As the Texans gear up for training camp, excitement for the 2008 season continues to build. Here is an in-depth look at each of the team's regular season games with some insights from SportsRadio 610's Marc Vandermeer.
Teams: Texans vs. Miami Dolphins (Sunday, Oct. 12)
Game Preview: On paper, this looks like the Texans' easiest game of the year. The Dolphins finished with the worst record in the NFL last year at 1-15. They have no clear starting quarterback and the team's defensive star, defensive end Jason Taylor, spent the offseason sashaying on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." But looks can be deceiving. There is a new sheriff in town at Dolphins Stadium by the name of Bill Parcells, and this executive vice president doesn't tolerate losing. Plus, Miami gave the Texans all they could handle last season, forcing Houston to win the game with a last-second 57-yard field goal by Kris Brown.
This offseason, Parcells, general manager Jeff Ireland and new head coach Tony Sparano have been running a tight ship, putting the team through a tougher-than-usual training regimen and turning up the intensity in practice. The atmosphere has fueled a three-way competition for starting quarterback duties between Josh McCown, John Beck and second-round draft pick Chad Henne. McCown, who started nine games for the Oakland Raiders last season, has emeraged as the frontrunner, but Henne could develop into their long-term solution. Regardless, the Dolphins shouldn't have many offensive weapons that scare the Texans.
At wideout, Miami brought in Ernest Wilford, who notched 518 receiving yards in 2007 for the Jaguars. Ninth-year pro Marty Booker led all Miami receivers last year with 556 receiving yards. Running back Ronnie Brown, who led the team in rushing with 602 yards, is coming back from knee surgery. Brown was closing in on his fifth consecutive 100-yard rushing performance when he suffered the injury last October and is expected to be healthy for the regular season. Backing up Brown will be running back Ricky Williams, who appears committed to giving the Dolphins the one-two punch they need on the ground. A home game against the Dolphins could be a perfect opportunity for the Texans' rookies to get a lot of game experience under their belts, especially defensive tackle Frank Okam and cornerback Antwaun Molden. Okam will be called upon this season to help to stop the run, and Molden will need to bolster a secondary that could be without Dunta Robinson until November.
The Texans' offense also could look to get young players involved like rookie running back Steve Slaton and wide receiver Jacoby Jones, a second-year pro. However, Miami's defense is no slouch. Taylor, a Pro Bowl defensive end, recorded two sacks on quarterback Matt Schaub last year. Linebacker Joey Porter returns to the lineup, and the Dolphins drafted defensive end Philip Merling in the second round. Schaub threw the ball well against the Dolphins in 2007, finishing with 278 passing yards, but the Texans struggled to convert on third downs and never got their running game going. Houston's running backs will need perform better than they did last year and help improve the team's red zone efficiency in order for the Texans to come away with a decisive win.
"I think run the ball and don't get hurt - I think that's going to be the very basic thing here," Vandermeer said. "When you go into a game like this, you want to exploit certain weaknesses. They should be able to get some things done through the air, but your bread and butter is going to be your running game in the Gary Kubiak offense.
"The week before the Texans will have played the Colts, a very tough emotional game. Could this be a trap, let-down kind of game? It might be, especially if the Dolphins are showing a little surge. Bill Parcells is running the organization. Tony Sparano is the head coach. Jeff Ireland is the GM. Look, they are going to turn this thing around eventually, you'd have to think, because Parcells always leaves it better than when he got there."
Key Matchups: Running backs Ahman Green, Chris Brown and Steve Slaton against the Dolphins' front seven.
Vandermeer's pick: "I say with the way Houston is right now and the way the Dolphins are right now, it should be a double-digit win for the Texans."