HOUSTON -- It's only two games, and it's only the preseason, but the Houston Texans' offense looks as though it has taken a step forward from last season.
A year ago, the Texans had to rely heavily on the running game because quarterback Brock Osweiler struggled to move the ball down the field. In Saturday night's victory over the New England Patriots, quarterback Tom Savage was in the game for two drives, and made the most of them, leading the offense down the field twice and finishing 8-of-9 for 98 yards, a touchdown and a nearly perfect 149.1 passer rating.
"It looked like we moved the ball when he was in there, he threw the ball accurately, went to the right people," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "Like I've said all along, he's got good command of what we're doing, so he's able to get us into the right play at the line of scrimmage, which is important in our offense."
Savage has played only five series in the Texans' two preseason games but has made those count. Savage is 17-of-20 for 167 yards and a touchdown. After two three-and-outs to start against the Carolina Panthers, he has had three good drives in the two games, resulting in two touchdowns and a run on fourth-and-6 from the 8 that O'Brien said was a bad playcall.
"I was just happy to see Tom execute," O'Brien said. "I think that, even on the first drive, I went for it on fourth down, it wasn't a great playcall. So, I think if that was a better playcall maybe we score there. I thought he really handled the two drives that he had, he handled them real well. He's an accurate passer. He's got really good command of what we do, and he's a fun guy to coach."
Savage had that success while missing his top three receivers: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller (broken collarbone) and Braxton Miller. Savage found new Texans receiver Bruce Ellington often -- he led the team Saturday with four catches for 93 yards -- and Jaelen Strong twice, once in the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown.
Rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson had an up-and-down game, going 3-of-10 for 102 yards. He also added four carries for 10 yards and a rushing touchdown. O'Brien said he thought Watson "did some good things" while dealing with a "some things defensively that were tough."
"It wasn't like a big schematic game, but they were playing a lot of man coverage. Guys had to work hard to get open and I thought he made some plays," O'Brien said. "The play that he made to [D'Onta Foreman] is a play that he's been doing a good job on that play ever since he's been here. I think it was a similar play to what he ran at Clemson, that type of scheme for that particular play."
Foreman, the Texans' third-round pick, impressed in his second preseason game. His third-quarter catch-and-run for 63 yards is the team's longest reception of the preseason; his 41-yard rush in Houston's preseason opener is the Texans' longest run in that span, too. On Saturday's 63-yard gain, Foreman broke several tackles and almost made it into the end zone. He finished the game with seven carries for 17 yards and a score, along with two catches for 66 yards.
"Foreman's done a good job," O'Brien said. "Since we've gone to pads, put pads on, Foreman's stood out. That's what he is. He's a first- and second-down back that has decent hands. He can do some things in the passing game, so hopefully that continues."
In 2016, the Texans were tied for 28th in the NFL, averaging just 17.4 points per game, and their 314.7 yards per game left them 29th in that category. The team struggled in the red zone, too, getting into the end zone just 40.9 percent of the time, second worst in the league. In Savage's three games in 2016, he was 4-for-10 without a touchdown in the red zone, and 0-for-6 inside the 10-yard-line.
"We have to go out there and we have to score points, and I've kind of been saying that over and over again this whole preseason, but I can't emphasize how important that is for us, is to go out there and score touchdowns," Savage said. "And we did that. And obviously the red area is something we've been working on a lot. The first drive, you want to score a touchdown there, but it's good to get down there and punch it in, and we've just got to keep doing it."