Three things to know before the Texans face the Dolphins on Thursday Night Football (8:20 p.m. ET, FOX, NFL Network, Amazon Prime).
1. We’ll learn tonight just how intensely to panic about a Dolphins run defense that ranks 29th in the league, thanks largely to inconsistent linebacking. Last week they allowed a staggering 248 yards rushing to Detroit. Until recently, a 100-yard rushing game from the Lions was rarer than a solar eclipse. But with improvements to the offensive line and the arrival of rookie star Kerryon Johnson, the Dolphins can at least say they were gashed by a quality rushing attack. They wouldn’t be able to say that this week, though. Houston’s ground game is as average as a network TV drama. But to Bill O’Brien’s credit, over the years it’s been a schematically diverse and regularly utilized ground game. O’Brien prefers zone runs but Detroit gashed Miami with man-to-man blocking designs. Expect to see some of those Thursday.
2. Dolphins rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick’s value entering the draft derived from his versatility, mainly near the line of scrimmage, where he was a tremendous blitzer at Alabama. There was also talk within the Dolphins organization of making Fitzpatrick the fulltime centerfield safety, giving the defense a stable traffic director and (hopefully) Ed Reed-style playmaker. But so far, Fitzpatrick has neither blitzed nor directed traffic. Due to a lack of cornerback depth, he’s been relegated almost strictly to the slot, while traditional slot man Bobby McCain has had to play outside. When the Dolphins do blitz, which is not often in their zone scheme, it’s usually been with Reshad Jones (who, in fairness, is excellent off the edge). Fitzpatrick has played well enough at slot corner, but it appears his long-term role is still being decided.
3. Understandably, everyone is buzzing about the resurgence of J.J. Watt. But last week, Jadeveon Clowney was the biggest game-wrecker along Houston’s front. Maybe if he hadn’t won AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his Week 4 performance at Indy, he would have gotten it for his Week 7 showing at Jacksonville. Clowney is at his best as an interior rusher, particularly when he’s coming from a standup position off the ball. Miami’s interior O-line is weak. Watch out.
Bold Prediction: Brock Osweiler will be sacked at least 5 times.
Score prediction: Houston 22, Miami 13
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