Miami defensive end Jason Taylor won NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors last season.
Coming off a tough loss on the road to Atlanta last Sunday, the Texans return home and face a winless opponent for the second consecutive week in the Miami Dolphins.
Miami is coming off a 35-17 loss at home to the Raiders in which their defense surrendered 299 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns from former Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper. This is the first time since 1995 that the Dolphins' defense has allowed at least 30 points in three consecutive games.
New Miami head coach Cam Cameron, the former Chargers offensive coordinator, must find a way to stop the bleeding on the defensive side of the football. Help is on the way as Pro Bowl middle linebacker Zach Thomas returns after missing the last two games due to lingering effects from a concussion. Thomas' leadership should bring some stability back to the team as it looks to get its first win of the season.
In an effort to increase production from the offense, Cameron felt it was necessary to go in a new direction at quarterback and the Dolphins traded for Trent Green from Kansas City. Green has been inconsistent so far this season, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, but he is currently in the top 10 in passing yards with 982. Big production should be expected from Green, as he has thrown for over 3,600 yards in a season five times in his career. Green's backup is four-year veteran Cleo Lemmon, who has one career start. Behind Lemmon for now is the Dolphins' quarterback of the future, 2007 second-round pick John Beck. The former BYU standout is slated to sit on the sidelines for the season and learn the offense, but that may change should Green go down.
At running back, third-year man Ronnie Brown is off to a good start after a disappointing sophomore season. Brown has rushed for 311 yards and three touchdowns this season, gaining over 100 yards in each of the last two games. Also a dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield, Brown has already caught 20 passes for 248 yards, more than any other back in the league. His backup is former Charger and Saint Jesse Chapman, who has not played in almost two seasons.
Pro Bowler Chris Chambers leads an athletic group of receivers who should produce more than in previous seasons due to the change at quarterback. Chambers currently has 23 receptions for 323 yards, but has yet to catch a touchdown pass this season. Nine-year veteran Marty Booker is Green's second option, and his reliable hands are a great complement to the big-play ability of Chambers. Also in the mix is the Fins' 2007 first-round draft choice, Ted Ginn, Jr. Though he has only caught one pass this season, Ginn poses a potential threat with his electrifying speed and big-play potential. Former Arizona State standout Derek Hagan rounds out the receiving corps.
There was a changing of the guard at tight end in the offseason as Randy McMichael was replaced with former Packer David Martin. Having never started more than eight games in a season, this is the first full-time starting opportunity for Martin. Through his first four games, he has seven receptions for 59 yards. His backup, six-year veteran Justin Peelle, has actually out-produced him with six receptions for 60 yards and two touchdowns.
The much-maligned offensive line was completely retooled in the offseason, with Cameron bringing in two new starters and shuffling two other positions. On the ends, left tackle Vernon Carey was moved over from right tackle, and right tackle L.J. Shelton switched over from right guard. On the interior, rookie center Samson Satele will be flanked by holdover Rex Hadnot at right guard and new left guard Chris Liwienski. Thus far, the unit has played well, increasing the offense's yardage and points per game from last season.
Led by former Texans head coach Dom Capers, Miami's defense has been ranked near the top of the league the past several seasons. That has not been the case in 2007 as the defense has taken a sudden drop toward the bottom. This can largely be attributed to middle linebacker Zach Thomas missing the last two games. Another factor may be that the defense is struggling to adjust to the 4-3 scheme that Cameron prefers. Miami will still play some 3-4 this season and switch things up when the opportunity presents itself.
With Thomas back playing this week, the defense may be able to right the ship. A seven-time Pro Bowl selection, Thomas is consistently among the league leaders in tackles. In two games this season he already has 23, good enough for second on the team. Starting next to Thomas as the strong side linebacker is former Steeler Joey Porter. Still recovering from training camp knee surgery, Porter hasn't produced the big numbers that Miami hoped for after they signed him in the offseason. Starting on the weak side is former University of Florida stud Channing Crowder. The team's leading tackler this season, Crowder usually finds himself in good position to make plays. Donnie Spragan is the unit's top reserve while Derrick Pope, Edmond Miles and Abraham Wright will see most of their action on special teams.
Reigning 2006 Defensive Player of the Year Jason Taylor leads the group on the defensive line. The All-Pro defensive end has gotten off to a slow start this season with only one sack, but Taylor remains a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen and quarterbacks to handle with his amazing combination of speed and power. Starting opposite Taylor is third-year man Matt Roth. The first-time starter will see lots of single coverage with opponents focusing their efforts on slowing Taylor. Veteran Keith Traylor plugs the middle. He has one sack thus far but needs to play better against the run after getting shredded last week by Oakland. Veteran defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday will miss Sunday's game after fracturing his ankle in the loss to Oakland, so in his place will be a rotation that includes rookies Paul Sololai, Steve Fifita and former Texas Longhorn standout and Houston native Rodrique Wright.
Miami's secondary has played well, having the second-rated pass defense in the league, though they have only intercepted two passes as a unit. At cornerback, Will Allen starts on the left side while fifth-year veteran Michael Lehan starts on the right side. Allen currently ranks third on the team in tackles with 18 and has one forced fumble and two passes defensed. Andre Goodman and second-year man Jason Allen will play in nickel and dime packages. At strong safety, longtime Jaguar Donovan Darius was signed to be the starter after Yeremiah Bell was lost for the season due to an Achilles' injury. Stout against the run, Darius has recorded 10 tackles in two games this season. At free safety will be Renaldo Hill, who has one interception this year to go along with 18 tackles. Hill's backup is converted corner Travis Daniels, whose versatility is a valuable commodity for the defense.
Jay Feely replaced longtime Dolphins kicker Olindo Mare and has been impressive so far this season. Feely has nailed all seven of his field goal attempts and has not missed an extra point try.
Rookie Brandon Fields starts at punter. The former Michigan State Spartan has punted 16 times so far this season with an average kick of 43.4 yards. Three of those punts landed inside the 20-yard line.
Handling both punt and kickoff returns is Ted Ginn, Jr. Ginn has struggled thus far to break any big plays, averaging just 21.9 yards per kickoff return and 7.0 yards per punt return. Miami will need more big plays from Ginn after receiving much criticism for drafting him over Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn.
What to Watch For
- The Texans are undefeated against the Dolphins in their history. Houston has won the only two match-ups between the teams, most recently last season at Reliant Stadium, which was head coach Gary Kubiak's first of his NFL career. Will Cam Cameron return the favor and get his first coaching win against the Texans?
- Defensive end Jason Taylor is the third consecutive Pro Bowler that Texans left tackle Ephraim Salaam has faced. Two weeks ago, Salaam went against the Colts' Dwight Freeney and faced the Falcons' John Abraham this past Sunday. Salaam has held his own, only giving up one sack between the two. Taylor will be another stiff test this week.