. He had two catches for 69 yards.
The running game, which was a question mark entering the year after a season-ending knee injury to Lamar Miller, also was effective in the opener. Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde, who were both acquired late in the preseason, combined to rush for 140 yards.
What needs help
Despite his success, the Texans know Watson can’t keep getting hit that much. As Tunsil gets more comfortable with the offense, he should shore up the line. The unit should get a boost when first-round draft pick Tytus Howard returns after missing Game 1 with a finger injury.
“We’ve got to cut down on that number there’s no doubt about it,” O’Brien said. “We can’t give up six sacks.”
Stills had three receptions for 37 yards and a score just more than a week after being traded from the Dolphins. O’Brien said the Texans used him sparingly because of the limited practice time, but that his workload will increase as he learns more of the playbook.
“There will be more to come,” O’Brien said.
Cornerback Aaron Colvin was the weakest link in a secondary that allowed 362 yards passing. Colvin gave up two touchdowns in the second half. The first came on a 9-yard score by Taysom Hill in the third quarter before he got beat on a 14-yard TD reception by Tre’Quan Smith later in the period. Colvin also was on the coverage when Ted Ginn grabbed a 9-yard reception that set up the game-winning field goal.
Zero — For the first time in 105 games, three-time NFL defensive player of the year J.J. Watt did not record a tackle or a hit on the quarterback.
The defensive end should expect to draw more attention from opponents this season with fellow pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney gone after a trade to Seattle. But O’Brien was quick to point out that too much shouldn’t be made of the fact that Watt had zeroes across the stat sheet.
“J.J. Watt is a Hall of Fame player and he has usually shown up on the stat sheet,” he said. “But he (impacts) the game in so many different ways, when he draws two and three blockers. They ran the ball away from him quite a bit. They did a good job, give them credit but I think he still impacted the game.”
With more time and practice, Houston’s new pieces on offense should be able to help the unit improve heading into Sunday’s game against Jacksonville.