There was a time the Houston Texans were an opponent to be seriously concerned about. They had talent everywhere.
Andre Johnson was at one time perhaps the best wide receiver in the NFL.
Jacoby Jones was a great punt and kickoff returner.
They had Arian Foster and Ben Tate in their prime.
Owen Daniels was a very good pass-catching tight end.
DeMeco Ryans, Connor Barwin and Brian Cushing were very good linebackers and Mario Williams was great.
And, yes, there was J.J. Watt.
This was a franchise that had a good run. But this is now a franchise in transition. The coach is new. The quarterback position is unsettled. Foster has been injured so often he's not the same. Barwin, Johnson, Williams, Daniels, Tate and others are gone.
J.J. Watt remains and is the superstar of the team. But one man does not a team make.
So what am I saying? Compare the rosters of the teams playing on Sunday. The Miami Dolphins have a better roster. They're playing at home.
They should win this game.
Consider the matchup:
When the Dolphins pass the football: If the Dolphins continue to follow the script written during last week's win over Tennessee, this team will throw fewer passes in hopes of having more balance and scoring more points. The passing game has some things to clean up as last week a ball bounded off a receiver's hand for an interception and there was a miscommunication where a receiver continued a route while quarterback Ryan Tannehill expected him to sit down in a zone. That resulted in another interception. The offensive line that seems to be finding a groove run-blocking still has much work to do on improving its pass-blocking. Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner are solid run-blocker but the pass protection needs improvement. The Dolphins are aware and supposedly have a plan for containing J.J. Watt. Part of that plan will have to fall on Tannehill, who must move in the pocket to find passing lanes. If Tannehill fails to do this, Watt is expert at batting passes at the line of scrimmage. The Texans lead the NFL in third-down defense. The Dolphins easy answer? Stay out of third down situations. Houston starting CB Kareem Jackson will not play. ADVANTAGE: Even.
When the Dolphins run the football: It's amazing what happens when the Dolphins make the commitment to running the football. The team that is No. 3 in the NFL in rush yards per carry is No. 26 in rushing yards per game because, until last week, circumstances and other issues (calling it?) prevented Miami from running effectively. It didn't happen last week and now the question lingers whether this team has successfully altered its offensive personality or just stumbled upon a game it could and wanted to run in? The Texans are a good, not great run defense. Vince Wilfork, the anchor of the New England defensive line during their Super Bowl runs, is in Houston now and although he remains savvy and proficient, he isn't the player he used to be. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
When the Texans pass the football: The Texans have two issues throwing the football. The first issue is neither Brian Hoyer nor Ryan Mallett have been good enough, consistently enough to convince anyone they are the team's longterm answer at the position. Hoyer gets the start and he's been more accurate and less prone to turnovers. The other problem is the Texans have only one good receiver weapon and that's DeAndre Hopkins. So what happens when the Dolphins lock Brent Grimes on Hopkins or double Hopkins? Journeyman Cecil Shorts is the next best option but he's out with a hamstring injury. The Texans have a solid offensive line. After a tough opener in which they gave up four sacks against Kansas City, the line has allowed only one sack per game the past five weeks. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
When the Texans run the football: Arian Foster, a four-time Pro Bowl player, is not the same guy he was in 2010 when he led the NFL in rushing. Foster's been slowed by multiple groin and hamstring injuries and although the team is 21-11 in games he rushes for 100 yards or more, that hasn't happened yet this year. Foster is averaging 2.3 yards per rush. Alfred Blue had a great game against Cleveland last year, rushing for 156 yards so he should not be dismissed. The Miami run defense still isn't where coaches or players want it to be. Miami limited Tennessee to 63 yards and so the test continues whether that is the aberration or the new run D under new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. ADVANTAGE: Even.
Special teams: Texans punter Shane Lechler, a former college roommate of Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell, is the NFL's all-time leading punter with a 47.4 gross average. That's good but the Texans are 28th in the NFL in net punting average this year and that's bad. The Texans aren't exceptional in any special teams category and they're especially challenged covering kickoffs, as they are 31st in the NFL in that statistic. The Dolphins remain very good in punt return average and have been solid in most other special teams categories. Limiting penalties on special teams remains a focus. ADVANTAGE: Miami
Coaching: Bill O'Brien is a competent and thorough head coach who bases much of his approach on the New England Patriots model. He worked for the Patriots from 2007-11. The problem for O'Brien? No Tom Brady. O'Brien's focus in recent weeks has been getting a team that turned the ball over too much early in the season to stop beating itself. Dan Campbell infused a new vibe with the Dolphins and, not surprisingly, the team was engaged in played a physical brand of ball. Can they do that consistently? ADVANTAGE: Even.