Enjoy the bye week? I know I did, which is always easy when you can use that time to bask in our Dolphins’ sitting astride a 4-game win streak capped by a 39-17 stomping of their week 10 opponent. While we didn’t get everything we hoped for from Thursday’s games (the Lions were awfully close to beating those Bills, though), we did get the Pats taking an L in the late game. Yet another gift from the football gods.
On to what’s in store for the Fins on Sunday.
The Week That Was (two Sundays ago)
The short version is that in Week 10, the Browns came down to South Beach and ran into a version of the Dolphins that was just too much. If the Dolphins before this game was when Thanos had one or two Infinity Stones, then Cleveland ran into them when they had all six stones in the gauntlet. What followed was the Dolphins snapping the Browns into oblivion. The passing game was humming, and new acquisition Jeff Wilson blew the run game open. This potent, balanced offensive attack backed the Browns’ offense into a tight corner they couldn’t squirm out of. It was by far the most complete and comfortable of Miami’s 7 wins this season.
As for my personal predictions, I’m continuing to do well on the overall win/loss side of things. Once again, I was well off the mark in terms of margin of victory, and I couldn’t be happier:
driftinscotty’s 2022 Game Predictions
|1||Patriots||W, 31-17||W, 20-7|
|2||@Ravens||W, 27-24||W, 42-38|
|3||Bills||L, 34-27||W, 21-19|
|4||@Bengals||L, 27-24||L, 27-15|
|5||@Jets||W, 23-20||L, 40-17|
|7||Steelers||W, 27-16||W, 16-10|
|8||@Lions||W, 27-20||W, 31-27|
|9||@Bears||W, 34-17||W, 35-32|
|10||Browns||W, 34-27||W, 39-17|
Next up, kicking off the seven-game final major leg of the season, are the Houston Texans.
What do the team numbers look like for these two clubs?
Dolphins & Texans Major Team Stats
|Passing Yards||293.8 (2nd)||192.2 (26th)|
|Rushing Yards||97.7 (27th)||93.7 (29th)|
|Points Scored||25.2 (6th)||15.9 (30th)|
|Pass Yards Allowed||239.8 (22nd)||210.7 (14th)|
|Run Yards Allowed||116.9 (16th)||178.9 (32nd)|
|Points Allowed||24.1 (21st)||23 (17th)|
|Net Turnovers||-2 (tie 24th)||-2 (tie 24th)|
|Against Penalty Yards||49.7 (18th)||39.3 (4th)|
The Dolphins’ numbers look quite good in a couple of areas, decent in most others, and bad in their running game. While I feel that nearly all the numbers for Miami are accurate reflections of their strengths and weaknesses, those run-game numbers are misleading, as anyone who’s watched the Dolphins in recent weeks knows. Yes, they were really bad through the first six games of the season, averaging only 81.2 ground yards per game. And that average is dragged up a fair bit by their 137-yard rushing game against the Jets - the only game in that first half dozen where they rushed for more than 86 yards. In their last 4 games, in contrast, the Fins have averaged 122.5 yards per game, and that’s including the unspectacular 77 yards against Chicago. The Dolphins’ run game is on the uptick, and we have every reason to think that it will be very solid for the rest of the season.
The Texans’ numbers are pretty atrocious, as one might expect of a team with a record of 1-8-1. Key offensive stats all ranked 26th or worse. On the other side of the ball, the pass defense might look decent, until you realize that their run defense is dead last by a West Texas mile. Why pass much against a team when you can take the safer route of just running them to death? Houston has been OK in net turnovers, and they’re fairly disciplined in terms of penalties. Those are nice, but they aren’t nearly enough to overcome the massive struggles in larger areas of the game.
The numbers and record sure paint a bleak picture of the Texans, but how do they actually look on film? I watched most of their previous two games to see if there is a path for them to pull off a major upset in Miami.
Texans Week 10 vs Giants and Week 11 vs Commanders
Week 10: Houston at NY Giants: The Texans rolled into the Meadowlands to face the surprising New York Giants, who were 6-2 heading into the game. Watching the 30-minute, Sunday Ticket Shortcuts version of this game was what I imagine it was like to watch a 1923 football game between the Milwaukee Badgers and the Dayton Triangles (yes, those were real NFL teams). A somewhat slow, mostly dull game where it was obvious who the better team was, without the score indicating it. It was 7-3 Giants at the half. New York quickly drove for a TD to go up 14-3 a few minutes into the 3rd quarter, and the Texans responded with a 4-and-a-half-minute TD drive of their own to put the score at 14-10. From that still-competitive point, the Giants slowly and steadily choked the Texans out. A short Saquon Barkley TD run capped a long drive to make the score 21-10 with about 2 minutes left in the 3rd. What followed was nearly 15 minutes of back-and-forth jostling, a fumble, and a few punts until Houston managed a field goal to get the score to 21-13 with 2:22 left in the game. The two teams exchanged field goals in those final couple of minutes, resulting in a final score of 24-16. Houston dropped to 1-7-1 on the season, keeping a solid grip on the worst record in the NFL. What I saw in this game was a Houston team that really is as bad as their record and rankings suggest. Yes, they play hard. Yes, they moved the ball OK at times, but it was rarely sustained. Running back Dameon Pierce was clearly the best player on the Texans, putting together a nice day on the ground. That was about the only clear-cut, consistent positive for Houston. They had two bad turnovers, compared to none by the Giants. The defense was consistently poor at open-field tackling, which helped Giants RB Saquon Barkley go nuts to the tune of 35 carries, 152 yards, and a touchdown.
Week 11: Houston vs Washington: The following week, while the Dolphins were resting up, the Texans hosted the 5-5 Washington Commanders, who were coming off a nice prime-time win over the previously undefeated Eagles (and all the denizens of Perfectville thank Washington for this). One might predict the Texans to fare better at home against a team with less hype and a worse record than the Giants. One would be very, very wrong. This game was an absolute disgrace for Houston - one that I stopped watching at the half. The score was 20-0 at halftime, and the Texans had a grand total of -1 net yards of offense at that point. You’re reading that right - negative. one. yard. Total. After a full 30 minutes of football against a good but not elite Washington defense. The final score was 23-10, which might suggest a semi-competitive game, but trust me it wasn’t even close. Despite the “Riverboat Ron” nickname, Commanders head coach Ron Rivera is a pretty conservative coach who isn’t going to take risks or run up the score on anyone. Once it was abundantly clear who the better team was, he kept the offense firmly planted on the ground. Not a bad idea when your QB is a grade-C guy like Taylor Heinecke and you can literally run out the clock. From that first half of play, I saw a Houston Texans team that looked utterly out-classed. The creatively challenged and talent-bereft offense could do nothing against Washington. Houston’s defense, as they did in New York the prior week, was often caught out of position and/or misdiagnosing plays, ending up too far away from ball carriers or pass receivers to stop them before they racked up plenty of yards. I really did pity Houston by the middle of the second quarter, as they just looked so overmatched in every aspect. Athletically. Schematically. Football IQ. The phrase “out of their league” is overused, but it was completely appropriate for this game.
Those are some details of the Houston Texans’ recent woes. How do they stack up against the Fins?
Dolphins vs. Texans Unit Matchups
Dolphins Offense vs Texans Defense: I have nearly every reason to think that the Dolphins running backs can do against Houston what they did against Cleveland, and then some. Even more than the Browns, the Texans struggle to plug running lanes and bring down running backs on first contact. Miami’s offensive line has shown improved run blocking, which former 49ers Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. took full advantage of in week 10 against the Browns. Barring a miraculous jump by the Texans defenders in diagnosing skills and tackling technique, I see Mostert and Wilson having plenty of success. In terms of the Fins’ impressive passing game, they should be able to get most anything they want. In their game against New York and Washington, I saw Houston linebacking and DB units that would get caught out of position, leaving pass-catchers a ton of open space on short and intermediate routes. And that was against teams with no truly scary receivers. Against Hill, Waddle, Gesicki, Sherfield, and Wilson? It wouldn’t surprise me if the Dolphins offense puts up their second 500-plus yard game on the season (the week 2 win over Baltimore was the other).
Tremendous Advantage: Dolphins
Dolphins Defense vs. Texans Offense: Slight curve ball thrown by the Texans on Wednesday by announcing that Davis Mills is being benched for backup Kyle Allen. And by “slight curve ball” here, I mean the kind of curve ball that Pedro Cerrano smashed 450 feet over the wall in the final minutes of Major League. Naming Allen the starter doesn’t really change all that much, in my opinion. The “stronger” part of Houston’s offense is their run game, but not by much. Dameon Pierce seems a very good running back who’s working behind a poor offensive line, Laremy Tunsil aside (Tunsil is actually having an excellent individual season). The Dolphins’ defense has been great against the run. The only teams that have put up big ground yards on them were the Ravens and Bears, who feature the two freakiest athletic running QBs in the game today: Lamar Jackson and Justin Fields. Guess what? Kyle Allen ain’t Jackson or Fields. In his 21 career games played across four and a half seasons (17 starts), Allen has run the ball a grand total of 46 times for 162 yards. The Dolphins front seven may just exhaust themselves tackling RBs and Allen in the backfield if history is any indication. Miami’s pass defense is more suspect, as we know. However, the Houston passing game is extremely unremarkable. They’re not tragic, but there is simply nothing scary about them. Their lone established pass-catcher is Brandin Cooks, and he has been playing below his standards this season. This is likely because even less-than-stellar pass defenses can key in on him and virtually wipe him out. Sounds like a job for Xavien Howard. I had to actually check on Kyle Allen’s history, and it’s what you would expect of a guy many of us had barely heard of. Most of his real experience came in 2019 when he took over for an injured Cam Newton and started 12 games for the Carolina Panthers squad that finally got Ron Rivera fired. Allen accumulated some numbers that look passable to the eye, but become far less impressive when you realize that he was basically dumping the ball off to Christian McCaffrey a third of the time. McCaffrey, as you probably remember, racked up nearly 2,400 all yards from scrimmage that season, including over 1,000 receiving yards. Whatever minor upgrade Allen may provide over Mills is likely to be mitigated by the facts that this will be his first start since week 9 of 2020 and that Houston does not boast a Christian McCaffrey-type game-breaker. Given this and a dubious offensive line, I don’t see Houston posing any great threat against Miami’s defense here.
Advantage: Solidly Dolphins
Special Teams, Penalties, and Other Aspects
Special Teams: The Dolphins have their issues on special teams, mostly due to Jason Sanders regressing into a below-average placekicker this season. Coverage has been a little shaky at times, and the punt game also runs hot and cold. Overall, Miami’s special teams are mediocre. Houston’s are pretty bad. While their placekicker Ka’imi Fairbairn and punter Cameron Johnston have been pretty good, nearly every other aspect of the Texans special teams has been poor. Bad coverage has led to consistently big returns. While the Fins don’t have a killer kick returner as in the recent past, there may be some yards to steal here. Advantage: slightly Dolphins.
Penalties: Miami has had its problems with penalties, but there is reason for hope. While their average penalty yards incurred per game aren’t great - just under 50 per - a lot of this was due to their two ridiculously sloppy games in weeks 5 and 6 against the Jets and Vikings, both losses. They committed 11 penalties for 102 yards in New York and 10 for 97 against Minnesota. Since then, they’ve mostly returned to the solid discipline of the first four weeks. The game against Detroit in week 8 was rocky, for sure, but in each of the last four games, the Fins have incurred 30, 55, 38, and 43 yards in penalties. Those are a vast improvement and a sign that they're getting the issue under control. Houston is actually one of the better teams in the NFL in avoiding penalties, so I think the teams are currently matched evenly in this realm.
Coaching: I feel for Lovie Smith. Since a very nice nine-season run as the Bears’ head coach between 2004 and 2012, including the Superbowl run of 2006, he’s been handed two awful head coaching situations. The first was a shambles of a Buccaneers team in 2014, and the second is this gig in Houston. Smith proved he was a good head coach in Chicago. He knows ball, and by all accounts, his players enjoy playing for him. He’s doing what he can with a roster that simply has a woeful lack of talent. Mike McDaniel is currently making himself a strong case for a Coach of the Year Award, thanks to the offense he’s orchestrated and how he’s addressed the issues that the Dolphins had last year and even earlier this season. The area of coaching is closer than you might think, given Smith’s resume and his unenviable situation, but I’m going to give McDaniel the slight nod here. Despite Smith’s much longer resume, he’s not the kind of mad scientist who is likely to concoct a genius game strategy to catch McDaniel by surprise.
Injuries: It wouldn’t be a 2022 Dolphins game if a starting player didn’t sustain a season-ending injury. In week 10, it was defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. This would normally be a harsh blow, even though Ogbah hasn’t been nearly as impactful this season; fortunately, the Dolphins’ front seven is quite deep, and they had just added pass-rushing ace Bradley Chubb two weeks prior. As far as guys who came into this week with realistic chances to play, the Fins are in their best shape of the season, all told. The surprise bummer of this week is that Raheem Mostert practiced very little and is listed as DOUBTFUL for Sunday. Teddy Bridgewater is QUESTIONABLE, but everyone else is a full go. That’s awesome. The only Houston player affected is rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., which is actually a bit of a hit. Stingley has been solid, and was about the only Texans’ DB who may have been able to offer real help against the Dolphins’ laser bombardment of a receiving corps.
Other Elements: The game is in Miami, which adds another advantage in the Fins’ favor. It isn’t looking to be especially hot now that we’re in late November, but the sun and the home crowd will still have a few things to say. The Miami defense also once again showed to be much stronger at home than on the road, limiting the Browns offense to 17 points, which was 8 points below their season average to that point. The Dolphins are coming off their bye week, which is nearly always a benefit in terms of healing and preparation. The Texans, conversely, are coming off of a home game against the Washington Commanders, who made sure to deliver a bevy of gut punches for 60 minutes in the form of 40 rushing plays for 153 yards over the course of their game.
Dolphins 45, Texans 17
Maybe I’m high on Week 10, enhanced by the upper of two weeks of legit Dolphins hype by the national media. Maybe I’m Charlie Brown running at the football that Lucy is holding, yet again. Whatever. Everything I’ve seen from these two teams the last few weeks adds up to ample evidence for me to predict the first all-out, “get your popcorn ready” beatdown. Yes, the trap game notion is always in effect with a game like this. But this Dolphins team, from the head coach right on down through the entire roster, is filled with guys who have a ton left to prove. The only player on this team who has been in the playoffs in a Dolphins uniform is Xavien Howard. Any piece of audio or video you see from these guys tells me that they aren’t doing any big victory laps over being 7-3, and they need to keep working this offense into its final form - one that truly can strike fear into the hearts of the Bills and Chiefs. That means taking every opportunity to perfect their system in real games, even games against a bottom-feeding team like the Houston Texans. It’s not even that I think this will be a mean-spirited, unnecessarily cruel evisceration. I just think that the Fins’ speedy, big-play guys like Hill, Waddle, Mostert, and even Wilson will just find themselves wide-open spaces to run through, right into the end zone multiple times.
Is it too much? Am I just floating along the crest of a manic episode? Are you feeling my euphoric optimism right now, or do you think our Dolphins are swimming toward a massive fishing net? Let us know how you’re feeling in the comments section below.