The Houston Texans kickoff their 2012 NFL regular season by hosting the Miami Dolphins at noon Sunday at Reliant Stadium. The Texans will wear all white uniforms for what has become their annual ‘Liberty Whiteout’ home opener. They look to kick off defense of their AFC South title by improving to 7-0 all time against the Dolphins.
After an injury-filled 2011 season, the Texans came out of training camp and the preseason relatively healthy. However, there were a couple of minor injury concerns that popped up this week at practice. RB Arian Foster and OLB Brooks Reed both left practice early Thursday, Foster with a sore knee and Reed with a sore hip. Each is listed as questionable on the injury report and will be game-time decisions, although Foster reiterated yesterday that he plans to play.
If Foster is unable to go, Ben Tate will start in his place. That could lead to a repeat of last year’s opener, when Tate played in place of a hamstrung Foster and had a 100 yard game and first career TD in his NFL debut. If Reed cannot go, then rookie first round draft choice OLB Whitney Mercilus will get the start in his NFL debut. Another OLB, Bryan Braman, is the only other Texan in question for week 1. Braman, who has not practiced since week 3 of the preseason with a hamstring injury, is also listed as questionable.
The Dolphins’ biggest injury concern coming into the game was OT Jake Long. Long, who has been bothered with a knee injury this preseason, was a full participant in Friday’s practice and should be good to go. He is listed as probable. Miami will need its best offensive lineman to be at his best, as rookie QB Ryan Tannehill will be making his first start against a Texans defense that finished third in the league with a franchise record 44 sacks last season.
In order to keep Tannehill from getting battered, look for the Dolphins to try to establish the run game early with RBs Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas. They would like to minimize third and long situations for Tannehill so that he doesn’t have to try and put the game on his shoulders.
Even if Foster is a no go, Houston will run plenty with Tate and Justin Forsett, using the run game to set up play action roll outs, bootlegs and misdirections. Miami traded away their best cornerback, Vontae Davis, this preseason so QB Matt Schaub will test Dolphin CBs Sean Smith and Richard Marshall by looking for Andre Johnson early and often. Look for #80 to have his usual big game against his hometown Miami team.
The Dolphins are a team in transition. They have a rookie head coach in Joe Philbin and a rookie QB in Tannehill. Tannehill will be helped this season by the fact that his offensive coordinator, former Texans OC Mike Sherman, was his college head coach at Texas A&M. Tanehill’s grasp of Sherman’s offense was a big factor in him beating out Matt Moore for the starting job.
Unfortunately for Tannehill, this is not the Big XII and he is facing the daunting challenge of starting his first career game on the road against one of the best defenses in the NFL. He and the Dolphins are walking into a buzzsaw as Reliant Stadium will be loud and hostile. Coaches know when they decide to start a rookie QB to expect growing pains. Tannehill’s will begin early as Schaub has a triumphant return under center, Johnson burns the Dolphins secondary and the Texans win easy.
Texans 30, Dolphins 9