Young Talent on Display in Texans-Panthers Preseason Opener

Jay Pryce

Wednesday, August 9, 2017 12:51 PM UTC

Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017 12:51 PM UTC

Former NFL MVP Cam Newton will sit out the Panthers' preseason opener vs. the Texans on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET) with a sore shoulder. Houston fans, meanwhile, will get their first glimpse of rookie Deshaun Watson under center as he challenges Tom Savage for the No. 1 QB spot. 

Houston Texans at Carolina Panthers

Texans head coach Bill O’Brien told reporters ahead of the exhibition opener vs. the Panthers that Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson and Brandon Weeden will all play at quarterback Wednesday night. Assessing the trio’s performance is O’Brien’s primary focus. The oft-injured Savage is the starter but a relatively unknown, appearing in just five NFL games (two starts) in three years. He’s yet to toss a regular-season touchdown.

Watson is turning heads at camp and a real challenger to take over the No. 1 spot. The rookie should see the lion’s share of snaps tonight and will need to impress with each possession to keep Savage honest. The Texans are a defense-first team in recent years, but producing points, protecting the ball and operating an efficient offense is the goal tonight according to O’Brien. Their .267 points per play ranked 31st last season.

Houston owned the No. 1 defense in 2016, holding opponents to 300.1 yards per game. The unit was without J.J. Watt, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, for nearly the entire season due to a back injury. Watt is expected to play at Carolina, but likely only the opening series. The Texans have allowed a combined 23 points in Week 1 of the preseason over the last two years, though both matchups were against the lowly 49ers.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera ruled out quarterback Cam Newton for tonight’s tilt with a sore right throwing shoulder. The former league MVP, who underwent offseason surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff, has yet to throw at full strength since camp convened on July 30. Veteran backup Derek Anderson will start under center.

The two key areas Rivera is scouting are his linebackers and offensive line. Luke Kuechly, Shaq Thompson and Thomas Davis comprise the first team behind the defensive front, but the battle underneath is wide open. Expect completive play at the position all preseason.

The O-line is retooled with veterans Matt Kalil, Daryl Williams and rookie Taylor Moton fresh faces. In addition to new weapons at the skill positions, like rookie running back Christian McCaffery, Rivera is shifting the offense into a more quick-strike attack relying less on Newton’s read-option. One can expect a few growing pains early on while learning and executing a slightly altered playbook.


Final Analysis

As with most exhibition openers, the outcome will boil down to the younger players looking to make an impact -- or even make the 53-man roster for that matter. Knowing formations, personnel, and reacting to general game conditions is what is at stake tonight. The Texans hold the edge in this regard. Carolina stumbled to a 6-10 record last year in part to a shortage of quality depth. Moreover, the team is rolling out more changes from last year. Houston has better talent in the second- and third-strings.

Free NFL Pick: Texans +1Best Line Offered: Bookmaker

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