Know Your Foe | Miami Dolphins, Week 9

Prior to 2015, the Texans loved seeing the Dolphins on the schedule. Starting with an opening weekend win over Miami down in South Florida in 2003, the Texans ran off seven straight against the Dolphins, including two more wins on the road at Hard Rock Stadium. Then, on October 24th, 2015, the Texans took off for Miami and a late October meeting with the Dolphins. Uh, the win streak ended the next day. Badly.

All you need to know is that the Dolphins led 41-0 at the half.

It was unquestionably the worst half of football I've ever seen a Texans team play. The offense rebounded to make it kind of interesting in the second half as the Texans fell to 2-5 after the 44-26 loss. Now, after that loss, the Texans bounced back to win the AFC South, going 7-2 down the stretch, so that 2015 game was more a turning point than an enduring, horrible memory. But, thinking of going back to Miami for the first time since 2015...yeah, the nightmare is still there.

That said, 2021 has been a certain kind of nightmare for both teams. Each one sits at a 1-7 crossroads. Each team won its opener then lost seven in the row to get to this point. Each team has seen a young quarterback grow/struggle in those seven losses. Each defense has shined yet had tough moments. It feels as if these two teams are nearly mirror images of one another heading into this week nine battle.

As such, let's get to know this year's version of the Miami Dolphins in preparation for the first meeting between these two teams in South Florida since 2015.

2021 Schedule (1-7)
Week 1 - W @ New England Patriots 17-16
Week 2 - L Buffalo Bills 35-0
Week 3 - L @ Las Vegas Raiders 31-28
Week 4 - L Indianapolis Colts 27-17
Week 5 - L @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 45-17
Week 6 - L @ Jacksonville Jaguars 23-20 (London)
Week 7 - L Atlanta Falcons 30-28
Week 8 - L @ Buffalo Bills 26-11
Week 9 - Houston Texans
Week 10 - Baltimore Ravens
Week 11 - @ New York Jets
Week 12 - Carolina Panthers
Week 13 - New York Giants
Week 14 - BYE
Week 15 - New York Jets
Week 16 - @ New Orleans Saints
Week 17 - @ Tennessee Titans
Week 18 - New England Patriots

Dolphins OFFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 78.6 ypg (30th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 223.3 ypg (25th)
Total offense per game - 301.9 ypg (30th)
Turnovers lost - 13 (6 Fumbles lost, 7 INT)

Expected Dolphins starting offense for Week Nine
QB - Tua Tagovailoa
RB - Myles Gaskin
WR - DeVante Parker
TE - Mike Gesicki
TE - Durham Smythe
LG - Austin Jackson
C - Austin Reiter/GREG MANCZ
RG - Robert Hunt
RT - Jesse Davis

Key Offensive Non-Starters
RB - Salvon Ahmed
TE - Adam Shaheen
WR - Albert Wilson
WR - Mack Hollins
RB - Patrick Laird

Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021

Keys to winning v. the Dolphins Offense

  1. Houston Homeboy made good - Former Bellaire Episcopal superstar Jaylen Waddle is a Houstonian all day, every day. As such, it'll be tough seeing the dynamic young man in a Dolphins jersey on the other sideline facing his favorite hometown team. The Texans have their hands full with the rookie Waddle, a dynamic ball carrier out in space. That's where he thrives and I'd imagine the Dolphins want to get Waddle more opportunities to put defenses on blast, so to speak. That was evident last week as the Dolphins coaching staff dialed up ways to get Waddle the ball; he had 11 passing targets last week in Buffalo. Expect #17 to play a big role in this one. 
  2. Tight end in name only - Down deep, I hate the depth chart. I really do because there's this tendency by most people to abide by position norms and stereotypes, so to speak, more so than true to life fit in an offense/defense. If the Texans do that this week against TE/WR Mike Gesicki, it's going to be a major issue for Lovie Smith's defense. Gesicki is listed as a tight end, but, in essence, he's a really big WR. He's not the stereotypical tight end that puts his hand in the dirt and blocks like there's no tomorrow. Gesicki is a stud receiver, only to be listed as a tight end. When teams treat him like a tight end, they get roasted. The longest play the Dolphins had in Buffalo last week was a 40-yard bomb to Gesicki in man coverage deep down the field.
  3. Parker Rolls - One of the best things that Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa does is throw routes inside the numbers. Slants. Glance routes. In cuts. Crossers. Those are the routes with which he has the most success. He struggles a bit to throw intermediate routes on a dime outside the numbers. I bring all of that up with Tua because DeVante Parker is a physical receiver who dominates the inside of the field. As such, Parker becomes Tua's go-to guy because of how physical Parker is inside and because Tua loves those throws that he mastered at Alabama. Parker is a chain mover and tough after the catch, even though he won't fly by anyone in the secondary. The Texans have given up a bunch in the middle of the field on RPOs or play action this year, which makes Parker a massive key given how much the Dolphins use those concepts.
  4. It's Time - This Dolphins offensive line has some issues. The Texans defensive line is probably the best unit on the team. You can do the math on this one as it's time for the Texans to go to work against a unit that features a rookie at left tackle, two second year guys at both guard spots and a former Texan potentially at center. Time to make the doughnuts, as they say.

Dolphins DEFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 115.8 ypg (19th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 291.1 ypg (31st)
Total offense Allowed per game - 406.9 ypg (32nd)
Turnovers generated - 9 (3 INT, 6 Fumble recoveries - Dolphins are -4 in TO margin)

Expected Dolphins starting defense for Week Nine
DE - Emmanuel Ogbah
DT - Raekwon Davis
DT - Christian Wilkins
LB - Elandon Roberts/Sam Equavoen
LB - Jerome Baker
Nickel - Brandon Jones/LB - Andrew Van Ginkel
CB - Byron Jones
S - Eric Rowe/CB - Nik Needham
CB - Xavien Howard

Key Defensive Non-Starters

Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021

Keys to winning v. the Dolphins Defense

  1. Corner has been turned - Dolphins DT Christian Wilkins was a college football cult hero at Clemson. He was beloved around the country and when he was drafted by Miami, I knew he would eventually be a leader for that defense. Well, that eventuality has come to fruition. Playing on the interior doesn't lead to massive statistical numbers for the former Clemson product, but it's clear that he's disruptively physical and as athletic as any 315 lb-er you've ever seen. The Texans offensive line hasn't had great success against players of his disruptive ability so that quintet had better figure out how to block #94 or it's going to be a long day up front.
  2. A Great Duo - The Texans quarterback situation isn't completely set in stone but regardless of who steps under center, he'll have to find ways to attack one of the best duos of cornerbacks in the league. Now, Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are as good as it gets as defenders in this league, but the Dolphins secondary is still getting shredded by opposing passing games. Can Taylor/Mills have success against that duo and the rest of the secondary as other teams have had? They must to have any chance of winning this game in Miami.
  3. Kitchen Sink - One aspect of the Dolphins defense that can be equal parts maddening and opportunity-opening is their kitchen sink pressures. Kitchen sink? Yeah, you've heard the phrase "they're throwing everything and the kitchen sink at (insert quarterback's name here)". When the Dolphins blitz, they'll bring more than you've got to block and play zero coverage in the secondary. It's become part of their defensive MO and it's truly the only way they can provide consistent pressure on the quarterback, something their standard four man pass rush hasn't been able to do consistently.
  4. What's tempo got to do with it? - At halftime of last week's game, Texans head coach David Culley told me that he wanted the Texans offense to go more up tempo, to speed up the pace so to speak. In the fourth quarter of that game, once the Texans started racking up some first downs, they did move with a much faster pace and it paid off. I don't know if they'll try to go to it earlier, but I've been asking for more of it for years. Maybe Sunday will be that day when they go with more tempo than ever before.

The next time you can see the Texans at NRG Stadium will be on November 28 as they host the New York Jets in Week 12. Kickoff is set for noon CT. Click here for tickets.

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