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Miami Dolphins vs. Houston Texans Preseason Week 2 Preview

Houston Texans rookie Tank Dell, the trenches, and Henry To’oTo’o are key for today’s preseason game against the Miami Dolphins.

Houston Texans v New England Patriots Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

Since beginning the preseason in the foggy northeast, the Houston Texans have already begun to mold into form.

C.J. Stroud was flustered, Tank Dell was an instant success, and Houston’s run defense looked dramatically improved. But, other than these headline-stealing performances, what else can we look forward to? Of the very, very many things wrong with the Texans last year, what other improvements can we expect to see before the inaugural regular season game? To answer this question, we must begin our journey at the center of all things football: the football itself.

As we go from sideline to sideline, establishing a perimeter for the stage and then peering inward towards the football, we spot 22 surrounding athletes engaging in highly orchestrated theatrics. From throwing and catching, to leaping and lunging, to tackling and punching, these athletes display a great variety of skills for the spectator during a football game. As your eyes carry further and further into the middle of the field, closer and closer to the ball itself, these theatrics get more violent, more combative. Shoulder pads start to get larger, jerseys dirtier, several bloodied faces sprouting from these burly arms firmly planted in the turf, inches from the football. Even to those who know very little about the sport, this small patch of land screams danger. It is here, in no man’s land, where Houston seeks to have some of its most exceptional improvement from last year.

Houston’s offensive blocking and defensive pressure along the line of scrimmage left much to be desired in 2022. Dead last in run-defense, second-to-last in run-offense, and 38 sacks absorbed by the Texans’ quarterbacks in 2022 are grizzly stats ripe for the picking for a first year head coach looking to turn things around. Sinking resources into the trenches was clearly a high priority, and in their first preseason action, they looked completely refreshed.

Free agent additions DT Hassan Ridgeway, LB Denzel Perryman, and LB Cory Littleton made an immediate impact on the line of scrimmage, despite their brief playing time. Rookies DE Will Anderson Jr. and LB Henry To’oTo’o also showed off their speed and instincts (especially To’oTo’o), with backup linemen DE Chase Winovich, DE Kurt Hinish, and DT Khalil Davis scoring the highest PFF grades of the group. Hinish developed a bit of a following last year after a handful of highlight-reel plays during his rookie season in 2022, and it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down in 2023. Today, they will face up against Miami linemen C Dan Feeney, RG Robert Jones, LG Isaiah Wynn, RT Ryan Hayes, and LT Kion Smith. Overall, Miami had a decent amount of pass-blocking success last week, with Jones and Smith being the standout players.

On the offensive line, a thick new cast of blockers showed off their skills against the Patriots, with LG Keaton Sutherland, LT Killian Zierer, and RG Jimmy Morrissey highlighting the competition. Zierer was more reliable as a pass-blocker than as a run-blocker, but Sutherland was a force in both. However, this performance by Sutherland must not have been enough, as he was just released yesterday.

Now, a Texans line down one Sutherland and up one T Jacky Chen (claimed from Minnesota on Tuesday), they’ll face up against DT Josiah Bronson, DT Brandon Pili, DT Jaylen Twyman, and DE Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbah and Twyman are the most dangerous of those players up front, and without Sutherland, Zierer may end up having much more on his plate when protecting the coveted football.

NFL: AUG 10 Preseason - Texans at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pulling the lens back from the trenches a little, several key players new to Houston come into focus. On defense, the aforementioned Perryman, Littleton, and To’oTo’o join slot CB Cobi Francis and SS Tyree Gillespie as the players most capable of clogging running lanes. Perryman, To’oTo’o, and 2nd-year LB Christian Harris showed some juice last week chasing down Patriot ball carriers, and they’ll need to keep it up in order to handle Miami’s speedy RBs Myles Gaskin and Devon Achane. Miami head coach Mike McDaniel is a big fan of pulling linemen and misdirection, so patience and speed will be crucial for Houston defenders. If it isn’t Francis or Gillespie setting the edge, it will probably be slot CB Tavierre Thomas or LB Neville Hewitt, both Houston veterans.

On offense, RBs Dare Ogunbowale, Gerrid Doaks, and recent signee Larry Rountree will lead carries as they compete for the 4th spot in the depth chart, with Doaks looking like the clear leader after Week 1. UDFA RB Xazavian Valladay was cut on the 13th, ending one of the more intriguing stories coming out of training camp. RB Mike Boone, 3rd in line on the depth chart, was the highest graded Houston rusher last week (PFF 65.8). FB Andrew Beck, while not an instant threat in the passing game, laid some good blocks while on the field and has firmly put himself on my radar for today. In what appears to be some weakness in tackling among the MLBs in Miami (Channing Tindall, Mike Rose, and Aubrey Miller II all getting a PFF grade of 54.3 pts or lower in tackling), my eyes will be searching for broken ankles and nasty stiff-arms.

Mason Schreck and Nick Vannett had the strongest performances among Texans TEs in Week 1, both showing off their blocking skills. Pair one of these players with Andrew Beck and Jimmy Morrissey in a screen pass or an outside zone running play, and all of the sudden the Texans will start really looking like 49ers South! Against Miami, curiosity will beckon to the edge, where TEs Schreck, Vannett, Brevin Jordan and Dalton Keene will compete for positioning against Dolphins LBs Garrett Nelson and Duke Riley.

Finally, pulling out to the perimeter players on the field, Houston finds its strongest suit on defense. Not only because of starters like CB Derek Stingley Jr. and FS Jalen Pitre, but with backup CB Shaquill Griffin, slot CBs Tavierre Thomas and Cobi Francis, and FS M.J. Stewart, making this a pretty complete roster. 2nd string CB Ka’dar Hollman had one of the highest grades of any Houston defender last week, with his coverage performance better than his career average. This comes at a good time, too, as Miami’s QB Skylar Thompson will likely be targeting him today. Expect to see former Bill O’Brien 4th-round pick WR Keke Coutee, now competing for a roster spot in Miami.

Houston Texans v New England Patriots Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

Among all of the stories coming out of Foxborough on Thursday last week, none caught the public’s attention quite like Tank Dell’s tantalizing performance, capped off with an absurd touchdown grab at the end of the 1st half. Dell is clearly the star of the show, but rookie WRs Xavier Hutchinson and Jared Wayne are playmakers in their own right. This is one of the thinner positions on the team; besides starting WRs Nico Collins, Noah Brown, and Robert Woods, there is very little experience to be found here. Getting the ball in the hands of talented pass-catchers like Hutchinson and Wayne will pay dividends later, but since Wayne suffered a Grade 2 hamstring injury, Steven Sims will take his spot this week. Although, similar to Houston, Miami’s secondary should be taken seriously, even with lesser known prospects taking snaps during the preseason. Experienced CBs Kader Kohou and Keith Crossen are likely to play significant snaps today due to injuries throughout Miami’s secondary, but young prospects like FS Verone McKinley III and SS Keidron Smith will still command the attention of the Houston QB.

We’ve made it to the 2nd week of the preseason! Tank Dell has already made this preseason a success, but I’m still really looking for more chemistry along the offensive line. On top of that, more positive plays on defense from Henry To’oTo’o and Tyree Gillespie would go a long way in guaranteeing an improved defense. Given Miami’s difficulties on offense vs. Atlanta last week, I predict another grinding win for Houston in their 2023 home opener. We’ll see if I’m right in just a few more hours!

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