Previewing NFL Week 1 Opener: Miami Dolphins vs. Houston Texans
On Monday, I looked back at Miami's winners and losers from its training camp and the preseason. But now it's time to get to talk about what really matters: the regular season.
This Sunday, the Miami Dolphins will open the regular season in Houston against an impressive Texans squad. It will mark the beginning of a new era in Miami, with a new head coach, new coordinators and a rookie quarterback at the helm.
Unfortunately, they will run into a very talented Texans squad that is out to prove that their success last year was no fluke.
Miami defense vs. Houston offense
On offense, the Texans are led by quarterback Matt Schaub. Schaub isn't in the upper-echelon of NFL quarterbacks, but he's still a very reliable passer and game manager. Houston has an above-average offensive line, but Cameron Wake should be his usual disruptive self.
In the backfield, the Texans have arguably the NFL's best 1-2 punch in Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
While Foster should get most of the carries, there will be no time for Miami's defense to rest when Tate comes into the game. Last season, Tate averaged an outstanding 5.4 yards per carry on 175 attempts, which gave him 942 yards for the season.
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At tight end, Owen Daniels is an extremely talented pass-catcher who can get open anywhere on the field. Between the running backs and Daniels, Miami linebackers Kevin Burnett, Karlos Dansby and Koa Misi will have their hands full.
My favorite matchup will be when Sean Smith covers Andre Johnson. Both are about 6'3" and have a lot to prove. Smith is now the unquestioned No.1 cornerback in Miami with Vontae Davis gone, and Johnson's injury woes have earned him his share of doubters.
It should be fun to watch Houston's passing attack vs. Miami's defensive line and secondary, but Houston's running game will give Miami linebackers fits. The new 4-3 defense will be tested right away.
Miami offense vs. Houston defense
This could be a very long game for rookie Tannehill and the weak Miami receiving corps. Houston boasts one of the best defenses in the NFL, led by J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing, Antonio Smith, Connor Barwin, Johnathan Joseph and Brooks Reed.
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Jake Long will hold his own against Houston's attack, but rookie Jonathan Martin is bound to get overwhelmed by the constant pressure from every angle that makes the Texans so good.
The Texans play a unique 3-4/5-2 defensive scheme created by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. It is an incredibly effective formation that blitzes and fully utilizes the nonstop motors of Watt, Smith, Barwin and Reed. For more detail about Houston's defensive system, check out this awesome Football Outsider's article.
Cushing has turned himself into one of the best inside linebackers in the game, and he excels in Wade's system. Cushing attacks whoever is unfortunate enough to have the ball with a near-lethal ferocity.
I haven't even gotten to Johnathan Joseph yet. The veteran is a premier cover cornerback who will smother whichever average receiver that Miami decides to start.
Miami will have to try to control the clock with lots of rushes and short passes to Davone Bess, Anthony Fasano, Charles Clay and Reggie Bush. Daniel Thomas should get his chance to run straight through the middle of the field, which is the weakest part of Houston's defense.
Miami's offensive starters are going to have to keep their chins up after this game.
Miami and Houston both have solid kickers in Dan Carpenter and Shayne Graham. They both also have two of the better punters in the game, Brandon Fields for Miami and Donnie Jones for Houston.
But the Texans have a phenomenal return specialist in Trindon Holliday. The former 100-meter sprinter qualified for the semifinals in the 2008 United States Olympic trials and was a dynamic returner at LSU.
Holliday returned two punts and one kick for touchdowns during the preseason and is an electric presence that Miami will have to deal with.
Prediction: Houston wins 31-10.
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