I'd like to invite you, the dear BRB faithful, to join me for a ride on the "way back" machine.
The destination is October 12, 2003. Your Houston Texans were coming off a bye week and were still riding high from their previous game -- a game where then-beloved coach Dom Capers decided to forego a potential game-tying field goal with 2 seconds remaining to go for it on fourth and 1 from the Jacksonville one-yard line. David Carr, still thought of by many as the quarterback of the future (/takes a shot), scored on the play and the Texans won a nail-biter.
As we land in 2003, our first stop is to Vegas, where we put money on the Carolina Panthers to reach the Super Bowl and on Janet Jackson's boob being revealed on live television. From there, we head to Nashville to see if the Texans can win back-to-back games for the first time in franchise history.
While we get to witness David Carr putting up 367 passing yards -- and subsequently laugh at the people around us who are marveling at Carr's "bright future" -- we sadly watch the Texans fall 38-17. The main culprit in the loss is the defense, which gave up 421 passing yards to Steve McNair and 114 rushing yards (led by Eddie George's 60).
The 535 total yards surrendered were a record for a Texans defense -- a record that still stands today.
That 535 yards is also known as 87 yards fewer than what the Dolphins gave up on Monday night. That's right, not even the vaunted defenses of Richard Smith or Frank Bush ever gave up 600 yards in a game.
The natural question now is if that was an aberration or if the Dolphins defense is really that bad. More importantly, how can the Texans benefit? To find out, let's jump back to the present (with a stopover in 2007 to short sell like a mother).The Dolphins defense is pretty much the same squad that took the field in 2010. They've had very little turnover and coordinator/suave dresser Mike Nolan is in his second year as defensive coordinator. Therefore, it is reasonable to use last year's results as a predictor of their 2011 success (unlike, say, the Texans).
By most metrics, the Dolphins were a top 10 defense last season. They gave up the sixth fewest yards in the league, ranked 10th in defensive DVOA, and 6th in defensive win probability added. Sounds like a pretty solid group.
Looking at their final 8 games in 2010, they gave up fewer than 300 yards per game and fewer than 20 points per game. These numbers are also heavily skewed by the final two games where they gave up 502 yards and 38 points to the Patriots and 275 yards and 34 points to the Lions (note on the Lions game: Henne threw two late 4th quarter interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, so a good portion of those 34 points cannot be held against the defense).
Again, solid group.
The thing is, even though the Dolphins' overall defense scores out well, they are the type of defense that we could reasonably expect to regress this year. Maybe not a 600-yards-a-game regression, but a regression none the less.
The Dolphins' strength last year was against the run. They had a -16.6% DVOA against the run (4th in the league) and a -0.33 WPA (10th). They were able to hold some good backs in check, such as Peyton Hillis and Darren McFadden, which helps bolster their score.
Still, we're not talking about the '85 Bears here. Some of the better rushing teams were able to put up big running games against the Miami defense, including New England, Baltimore, and Minnesota.
According to last year's DVOA stats, the Texans had the third best rushing team in the league, so it looks like the team is in good position to hold up against the strength of the Dolphins' defense. Oh, and by the way, Arian Foster is expected to play this weekend.
The passing defense, on the other hand, is a different story. TexansDC's and Tim's recon mission have already covered the Dolphins' struggles against the tight end, and this bears out with what Football Outsiders has to say. The Dolphins had the 28th worst DVOA against tight ends last year. They were also 24th against WR1 and 22nd against RBs (receiving).
Fortunately for the Texans, and unfortunately for the Dolphins, the Texans employ some pretty good receivers in the TE, WR1, and RB positions.
The Dolphins were also not particularly effective at creating turnovers either. They generated 19 turnovers which was a whopping one more than the Texans ole defense of 2010.
Miami was, however, pretty proficient at getting to the quarterback last year. They ranked 10th in the league in generating 39 sacks, 14 courtesy of Cameron Wake. The Texans' offensive line will need a repeat of last week's performance, and the usually-effective play action should help keep Schaub upright.
Early returns on the Dolphins' 2011 defense suggest that the regression I suggested above might not be out of hand. We, of course, shouldn't draw firm conclusions after a single game, but so far it doesn't look like there's been much improvement. Of course, we also have to consider that Football Outsiders and Advanced NFL Stats ranked the New England offense number one last year. But do you know who was ranked number two on both sites? That would be the Tejanos de Houston.
I'm thinking that the Miami defense is going to need a little more than just swapping Benny Sapp with Will Allen.
If Schaub can avoid the goofball turnovers, the Texans should be able to move the needle on the scoreboard. Then it's simply a matter of the Texans defense doing their part.
While Miami's offense can put up some numbers, they've also had at least one turnover in their last 16 games. The Texans were able to force 2 turnovers last week, along with another forced fumble. They also got their hands on a couple of passes, so it's probably reasonable to expect a few takeaways.
It's probably unreasonable to expect a complete repeat performance of last week's defense, but unlike the Dolphins, the Texans' defense is showing signs of improvement. Again, we don't want to overvalue a single game, but at least it's trending in the right direction.
In general, it looks like the Texans offensive strengths are well poised to take advantage of the Dolphins' weaknesses while also neutralizing their strengths. The defense, then just needs to have a wash against the Miami offense.
Factoring all this in, I see the Texans pulling this one out by a score of 24-14.
Other than that, it's only a matter of staying sober-ish during the early games.
Or maybe that's just a key for the rest of us.