Texans Players to Watch: Dolphins Edition
Patrick D. Starr
With the 2012 season fast approaching, expectations have never been higher for a Texans' team. In fact, some "experts" are predicting not only a repeat AFC South Championship but also a Super Bowl appearance. But, let's not get carried away – they still have to play the games.
This Sunday the Texans will play host to the Miami Dolphins, who feature a rookie quarterback in former Texas A&M Aggie Ryan Tannehill and a rookie head coach in Joe Philbin.
Wearing jersey number 17, Tannehill is ironically the 17th starting quarterback for the Dolphins since legendary hall of famer Dan Marino. However, the good news for the Texans is that rookie quarterbacks have a dismal 35-67 win loss record the past few years, so don't expect a Marino-like performance from Tannehill.
It will be interesting to see how Kubiak starts this game. Will it be ground and pound to establish the run with Arian Foster and Ben Tate or will he take to the air as he did in the pre-season? I suspect Kubiak will be somewhat conservative and attempt to control the line of scrimmage with the running game. Look for Foster and Tate to have big games – setting up the play action bootleg pass, and by running the ball the Texans reduce the chances of turnovers and allowing an inferior Phins' team in the game.
The Phins run a 4-3 defense, which is traditionally stronger versus the run. The cohesiveness, or lack thereof, of the Texans' offensive line is one area to watch. Specifically, first year starter right tackle Derek Newton. Can Newton keep the Dolphins' 2010 first round pick left defensive end Jared Ordick out of the backfield? The Texans will want to run stretch plays to either side to set up the bootleg passing. The offensive line, especially Newton, is an area to watch.
In the passing game, ones to watch are rookie Keshawn Martin and second year player Lestar Jean, and how the Phins' defense plays against them. If the Phins choose to double cover Andre Johnson, then Schaub will have one on one coverage somewhere else. After trading their former 1st round cornerback in Vontae Davis, the question is can the Phins' secondary keep up with the Texans' young receivers?
Additionally, the Texans' game plan may include the tight end over the middle. I'm sure the coaches are pouring over New England game tape to see if Pats' Gronk and Hernandez were able to consistently beat the Phins' linebackers last year. If there is any shred of vulnerablility in this area, watch for Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham to possibly have big games.
The Texans' defense comes into the first regular season game at seemingly 100% healthy, and both Watt and Cushing say they are ready to go. However, Cody is probably still a question mark. The players to watch on the defensive side of the ball are J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing. Last year, the Texans' gave up 107 yards to Phins' running back Daniel Thomas, most of those yards were right up the middle. I suspect the Phins would like to establish the run to take the pressure off rookie Tannehill. During pre-season play, this year's Texans' defense was susceptible to runs right up the middle. Can Watt and Cushing stop the Phins' interior running game? If they can, then this will force the Phins into long passing downs – allowing the Texans to pin their ears back and all out rush the rookie quarterback.
If Tannehill loses his composure, look for the Texans' secondary to intercept some rushed, off-target throws. I like Danieal Manning and Glover Quin to make some plays over the top with either pass breakup's or interceptions. I could also see Wade Phillips dialing up a few safety blitzes if the front 7 have any trouble getting to Tannehill.
Texans' Special Teams:
Special teams play will focus on – who else? Trindon Holliday. Can Holliday continue his return success with either a big kickoff or punt return? Or maybe the better question is, will the Phins punt to Holliday? I suspect Holliday will get a lot of chances to return punts since the Phins' offense will most likely struggle.
I don't look for the Dolphins to be in this game for long, or even at all. They just don't match up with the Texans in any phase of the game. Look for a dominating Texans' performance in a rowdy Reliant Stadium – setting up the home field advantage for the 2012 season.
These are the key players to watch. Who are your players to watch and why? What questions do you have about the Texans going into this game?