The repetition of the preseason has finally come to an end, and all around the NFL teams are putting the finishing touches on their Week 1 game plans. For the Miami Dolphins, a trip to face the Houston Texans is looming large, and after the rigors of the preseason, the players, coaches, and fans are anxious for the season to get under way. To be sure you have all the information you need to get the most out of the game, here is the Week 1 preview
Coming out of Houston with a win will be a challenge, but the Dolphins are ready to put the woes of the preseason behind them and come out on top. The will to win will be there; the question is if they can make their production equal their desire.
The Dolphins offense has been the teams week spot for the last several years, and while first time head coach Joe Philbin, and his staff, have been working hard to make improvements, it is likely they are still going to be the weaker side of the ball. During the preseason, Miami’s offense could only manage to put up an average of 10.8 points a game, even though they were 3rd in the AFC in passing yards. Admittedly, preseason numbers are hard to judge a team by, but when a team is able to score just 2 touchdowns in 4 games, it becomes pretty clear there is a problem.
Passing- Rookie Ryan Tannehill will get the start, and while he has shown promise, his receivers may not offer him a lot in the way of targets. Davone Bess will be the #1 option, they added free agent Anthony Armstrong, who was just released by the Washington Redskins, and the team gets Brian Hartline back from injury, but it may a take a little while for him to get back up to speed.
Rushing- To ease the pressure, Coach Pilbin will likely call on his running backs to make life easier for their QB. Reggie Bush is coming off of his best NFL season yet, and has been telling anyone who will listen how formidable the Dolphins backfield is. While he is likely to get a large portion of the work load, expect 2nd year back Daniel Thomas to get in on the action as well. The boys in the back will need to step up their production though, only the San Diego Chargers had a worse rushing record during preseason, and their starter was out with a clavicle injury.
Offensive difference maker- The problem for both phases of the offense may very well be the offensive line. Starting guard, Artis Hicks went down this week with a season ending injury and he is being replaced by John Jerry, who started the last 3 seasons for the ‘Phins, but reported to camp over weight and out of shape. Hicks was set to be their man for the season, but his absence will force Jerry to step up and be a force on the line, if the Dolphins want to have a chance to move the ball on this Houston defense.
Defense- The Dolphins had the third best defense against the rush last season, and they will need to play at the very top of their game if they want to stop the rushing attack of the Houston Texans. Karlos Dansby, and the rest of the linebacker crew, will need to be aware of Houston running backs, Arian Foster and Ben Tate, at all times. Either one is capable of breaking through the line at any time and it will be up to the Dansby and Co. to stop them if they get through. The biggest pressure will be on a thin Miami secondary. While Sean Smith has developed into a strong starting cornerback, he will be playing with several new additions, and with a severe shortage of subs. Because of the running threat posed by Houston, the play at the back half of the defense will need to be exceptional if they want to stop Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. The fate of the game truly lies in the hands of the defense, if they want to have a chance to win this game, they must keep it close.
Defensive difference maker- Cameron Wake must show up to this game and earn the extension he held out for just before the start of OTA’s. The Dolphins gave him the contract he was looking for, and now the defensive end’ linebacker hybrid must show he is worth every penny. Without him disrupting the offense and getting to the quarterback, Houston will likely impose their will on a once stout defense.
Houston is coming off of their best year ever. They won a franchise record 10 games on their way to the Texans first ever appearance in the playoffs. All of this despite losing their first and second string quarterbacks in back to back mid-season games. Coach Gary Kubiak begins his 7th season as the Texans head coach, and he has this team on the doorstep of the NFL elite. Houston may very have the most balanced team in the NFL, with the ability to hurt opponents with both the pass and rush, while the defense stifles the opposition on the other side of the ball. The team looks to build on its success from last season, and in Houston, anything short of a Super Bowl is unacceptable.
Passing: After suffering his injury in Week 10 last season, Matt Schaub is eager to come back and pick up where he left off. Schaub was carrying a 96.8 passer rating when he went down, and he looked poised to take the next step in his progression as an NFL quarterback. An impressive 15 touchdowns to 6 interceptions ratio, is a telling sign of Schaub’s maturity and ability to play at a higher level Throwing the ball to a healthy Andre Johnson while playing against a thin secondary could lead to an explosive start for the AFC powerhouse Texans.
Rushing- Houston’s running game is one of the best in the NFL. Last season they were second in rushing yards, and if they are allowed to get going and will be a long day for the Dolphins defense. Fantasy football stud, Arian Foster, ran for 1224 yards, ending the season 2nd only to Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Foster managed this while missing three games due to injury. In his absence, Ben Tate emerged as an extremely dangerous back, and between the two, the running game can be fierce. The run defense of the Dolphins may be enough to slow them down, but it is unrealistic to think they can be all together stopped.
Offensive difference maker- Andre Johnson is coming of of one of the worst seasons of his decorated career. Two separate hamstring injuries kept him off of the field for most of the season, and if he can stay healthy, he brings an element to this team the Dolphins cornerbacks and safeties may not be able to handle.
Defense- The Texans defense was as strong as they come in the NFL last season. This season will begin without two of their biggest stars. DE Mario Williams, and LB DeMeco Ryans are both playing elsewhere, but the defense looks to be strong enough to hold up without them. Williams was lost early last season to injury, and the defense excelled in his absence. The Texans also brought in Brady James from the Dallas Cowboys to help shore up the middle of the defense. If anything, this group may be even better than last year, which means the Dolphins could be in trouble early.
Defensive difference maker- Whitney Mercillus was selected 26th overall in this year’s NFL Draft. With Ryans being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, the rookie is going to need to learn on his feet, and get after Tannehill. Mercillus registered a sack in both of his last two preseason games, and his tackles increaased with every outing. If he can get to Tannehill early in the game, he may be able to rattle the young gunslinger, and force him into making rookie mistakes.
The Dolphins are out matched in just about every aspect of Sunday’s game, but there is no accounting for heart and the willingness to win. The Dolphins would love to secure a win for Coach Philbin, so he can start his career on a positive manner, but from what the Dolphins have shown thus far, I doubt the Texans have much to be worried about.
This may prove a little rough for Ryan Tannehill’s first start in the National Football League, but he can look at the bright side…it can only get better from here.
Houston over Miami 37-13
Jeff Everette is a featured columnist for RantSports.com, covering the NFL and NBA. You can follow him on twitter @jeverettesports, or subscribe to Jeff Everette-RantSports.com on both Facebook and Google+ for all of his latest articles, opinions, and rants.
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