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Dolphins vs Texans: 5 Burning Questions

We've done a whole lot of looking back because the Dolphins have now completed the first quarter of their regular season.  Now it's time to look forward - specifically to Sunday's battle in Houston against the Texans.

Let's discuss the 5 "burning questions" that the Dolphins will have to answer, at least in my opinion, this week in Houston:

How do the Dolphins plan on addressing their kick/punt return issues?
It's no secret that the Dolphins have been very bad in the return game.  They rank 31st in the league in kick returns, averaging just 17.6 yards per return, and 20th in punt returns, averaging just 8.9 yards per return.  And those who have watched the games this year know that the problem goes well beyond just statistics.  We've seen our returners fumble, muff catches, and make bad decisions in terms of letting balls bounce or not.  Of course, the irony here is that the one thing most Dolphin fans were confident about heading into the season was improved special teams play.  Go figure.

Luckily, the Dolphins will have a solid opportunity this week to improve in the return game - especially on kick-offs.  The Texans are averaging just 64.6 yards per kick-off and are allowing 23.4 yards per kick return, which puts Houston in the bottom half of the league in both.  The question is what, if anything, the Dolphins will do differently.  The popular suggestion, and one which I back as well, is to put Ted Ginn back deep returning kicks.  I'd also say he should return punts, as well.  After all, Ginn returned a punt for a TD last season against the Eagles as well as earlier this year during the preseason.  And we can't forget Ginn's two "would-be" kick return touchdowns that were called back by penalties that had no effect on the play.

Right now, though, special teams is the unit that needs the most work - and it all begins with improvement in the return game.

Can Jake Long hang tough with Mario Williams?
This will be the key matchup of the entire game.  And it's a damn good one - as our 1st overall pick takes on Houston's 1st overall pick from back in 2006.

Since his rookie season, Williams has improved dramatically.  He had 14 sacks a year ago and already has 4 sacks in 4 games this season - including a two-sack performance last week against Peyton Manning and the Colts.  But he's not only a pass-rushing force.  Williams also has 3 tackles for a loss this year - just 1.5 away from his career high.  "Super Mario" truly is the best young defensive end in the league - at least in my humble opinion.

Meanwhile, Jake Long as progressed nicely.  He's come as advertised in terms of his run-blocking ability.  But he has struggled at times in pass-protection - though not nearly as much as those "draft experts" tried to tell us he would.  Jake's allowed 2 sacks this season - one to Bryan Thomas back in his first game and one last week to Marques Hill (though it was a split sack between Hill and another Charger LB).  But if you've watched Long play all season, you'd know that he has been beat some other times by pass rushers - Chad Pennington just was able to avoid them.

This is also the first time in his NFL career that Long will face a 4-3 defensive front.  It's probably not a big deal, but it's worth noting.

Now I'd imagine that the Dolphins will help out Jake in pass protection from time to time with a tight end or running back.  However, I don't think it'll be as often as some seem to think.  Instead, I think this is going to be a "show-me" game for Long.  It's time for Jake to show us and his team that he has the potential to be a great left tackle.  Slowing down the best young pass rusher in the game would be one way to do it.

Will the Dolphins improve on 3rd downs?
For everything this team has done right after 4 games, the offense still has one very large problem: 3rd down conversions.  For the season, the Dolphins are converting just 35% of their third downs - ranking them 22nd in the league.  This problem, though, has been masked because the Dolphins have actually done a good job of avoiding 3rd down situations - averaging just 12 3rd downs per game, which is 6th lowest in the league.

Now, in situations of 3rd down and 6 or less to go, the Dolphins have converted 17 of 30 times - a very good ratio.  Unfortunately, the Dolphins are yet to convert a single 3rd and 7 or longer - they are 0 for 18.

This week, the Fins will have a chance to improve on their 3rd down conversions in Houston.  The Texans rank just 24th in the league in 3rd down defense, surrendering 1st downs on 43% of 3rd down situations.

Can Ronnie Brown keep on rolling along?
Last season, Ronnie Brown got off to a slow start in the first 2 games of the season.  He then broke out in week 3 with a big game, followed that up with another big game a week later, and entered Houston in week 5 as the main focal point of Miami's offense - and was the player that the Texans surely game-planned to stop.  The result?  Ronnie ran for 114 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.

This season?  Ronnie Brown got off to a slow start in the first 2 games.  He then broke out with a big game in week 3 and followed that up with his second consecutive big performance the following game.  Now Ronnie again will enter Houston as the focal point of the offense - and will be the player the Texans will game-plan to stop.

Kind of eerie, huh?  Let's just hope Brown can have the same kind of performance he had last season in Houston.

Luckily, there's no reason to think he will not.  Miami's offensive line continues to gel, the 'Wildcat' offense continues to provide a bit of unpredictability, and the Texans have trouble stopping the run.  Houston is 26th in the league in rush defense, allowing 139 yards per game on the ground while giving up 4.5 yards per carry.  They have also surrendered the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL: 8 in 4 games.

Could be another solid day for "Big Brown" - and no, not the horse.

Can the Dolphins do something they have never done?
The Dolphins and Texans have played 3 times.  Heading into each game, most of us Dolphin fans were rather confident our team could pull out the win.  And each time, we were wrong.

The Dolphins have never defeated the Texans.  But they've lost each of the 3 games by a total of 6 points.  So, essentially, the Dolphins would be making franchise history if they won this game in Houston.

Now some want to look past the Texans and dismiss them because of their 0-4 record.  But they really aren't your typical 0-4 team.  Of the 4 teams they've lost to, one is undefeated (Titans), another has just one loss (Steelers), and the other two were playoff teams in '07 (Jaguars and Colts).  And Houston has played much better the past two games, losing in overtime against the Jaguars in Jacksonville and blowing a 17-point lead with 5 minutes to play against the Colts because of some stupid mistakes by their backup QB (former Fin Sage Rosenfels).  Oh, and in between all these games, they happened to have a severe hurricane cut right through their city.  That might have been an issue, right?

The bottom line?  The Texans have historically given the Dolphins issues - and this 0-4 version will be no different.  Buckle down for a battle.

Those are my 5 "burning questions" for week 6.  Tell us all what you think below...