Last night was the first game in the NFL preseason week one and it pitted the Houston Texans versus the Carolina Panthers. And to be honest, the game didn't really matter. Cam Newton, J.J. Watt, Julius Peppers… all of them were standing on the sideline in street clothes cheering on the new faces and folks fighting for positions. Neither coaching staff was going to bring out their big plays or their big players. It was going to be a vanilla offense versus a vanilla defense where the coaches are hoping that everyone executes well, knows their jobs, avoid penalties and the most important part, avoids injuries. All of that aside, folks tuned in two see two things. The eight overall draft pick Christian McCaffrey and the twelfth overall pick Deshaun Watson.
Watson is a young, talented quarterback who has shown up big in big games, but lacks experience in a pro-style offense. Which means that most of the time he ran the Clemson offense from a spread formation, never huddling up… oh and he lead them to the national championship that way. McCaffrey is NFL royalty, his father was the great Denver Bronco wide receiver Ed McCaffrey. But he's smaller than his father and is listed as a running back, though he can shift out to the slot with ease. He is scary fast, hard to see in a crowd and seems to know how to avoid getting hit. Both were impressed enough to go in the first round. Carolina was impressed enough with McCaffrey that in the second round the picked a very similar player showing the plan on making this style of player a big feature in their offense. Houston was impressed enough with Watson to trade up to get him even with a young QB named Tom Savage on the roster who is expected to start.
How did they do? Let's start with McCaffrey who came into the game first. It wasn't a long night for him, just seven carries and one pass thrown his way. The pass wasn't close, but the carries netted 33 yards. The longest run, an off tackle push that he was able to take 12 yards and looked like it would've been more if he hadn't tripped. The play showed his elusiveness and strength while an end around later showed his speed as he pushed around the corner for five yards. he averaged 4.7 yards per carry in a set of very basic formations. These were also run with Derek Anderson at quarterback, who is one of the best back-ups in the league, but not a running threat. Add in Newton who might run on any play and the defense will be scrambling trying to keep track of everyone.
Watson's night was much longer as he came in after Savage got three series and he stayed in for the rest of the first, all of the second and third quarters before giving way to Brandon Weeden in the fourth. He was 15 for 25 on passing for a 179 yards and a rating of 81.9. He threw no touchdowns nor interceptions. He ran the ball 3 times for 24 yards and a touchdown. He drove the team well most of the night and the game never seemed to fast for him. He played with a lot of poise and made the right call the majority of the time. He was sacked three times, but the starters were being pulled on both sides of the ball so it's hard to judge that. The main thing to take away from it was that Watson looked like an NFL quarterback out there, not a rookie scrambling to keep alive. He was impressive.
Other players who impressed. Kelvin Benjamin of the Panthers made two big time catches, one for a touchdown, showing that he is already in regular season form and wants to get back to the types of numbers he had in his rookie season. D'onta Foreman ran like a beast for Houston, stacking up 79 yards on 9 carries for an average of 8.4 yards per carry with a long of 41. And Panthers wide out Damiere Byrd showed extremely well for himself in the bid to be Ted Ginn Jr.'s replacement. Byrd caught 4 of 6 passes thrown his way for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns. One of them was a 50 yard post route that he just out ran the coverage.
Something the Houston coaching staff can't be happy about were the penalties. Carolina had 5 for 42 yards, but most of them came at the end of the game when the field was filled with people who like won't make the team. Houston's penalties came early and often, 12 for 91 yards and made by starters and back ups that should know better.