CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Judging by the number of reps the Houston Texans gave quarterback Deshaun Watson in the team's preseason opener, head coach Bill O'Brien wanted to see what his rookie was capable of.
QB depth chart: Savage started the preseason opener for the Texans but played just three series. He was unable to move the ball on the first two drives, then looked like a different quarterback when the Texans went no-huddle on their third drive. That was his best series of the night, as he completed eight straight passes and was able to get the ball out more quickly. Savage said his goal coming into the game was to protect the ball, and he did just that. ... Watson got the majority of the reps for the Texans and finished 15-of-25 for 179 yards. He also had three carries for 24 yards and a rushing touchdown. The Texans’ first-round pick had some off-target throws, but he did a good job of throwing the ball away when there wasn't an open receiver and did not turn the ball over. Watson showed off his mobility, frequently eluding pressure and creating passing lanes. ... Brandon Weeden came into the game late and was 4-of-9 for 38 yards.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Texans looked …: Too similar to last season on offense to start the game. On the Texans’ first two drives, Savage and the offense could not move the ball, and the quarterback was 1-of-3 for 2 yards. The offense took a step forward on the next drive, putting together a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a 16-yard run by Alfred Blue. On the Panthers’ second drive, the Texans’ defense gave up big plays to tight end Greg Olsen, running back Christian McCaffrey and receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
One reason to be concerned: The Texans committed 12 penalties, including three -- a false start and two offensive holding calls -- on their first-quarter touchdown drive. O’Brien said going into the contest that he was looking for a “clean game” from his team, but the Texans had a bunch of miscues, especially early.
That guy could start: With second-year receiver Will Fuller out for a significant portion of the season, the Texans are looking for a receiver to start across from DeAndre Hopkins. The likely candidates are third-year receiver Jaelen Strong and 2016 third-round pick Braxton Miller. On Wednesday, Miller saw time with the first-team offense before he was taken inside, possibly to be checked for an injury. He did return to the game. Strong caught his lone target of the night, an 18-yard pass over the middle from Savage.
Rookie watch: In his NFL debut, third-round pick D’Onta Foreman made a case to be Lamar Miller’s backup. The rookie finished with nine carries for 76 yards, including a nice run down the left sideline for a 14-yard gain. On the next play, he picked up 4 more yards by jumping over a Panthers defender. Foreman also caught two passes for 6 yards.
J.J. Watt watch: Watt played in only one series, but he looked like he was moving well. Although he played just five snaps, it was a big step for the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year to be back in a game for the first time since his September 2016 back surgery. Watt has said he has trusted the coaching staff to manage his reps during training camp, and the Texans have been cautious with their star defensive end. In the fourth quarter, Watt said he felt good, but the brief stint was "like a tease." "It was just like four or five plays, get yourself in there, get your feet wet, then they take you out," Watt said. "But I feel good. I’m glad I got some game action.”
QB protection: The Texans' offensive line was without veteran left tackle Duane Brown, as he still has not reported to camp. The team started the game with Chris Clark at left tackle and Kendall Lamm at right tackle. Lamm also saw time on the left side. The Texans' offensive line struggled to give Savage time to throw the ball on the first two series and committed two penalties on the Texans' first touchdown drive. The Panthers had five sacks for a loss of 29 yards on the night.
Injury watch: Receiver Braxton Miller left the game and was taken inside but did return. No injury was announced in the press box. Otherwise, the Texans came out of their first preseason game healthy.