Every now and then, the Texans’ offense shows glimpses of the high-powered scoring machine that was on display for six weeks in 2017. One big play here, one big play there, but they have yet to deliver a true onslaught of points this season. The variance of success on a drive-by-drive basis for Houston’s offense is immeasurably vast. On some possessions, they cannot seem to follow the snap count and on others they appear unstoppable.
The most points the Texans have scored in a quarter this season is 14; it has only happened once so far this season. The Texans scored 14 or more points in a quarter five times by Week Eight last year. Whether you try to blame it on more conservative play-calling, Deshaun Watson’s injuries, a potentially worse offensive line, or opponents figuring out Houston’s offense, the Texans simply have not been as stellar on offense as expected.
That could all change tomorrow when the Texans host the Miami Dolphins on Thursday Night Football.
Miami has a developing defense that has allowed over 405 yards per game, which ranks 27th in the league. Their +2 turnover differential is identical to the Texans and no one is calling the Texans’ defense a ‘turnover-frenzy’. In general, the weakest points of the Texans’ offense match up against the weaknesses of the Dolphins’ defense.
A lack of pass rush by the Dolphins is the main source of their recent woes. After starting the season 3-0, their defense has let them down of late, allowing 125 points in the last four games. The Dolphins do not have a player with more than two sacks. They do, however, have eight different players who have recorded a sack, though the Dolphins lack a premier pass rusher on the roster, only accumulating a total of 11 sacks on the season. If the Texans can limit the opportunities where they are vulnerable to pass rush - second and 15, third and long, etc. - it could help avoid Watson taking the big hits that happen far too often. If the offensive line can keep DW4’s jersey clean, there’s no telling what he may be able to accomplish with the weapons at his disposal.
The game plan against the Texans’ offense is pretty clear.
- Attack, attack, attack the Texans offensive line.
- Force the Texans away from DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V.
- Contain Watson’s scrambling ability.
Fortunately for the Texans, the Dolphins do not seem to be properly equipped to create routine pressure on the quarterback or cover speed out of the backfield. In watching the highlights of Miami’s game against the Lions, speed plays thoroughly overwhelmed the Dolphins’ defense.
The biggest strength so far for the Miami defense is their ability to pick off the quarterback. They lead the league in interceptions thus far in the season. For Deshaun Watson, keeping the ball out of the hands off the defense is going to be the greatest point of contention in the game. The turnover battle will completely indicate the winner of this game. Last week was the first time this season the Dolphins’ defense was unable to intercept a pass from the opposing QB; hopefully that’s a trend the Texans can keep going on Thursday.
Kiko Alonso is the one player on the Dolphins’ defense that does scare me. The reckless abandon and speed at which the linebacker plays could definitely cause problems for the Texans’ offense. Alonso is frequently a QB spy in the Dolphins’ nickel package and also covers running backs out of the backfield. He is their leading tackler and biggest playmaker on defense.
I also think that Minkah Fitzpatrick is a Pro Bowl safety in the making. Everything that I have seen in college is transitioning to the NFL; he has not missed a step. As a rookie, Fitzpatrick is already establishing himself as the best defensive back on the roster, but he does have a long way to go and will be vulnerable to Will Fuller’s speed.
I am also excited to see what Lamar Miller can do in his first game against the Dolphins since he left the team as a free agent in 2016. Miller recorded 100 yards on the ground last week and should be set to produce an equivalent amount tomorrow night. Kerryon Johnson broke off a 71 yard run right up the gut of the Dolphins’ defense early in the second quarter of last Sunday’s game. If the Lions’ below average run offense can gash Miami’s defense, I do not expect much less from Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue.
The Dolphins have also yet to face a QB with the scrambling ability that Watson possesses. The most mobile QB they have faced is Mitchell Trubisky, and he rushed for almost 50 yards on the Dolphins defense. Although most Texans fans would prefer to not see Watson risk his health to gain extra yards, it could be a pivotal drive-sustaining source of yards in the upcoming game.
Injury wise, the Dolphins are relatively healthy, with only backup DE Charles Harris out and starting free safety T.J. McDonald and linebacker Jerome Baker questionable for the game.
The biggest single match-up of the game is likely corner Xavien Howard against DeAndre Hopkins. Howard has three interceptions on the season and is normally tasked with guarding the opposing offense’s biggest weapon. He is a Houston native who played at Baylor before being drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Howard and Hopkins have already set the stage for the matchup, as Howard claimed that Hopkins “likes to push off,” which Hopkins responded “Who is Xavien Howard?” when asked by reporters about the comment. Maybe, just maybe, we could see an Andre Johnson-Cortland Finnegan, Part II.
If all of the stars align and Bill O’Brien can unleash the offense instead of micro-manage it into boredom, the Texans are set for a big showing against another 4-3 team in the Dolphins on Thursday night.