When the Texans selected Clowney with the top overall pick, they instantly created what on paper looks like one of the league’s most formidable pass rushes. Watt is one of the game’s most disruptive forces and Clowney was similarly dominant at South Carolina.
Clowney is moving to outside linebacker in Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defensive scheme.
The two showed a glimpse of what they could do on the second play from scrimmage in last week’s 32-0 loss in Arizona, with both charging in from the right side and Watt sacking Carson Palmer.
Watt downplayed how much to read into the play. The Texans weren’t doing anything complicated, and Watt wasn’t even paying attention to where Clowney lined up.
“Everyone makes a real big deal out of it,” Watt said, “but I didn’t notice that he was outside of me, so it’s just one of those things. You’re playing football and some people make a bigger deal on a lot of things than it really is out there.”
Watt played only one series against the Cardinals. With Watt out, Clowney shed a tight end and tackled Stepfan Taylor behind the line. Other than that, the Texans didn’t show much against the Cardinals.
Starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick played the entire first half and completed only six passes with two interceptions. The Cardinals’ offense, meanwhile, had their way with Houston’s defense, compiling 407 yards and going 11-for-17 on third downs.
O’Brien started the week with a morning film session before Monday’s practice, and he saw marked improvement in joint practices with Atlanta this week. The Texans and Falcons play tonight.
Help could be on the way for the Texans. Running back Arian Foster, receiver Andre Johnson and linebacker Brian Cushing returned to practice Wednesday after long layoffs, although O’Brien wouldn’t promise that any of the three would play against the Falcons.
Watt and Clowney surely will play after giving valuable looks to Atlanta’s reshaped offensive line in the combined practices. Protecting the passer was a major issue for the Falcons last year, and they drafted tackle Jake Matthews and signed guard Jon Asamoah to shore up a front that allowed 44 sacks of Matt Ryan in 2013.
“In this league, you want to keep your quarterback standing up and that was one of our No. 1 goals going into this offseason was to improve our pass protection,” Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. “Working against a good defensive line definitely helps us prepare for the regular season.”
The Falcons and Texans started last season with Super Bowl aspirations and finished as two of the league’s biggest disappointments.
Atlanta showed more promise in its preseason opener, beating Miami 16-10. Ryan and the first-team offense scored a touchdown on their only series, going 77 yards on 15 plays, and the defense held Miami to 109 yards and five first downs.
Ryan had one of his most productive seasons in 2013 despite the problems around him, completing 67 percent of his throws and a career-high 439 passes.
“The won-loss record wasn’t what you would want it to be, but I thought Matt had a really good season, showed a lot of resiliency,” Smith said. “I think it helped him grow as a player and as a person. He’s become more vocal and we need for him to be a vocal leader and this is Matt Ryan’s football team.”
Smith was noncommittal when asked if receiver Julio Jones would play in Houston. Jones is recovering from surgery on his right foot. He practiced Wednesday but not Thursday.