It's time to again get back up on that horse and begin preparing for the Texans, who come to Miami on Sunday having never lost to the Dolphins. And there's no doubt that all Dolphin fans cringe when they see the Texans on the schedule. It almost seems at times like there's some kind of bad karma that comes back to bite the Dolphins in the butt whenever they face these damn Texans.
Sunday's game is obviously a "do or die" situation in terms of Miami's season. And it will not be easy. Let's talk about three of the most critical matchups.
Andre Johnson vs Vontae Davis/Sean Smith
If I had to guess, I'd say that Vontae Davis will be the guy who gets the most snaps attempting to cover Andre Johnson - one of the top two or three receivers in the game. But regardless of if it is Davis or fellow rookie Sean Smith, Johnson has the advantage. He's a physical freak who has great size, great strength, good speed, and excellent hands. Yeah - good luck.
The Texans are throwing for 291 yards per game in 2009 - the #2 ranked passing offense in the NFL. Johnson accounts for over 35% of those yards - averaging 102 yards receiving per game. And no player in the entire league has been targeted more often than Johnson, who has seen 155 passes thrown in his direction. He leads the NFL in receiving yards and is in the top five in receptions. He's also tied for first in 20+ yard receptions (20) and second in 40+ yard receptions (9).
But the man is human. He's had under 100 receiving yards in eight games this season and the Texans are just 3-5 in those games. But over his last three games, Johnson is the hottest receiver in the league - totaling 27 receptions for 488 yards and 3 touchdowns.
But outside of Johnson, the Texans aren't exactly loaded at receiver. Kevin Walter is the team's second leading receiver - but has just 560 yards receiving. And if the Dolphins can somehow take Johnson out of the game - by double or triple teaming him if they have to - Miami's defense could actually surprise some people. After all, the Dolphins did hold Randy Moss to just two receptions a few weeks back and the Texans don't have any player who is comparable to Wes Welker. So it could happen. Maybe.
Dolphins offensive line vs Texans defensive line
Last week against the Titans, Miami's offensive line didn't look like itself. We know they are a banged up unit - Vernon Carey has a back issue, Jake Grove still isn't starting as he recovers from an ankle injury, and both guards have some dings s well - and Tennessee's defensive line is one of the best out there. But still, we saw Miami's big guys up front get shoved backwards more than we have in a number of weeks. Dolphin running backs combined for just 96 yards rushing on 25 carries (3.8 ypc) and Chad Henne was under more pressure than he's been in about a month.
The Texans, meanwhile, don't exactly excel at applying pressure on the quarterback. They are 26th in the league in sacks with just 25. But they do have Mario Williams - a premier pass rusher. Williams has only eight sacks on the year - but four in his last four games. And we can't forget his 26 sacks over two seasons from 2007 to 2008. It'll be fun to watch Williams and Jake Long get after each other on Sunday.
The Texans also aren't a very good team at stopping the run. They allow 112 yards per game on the ground and 4.4 yards per carry. But they are big and physical. Their starting four defensive linemen weigh in at an average of 303 pounds. I expect to see the Dolphins get back to the power running game on Sunday to keep Houston's offense off of the field. But if that strategy is going to work, Miami's front five need to get back to their dominating ways.
Dolphins pass rush vs Texans offensive line
Very quietly, the Dolphins are near the very top of the NFL in sacks. They have recorded 40 sacks - tied for second in the league and just three behind the Vikings. And that's despite no Dolphin having more than eight sacks - a credit to the overall talent of Miami's front seven. Four Dolphins have at least 5.5 sacks - Joey Porter, Jason Taylor, Randy Starks, and Cameron Wake. Eight other Dolphins have at least one sack. It's impressive considering how we've talked a lot about Miami's struggles in getting consistent pressure.
Well consistent pressure on Matt Schaub will be important on Sunday. Schaub is second in the NFL in passing yards - throwing for more yards than guys Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and Aaron Rodgers. Despite being known historically for getting their QB killed, the Texans have done an excellent job in 2009 of protecting their quarterback. They've allowed just 23 sacks - fifth fewest in the league. That's especially impressive considering only four teams have passed the ball more often than the Texans.
On Sunday, Miami's best defense will be a good pass rush. If Paul Pasqualoni can dial up some pressure, then that would take some pressure off of our young cornerbacks' shoulders. But if the Dolphins lose this matchup, it could be a long day for the secondary.