What we learned: Hoyer, Hopkins tandem impresses

Brian Hoyer reaffirmed Bill O'Brien's decision to hand him the starting quarterback job in three drives during the first half of Sunday's 27-13 win over the New Orleans Saints.

In his first game since being named the starter for the regular season, Hoyer was in control of the Houston Texans' offense, showed poise in the pocket and made some good throws and decisions -- all of which O'Brien pointed to when giving him the job.

Last week both Hoyer and Ryan Mallett led a limp Houston offense. O'Brien lamented neither quarterback's ability to stretch the field.

Hoyer shut down that storyline with his first pass. The quarterback heaved a beautiful 29-yard touch pass to stud wideout DeAndre Hopkins, who aired to snare the ball on the sideline.

"Just throw it up to the guy and he's gonna make a play," Hoyer told NFL Media's Michael Silver after the game. "I mean, it's unbelievable the way he controls his body in the air and the way he comes down with the catch. He's done a great job and it's fun throwing to him."

Good quarterbacks know how to take advantage of mismatches dynamic receivers provide. Hoyer was smart to target Hopkins early. The wideout also caused a pass interference in the end zone on a phenomenal grab that was ruled incomplete.

After the Texans' top two quarterbacks went 0-fer in the scoring department last week, Hoyer led Houston to 10 points on his first two drives. He connected on 7 of 11 passes for 82 yards and had a 86.2 quarterback rating.

It wasn't a performance that will blow off any barn doors, but it's what O'Brien wants from Hoyer heading into the season. If the quarterback can cut down on mistakes and give Hopkins a copious amount of chances to make plays for him, the Texans' offense might have a chance to keep its head above water.

  1. Sean Payton wasn't messing around with his starting offensive group. Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Brandin Cooks and most of the offensive line played just one series. The Saints' game plan was plenty evident. The first five plays from scrimmage: Ingram (run), Cooks (short reception), Ingram (run), Cooks (short reception) and Ingram (reception).
  1. How the Saints plan to replace Jimmy Graham in the red zone remains a question mark heading into the regular season. On the first drive, Brees overshot Josh Hill in the end zone on a play Graham routinely made look easy. The incompletion forced a field goal.
  1. Mallett didn't do anything to make O'Brien regret his decision. The quarterback started with 2-of-5 passing for 7 yards and two three-and-outs. After the Texans recovered a fumble prior to the end of the half, Mallett finally showed off his cannon arm on a bullet pass for an apparent touchdown, but it was overturned. Mallett finally threw his first preseason touchdown pass on the first drive of the second half. He ended with 9-of-17 passing for 77 yards and the score.
  1. Texans first-round corner Kevin Johnson looked good. In the first half he had two tackles, two pass break ups -- including a beauty in the end zone on fourth down -- and downed a punt at the 2-yard line. (Yes, a first-round pick playing special teams in the preseason.) Later Johnson missed a tackle on a big gain for the Saints, so it wasn't all rainbows and butterflies for the rookie.
  1. Speaking of rookies: Saints linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha is fun to watch rush the passer. The last two weeks the rookie has looked good.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. News flash: Khalil Mack is still really good at football. The 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year recorded two sacks, forced a fumble and demanded constant double teams from the overwhelmed Cardinals' line. Week in, week out, Mack consistently delivers, both as an edge rusher and a penetrator.

Take Mack's strip for example. Mack lined up as an edge rusher against Cardinals tight end Darren Fells. After the snap, he drove Fells against the play and back into David Johnson, halting the running back's progress. He then shed his blocker and ripped the ball from Johnson with his off hand. Preseason or not, Mack is a one-man wrecking machine.

  1. The Raiders' front seven looks scary good. The pocket around Carson Palmer often closed less than two seconds after the snap, thanks to a consistent outside rush from Mack, Ray-Ray Armstrong and Mario Edwards Jr. Former Eagles safety Nate Allenbenefited from his front seven's dominance, picking Palmer off twice in the first half. Palmer had at least five passes batted down or deflected, including his first interception, and was hurried into ill-advised scampers on numerous occasions. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians should feel lucky that Palmer left the Black Hole intact.
  1. Not to be out done, Arizona's front seven was equally dominant Sunday night. Derek Carr poor throws all night were a direct result of constant pressure from the Cardinals, specifically from Calais Campbell (3 tackles for loss) and Alex Okafor (2). In what was essentially a dress rehearsal for the regular season, it looks like the Cardinals' defense is picking up right where it left off last year.
  1. Oakland's electric "AC-DC" relationship temporarily short-circuited against the Cardinals. Carr and Amari Cooper were not on the same page for most of the night. Cooper was being pressed by Patrick Peterson, but Carr still missed high on some easy throws to Cooper late in the first half and, save for one technically stunning route by Cooper, didn't produce any meaningful yardage together.

When the Raiders' offense employed the hurry-up, Carr seemed to be more comfortable, but when he gave the astute Cardinals defense enough time to read his plays, the second-year quarterback struggled to hit his targets. Carr also threw one of the worst passes of any starting quarterback this preseason when he side-armed a pass whilst off-balance into the waiting arms of Cariel Brooks, who returned it for a touchdown. Safe to say, Carr had a bad day at the office.

  1. In the offseason, we told you John Brown was 'Making the Leap.' Now he's literally making leaps.

-- Jeremy Bergman

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