Game Preview: Houston Texans at Miami Dolphins

Mandatory Credit: Photo by David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock (13272262jg) Houston Texans quarterback Kyle Allen (3) throws a pass against the San Francisco 49ers during an NFL preseason football game, in Houston 49ers Texans Football, Houston, United States – 25 Aug 2022

Game Preview: Houston Texans at Miami Dolphins

The Matchup:

Houston Texans (1-8-1) at Miami Dolphins (7-3)

Game time: Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, noon CT

TV/Radio: KHOU-11 (CBS)/ KILT-AM 610/KILT-FM 100.3/KLOL 101.1FM (Spanish)

What’s at stake: Instead of Nick Caserio deciding if Davis Mills is the right man to lead the Houston Texans, it could be Caserio deciding if Lovie Smith and Pep Hamilton are the right men to lead the Texans and their offense. Smith and Hamilton will now turn to veteran Kyle Allen to try to jump-start the NFL’s most anemic offense. The regression of Mills not only reflects poorly on Mills’ ability to be a long-term quarterback, but on Hamilton and Smith for failing to develop him. Mills has regressed significantly from his rookie season. Now that the quarterback decision has been made, the full-scale evaluation of the coaching staff should be underway.

For Miami, they find themselves in a dogfight with the Buffalo Bills for control of the AFC East. The Dolphins enter this game a half-game behind Buffalo, who improved to 8-3 with their win in Detroit on Thursday. The Dolphins boast the league’s third-best offense and second-best aerial attack. Tua Tagovailoa leads the NFL with a 9.1 yards per pass attempt average. He has two of the most dynamic weapons in the league in speedster Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

Hill said all offseason after his trade to Miami that Tua was just as good a quarterback as Tyreek’s former teammate in Kansas City, Patrick Mahomes, and said he would post better numbers with Tua than he did with the Chiefs. So far, Hill is backing up his boasting with a league-high 114.8 receiving yards per game. In 10 games (8 with Tua at QB), Hill has 81 receptions for 1,148 yards. Hill had 1,239 receiving yards in 2021 and is on pace to easily break his career high of 1,479 yards set in 2018.

Waddle, meanwhile, is seventh in the league in receiving yards per game with 87.8. He is accomplishing this despite going from the top receiving target a year ago to number two behind Hill this season. Waddle is averaging an incredible 17.2 YPC, the most in the NFL for any receiver with at least 35 receptions. His 878 receiving yards so far this season has him well on pace to blow past the 1,015 yards receiving he accumulated in his rookie season a year ago.

When the Texans have the ball: QB Kyle Allen will make his first start of the season for the Texans, with Davis Mills heading to the bench. Allen will need to be acutely aware of pressure up the middle, as the Texans’ weakest points of the offensive line this season have been at the guard position.

Rookie guard Kenyon Green has been battling through a shoulder injury for weeks (he was finally removed from this injury report this week) and has been struggling mightily. Green was charged with surrendering two sacks, two additional QB hits, two tackles for loss, and five QB pressures and was flagged three times last Sunday versus Washington. He has shown improper footwork and technique, and the results have his quarterback and running back paying the price. Veteran Justin McCray could be the next man up.

Houston’s preferred style of play is to pound the ball on the ground with star rookie Dameon Pierce and set up the passing game off of that. They will need to do a better job of blocking up front to get the running game going, as Pierce was constantly fighting off multiple defenders in the backfield versus the Commanders. Under Davis Mills, the passing game did not show it could be the lead part of the offense with the run game stalling, so Kyle Allen will be tasked with succeeding where Mills failed if the Texans cannot run the ball against Miami’s middle of the road (17th NFL) run defense.

In the passing game, Allen will look for his top two receivers, Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins. Neither is on the injury report in any fashion this week, and both are expected to be fully healthy and at their best. TE Jordan Akins has been a pleasant surprise for the team as a receiving option. Dare Ogunbowale has helped with pass-catching out of the backfield. Chris Moore has evolved into a solid third WR.

When the Dolphins have the ball: QB Tua Tagovailoa is having a breakout season. Miami’s third-year QB is completing 71% of his passes this season (2nd in NFL) with 2,265 yards and a fantastic 18:3 TD:INT ratio. The 18 TDs are already a career-high. The high-powered passing attack to Hill and Waddle is reminiscent of Dan Marino connecting with Mark Duper and Mark Clayton when Marino was establishing himself as a passing legend. While Tua is not at Marino’s level yet, the prowess of their passing game with their dynamic duo of receivers is at the top of the league.

The Texans will be without starting corner Derek Stingley Jr., and veteran Desmond King II will again fill in for him in the starting lineup. King drew most of the assignments a week ago against the Commanders’ top receiver Terry McLaurin. Washington, however, figured out quickly they didn’t need to be aggressive in the passing game against Houston, as the Texans’ offense couldn’t move the ball for nearly the entire game. Miami will not be afraid to throw it early and often.

Raheem Mostert has done most of the heavy lifting in the ground game for the Dolphins, but he is unlikely to play. Jeff Wilson Jr. has given Miami ground attack a new dimension, and with his speed. He seems the perfect complement to the Dolphins high powered passing attack. Wilson is a good receiver out of the backfield as well. Coming off a 17-carry, 119-yard performance against the Browns in Week 10, Wilson is a good bet to put up very strong numbers against the league’s worst run defense.

Key Texans to watch:

QB Kyle Allen: This one really goes without saying. Davis Mills has been terribly inconsistent all season. Mills’ critical turnovers, poor decision-making, and fourth-quarter failures have cost the Texans a multitude of games this season. Despite the deck being stacked against him, Allen has an opportunity to shine. Even in a loss, if Allen can play well, he should be able to hold onto the job and build a resume to earn a better contract than the one-year deal he signed in Houston this season. Now in his fifth year and on his third team, Allen may not have many more opportunities like this. The Texans are dead last in total offense; they are 26th in passing offense and 30th in scoring. Allen needs to play well enough to at least improve the points Houston puts on the board and avoid the devastating repeat three-and-outs that consistently occurred under Mills.

LG Kenyon Green: Texans offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said this week he expects Green to bounce back from a humbling performance a week ago versus Washington. Green has struggled for nearly a month, and last Sunday’s game was the worst. Green had also been battling a shoulder injury for several weeks, but he is no longer listed on the injury report. Green has shown flashes of being a road paver in the run game, but his pass-blocking technique has been suspect so far. Coaches have worked hard with him all year and particularly this week. The Texans need Green to be better to be successful on offense.

CB Desmond King II: Last week, King had to step into the starting lineup and face Washington’s top WR, Terry McLaurin, the majority of the time. This week he gets arguably the best WR in the NFL in Tyreek Hill. Hill has blazing speed and is a nightmare matchup for anyone, let alone a Texans secondary that plays a lot of soft zone and struggles with communication when receivers cross zones. King also handles punt return duties for the Texans, so he will have a very busy day ahead of him. Not only will he need to be at his absolute best, but safety Jonathan Owens needs to be as well, as he will be the over-the-top help.

RB Dameon Pierce: The Dolphins are 17th in the NFL in rush defense, allowing nearly 117 YPG on the ground. As Pierce goes, so goes any chance of the Texans’ offense being successful. After being shut down by a Washington front that completely dominated the Texans’ offensive line, Pierce needs to rebound Sunday to help his team and his new starting quarterback to be successful. While that success may not necessarily all be up to him (it’s hard to be successful when you have to break at least two tackles on every carry just to get back to the line of scrimmage), Pierce needs to find a way to assert himself and impose his will on this football game without jeopardizing his ball security.

The Bottom Line: This game figures to be a matchup nightmare for the Texans. Miami has two of the fastest receivers in the league in Hill and Waddle, and Tua has only been sacked eight times in eight games. If the Texans can’t get pressure on Tua, he will have all day to let Hill and Waddle find a way to get open. There is no secondary in the NFL that can cover both of those guys for six-plus seconds all game long. Add in the fact that Houston will also have to deal with Wilson in the run game, and the potential for disaster for the Texans starts to get very real. The Texans will need to score more points than they have all season to keep up with Miami’s offense, and it is extremely unlikely they will. Even if Allen plays far better than Mills has this season, the offense is limited by its lower-end overall talent and suspect interior offensive line. The defense will need a herculean effort, and Allen will need to lead the offense to its largest points production just to keep this game close.

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