Sunday's game exposed the Dolphins as a team that lacks firepower, consistency, discipline and execution.These issues surfaced at the outset of the preseason, but rather than rectify them, Jeff Ireland continued stripping the team of talent by cutting Chad Johnson and trading Vontae Davis.
Now, these issues are becoming paramount and they're creating more pressing questions for the team to answer. Unless these questions are addressed and answered, then it's difficult to see the Dolphins winning more than a handful of games in 2012.
Here's a question for you to ponder:
Do the Miami Dolphins have enough firepower to overcome multiple score deficits?
If the Dolphins find themselves behind by, say, 21 points—like they did entering the second half of Sunday's game—who's going to step up and lead the charge? And, for that matter, can the Dolphins even overcome a 14-point deficit?
Reggie Bush can move the chains and provide explosiveness, but once defenses key on him, the Phins will be forced to resort to their passing attack. Then, can Ryan Tannehill slice up secondaries with Anthony Armstrong, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess?
The Dolphins will fall behind early and often this season. Unless Ryan Tannehill develops chemistry with Armstrong and Hartline—his only deep threats—then it's going to be a long, frustrating season.
Ryan Tannehill registered 36 pass attempts on Sunday.
According to Pro Football Focus, only seven of those pass attempts went for more than 10 yards.
Even though the Dolphins entered the second half trailing by 21 points, Mike Sherman never let Tannehill unleash his arm and take shots downfield. Tannehill completed his only passing attempt of 20-plus yards, a 34-yard completion to Brian Hartline in the fourth quarter.
Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman designed a very conservative gameplan for obvious reasons. Tannehill and his supporting cast were a visible mismatch for the Texans' Super Bowl-caliber defense, and the Dolphins tried to combat this by emphasizing short, quick routes and ball control.
Yet, even when Miami fell behind, Tannehill hardly became more aggressive.
This issue dates back to the preseason, when the Dolphins also limited his aggressiveness and downfield passes.
Is there a lack of trust from the coaching staff? Are his wideouts not getting sufficiently open? Next week's game against the Oakland Raiders is a much less daunting matchup for Tannehill and the Phins, and it'll provide us with an opportunity to answer these questions.
The Dolphins have a great deal of faith in Brian Hartline.
He was penciled in as a starter when Brandon Marshall was dealt, and despite missing the entire offseason with an assortment of injuries, he was on the field for 38 snaps—59 percent of Miami's offensive plays—on Sunday, according to Football Outsiders.
Hartline reeled in three receptions for 50 yards, which is admirable given his extended absence this summer. But, he was a ghost until the fourth quarter. He caught all three of his receptions in the fourth quarter, and only caught three of his six targets.
As he catches up on lost practice time and develops chemistry with Ryan Tannehill, Hartline can become a focal point of this offense. However, Hartline is stepping into a prominent role for the first time in his career. The Dolphins will lean on him to multiply his production from years past, but there's still no guarantee he'll answer the call.
After a pleasing preseason, all signs pointed to a breakthrough season for Daniel Thomas. In Miami's final two exhibition games, he accrued 60 rushing yards on 11 carries. He ran with a purpose, wasn't hesitant to hit the hole and finally looked healthy.
On Sunday, Thomas got off to a great start, rushing three times for 11 yards and turning a broken screen pass into a 32-yard gain.
But, old ghosts soon came back to haunt him.
First, Thomas fumbled. Ball security has been an issue dating back to his days at Kansas State, when he fumbled 11 times in two seasons. Last season, he coughed up the football twice on just 165 carries.
Then, he left the game with a concussion, which raises another recurring issue: injuries. Although Thomas was a durable workhorse in college, he missed three games and struggled with a hamstring injury for much of the 2011 season.
Thomas can be a huge asset and focal point for Miami's offense, but if he can't hold onto the football and stay off the trainer's table, then he won't even garner a chance to justify his second-round draft billing.
After regrettably signing Gibril Wilson to a five-year, $27 million deal in 2009, the Dolphins have strayed far away from investing money and high draft picks into the safety position.
If you can't protect a rookie quarterback, then you risk destroying his confidence (See: David Carr, Blaine Gabbert).
With Jonathan Martin and John Jerry assembling the right side of his offensive line, Ryan Tannehill is at risk of becoming the next name on that list.
On Sunday, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt dominated Jonathan Martin. Watt batted down three passes—which is both Tannehill and Martin's fault—and registered a sack and four quarterback hurries.
Jerry was better, but not by a landslide. He struggled in pass protection as well, yielding three quarterback hurries.
Ironically, Tannehill was at his best under pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, he was under pressure on 13 snaps. Tannehill was sacked twice, but completed seven of 11 pass attempts for 77 yards and one interception.
Martin and Jerry deserve some slack because Houston's front seven is arguably elite. Still, both need to shore up their play, or the Dolphins' passing game won't look much better than it did on Sunday.
The Dolphins signed Richard Marshall to play nickelback, but when Jeff Ireland shipped Vontae Davis to Indianapolis, those plans changed.
Now, Marshall has to step outside to the boundary and help defend opposing teams' best wide receivers. After getting torched in preseason game action, expectations weren't particularly high heading into Sunday's game.
Marshall played fairly well, racking up five tackles and two pass deflections, but not all was good. Texans wide receiver Lestar Jean nearly beat him for a long touchdown reception that was ruled incomplete. Marshall was also flagged for a 27-yard pass interference penalty and yielded at least three receptions to Andre Johnson.
Overall, this game wasn't a particularly positive or negative development for Marshall. But, if he doesn't shutdown whoever he's matched up with against the Raiders next weekend, then it's time to worry.
Only two NFL starters, Matt Cassel and Mark Sanchez, started fewer collegiate games than Ryan Tannehill. After starting only 19 games at Texas A&M—and playing only two seasons as quarterback—the Dolphins deemed him ready to start regardless.
Is he ready, or have the Dolphins rushed him into the starting job?
Tannehill made mechanical and mental mistakes throughout Sunday's game. Most notably, his low delivery allowed Texans defensive linemen to bat down four passes at the line of scrimmage, two of which were intercepted.
He also failed to go through a full progression and locked onto his first read often, which is something he struggled with in the preseason as well.
We can't conclude anything about Tannehill after one game against a topflight defense, but he clearly needs a great deal of refinement. Ultimately, it's up to Tannehill to maintain his confidence and improve rather than lose it and regress.
But, if he flops, then the Dolphins will be harshly criticized for starting him right away—not to mention set back for another few years.