Having DeAndre Hopkins to throw the football to must feel like such a luxury to Houston Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer. As the chemistry develops even more between those two, they'll be able to stretch the Texans' passing game in a way that Texans coach Bill O'Brien has talked about wanting.
Today it showed up on Hoyer's first pass of the game. He put some air under the ball and dropped it in a place only Hopkins could catch. And when I say that, I don't just mean away from the defensive back steps away from him. Most receivers couldn't have made that catch, but it was exactly right for Hopkins and gained the Texans 29 yards.
Hoyer threw another such pass to Hopkins for what looked like a touchdown a few plays later, though the officials overruled it, saying Hopkins didn't have control of the ball as he shifted it from one hand to the other.
Regardless, it was an encouraging opening drive, and one upon which the Texans can build now that they aren't working through a quarterback competition any longer.
QB depth chart: The Texans' quarterback depth chart is finally settled. Hoyer is the starter, Ryan Mallett backs him up and Tom Savage is their third-string quarterback. Hoyer had a nice opening drive, then stayed in for two more drives. Mallett entered during the second quarter and remained in the game after halftime. His throws were off at times, but he threw a nice ball to tight end Ryan Griffin, though Griffin couldn't hang onto the ball. It was initially called a touchdown, but got overturned on review. He threw his first preseason touchdown pass in the third quarter to rookie Jaelen Strong. Savage finished the game for the Texans and also threw a touchdown pass.
Maybe that dude could start: Safety Eddie Pleasant was one of the Texans' team captains for this game. Pleasant has been a big factor in the Texans' starting safety competition. That competition now seems down to Pleasant, Andre Hal and Quintin Demps, who was also used on kick returns this week.
Who got hurt?: Tight end Anthony Denham returned to the field this week, but suffered what might be a concussion during the third quarter. Denham caught a pass from quarterback Ryan Mallett and then lowered his head, which led to a head-to-head collision. Denham was examined immediately and left the game.
A surprise player who looks amazing: Again I hesitate to use the word amazing during a preseason game, but Kourtnei Brown continued to make a case for himself. He has never been on a regular-season roster, but in this preseason Brown has two sacks, a pick-six and a fumble recovery.
Rookie watch: Kevin Johnson bookended one Saints drive. He downed a Texans punt at the Saints 2-yard line, after which New Orleans drove the ball 96 yards. At the Texans' two, Saints quarterback Luke McCown threw a pass to Johnson's man in the end zone. Johnson turned his head and batted the ball away, forcing a turnover on downs. It wasn't a perfect day for Johnson, he missed a tackle that led to a big gain a few plays later, but he showed his potential, his ability and why many teams had him as the best cornerback in this year's draft.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Texans looked : Solid, even without starting left tackle Duane Brown. We've discussed the connection between Hoyer and Hopkins. Even more encouraging was the Texans' goal-line offense. Head coach Bill O'Brien said this week he does think it's improving after the debacle in Week 1. Today it only took two tries from the 1-yard line before running back Alfred Blue helicoptered his way up and over, close to the end zone, then, with his back to the goalposts, stretched his arm across the goal line.
One reason to freak out: Hopkins was well covered for both the catch that counted and the one that didn't, buy maybe should have, and it mattered little. He'll be fun to watch this season.
Happy socks: Cornerback Charles James, whose socks "Hard Knocks" used as a way to introduce him, got several snaps on offense late in the fourth quarter. On the first, James popped free for a 73-yard touchdown run down the right sideline. Unfortunately for everyone who loves socks, a holding call on Aaron Adams nullified the touchdown.
Young receivers score: Jaelen Strong caught a touchdown pass from Ryan Mallett and Chandler Worthy caught one from Tom Savage. After the catch, Strong did what appears to be a Michael Jackson-themed celebration.