The Miami Dolphins had no answer for one of the league's elite quarterbacks this past Monday night. Now they'll have to figure out how to solve a Houston Texans team that is coming off one of its best games in franchise history.
Houston heads to Miami looking to open the season with two straight wins for the third time in team history after dismantling the Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts, 34-7, last Sunday. The Texans scored all of their points in the first half and limited the Colts to under 250 yards of total offense.
Also impressive was the Texans racing out to a big lead despite Foster sitting out the game with a hamstring injury. Ben Tate and Derrick Ward did an excellent job in his place, however, in a game that head coach Gary Kubiak called one of the best the team has ever played.
Kubiak also gave credit to new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
"He's done a hell of a job," Kubiak said. "We played good defense in a very short period of time. We got going really good. No doubt in my mind if we don't turn the ball over in the fourth quarter, it would have been even better."
While the defense enjoyed a resurgence under Phillips, the offense could get Foster back after he returned to practice on Wednesday for the first time since aggravating his hamstring on Aug. 27.
Kubiak said Foster took a normal workload for a starter in a positive practice. If the running back does play this weekend, the head coach doesn't think he will be limited.
"If he can play, you play," Kubiak said. "There won't be being careful with him. You may say this is how many times he's going to touch it, but you can't do something half-speed out there. We'd have to see, but if he's ready to go, he puts us at our best and he'll be out there."
The Dolphins will be looking to rebound after a 38-24 setback to New England on Monday night that saw Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throw for a team-record 517 yards and four touchdowns. Miami could do little to stop the reigning league MVP, who also hit on a 99-yard scoring pass to hand the Dolphins their fourth straight defeat dating back to last year.
Miami wasted a career game from its own quarterback, as Chad Henne threw for over 400 yards in a losing cause. In all, the two clubs combined for an NFL- record 933 passing yards, which topped the 927 yards totaled by Miami's Dan Marino and Ken O'Brien of the New York Jets back on Sept. 21, 1986.
"Not the defensive performance that we were hoping for," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "[The Patriots] had almost 700 yards of offense. That's an understatement."
One thing working in the Dolphins' favor is that the Texans haven't won on the road in almost a year, with Houston's most recent win as the visitor coming on Oct. 3 of the 2010 campaign. The Texans have lost their last six road games.
Houston has had the upper hand all throughout this rather brief series, having won all five of the meetings by seven points or less. That streak contains a pair of victories at Sun Life Stadium, including a 27-20 triumph during Week 16 of the 2009 season in the Texans' most recent encounter with the Dolphins. Houston also won a 21-20 squeaker in Miami in 2003.
Kubiak is 4-0 lifetime against the Dolphins, while Sparano has lost both of his career meetings with both Kubiak and Houston.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
Houston wasn't shy running the ball without Foster last weekend, ripping off 167 yards on 24 carries as a team. Ward (39 rushing yards, 1 TD) got the start in place of Foster, but left early because of an ankle injury that has him day- to-day. Tate (116 rushing yards, 1 TD) shouldered the load the rest of the way in his NFL debut after spending all of last season on injured reserve. Quarterback Matt Schaub (220 passing yards, 1 TD) had some short fields to work with following some Colts turnovers, though he can't be too happy with the pair of interceptions he threw in the win. He was sacked just once while completing 17-of-24 pass attempts, however. Wide receiver Andre Johnson (7 receptions) was targeted 11 times and finished with 95 receiving yards while hauling in Schaub's lone touchdown pass, with fellow wideout Kevin Walter making one catch before exiting with a shoulder injury. It was feared he suffered a fracture, but an MRI revealed just a bruise that still leaves his status for this game in doubt. Jacoby Jones, who will take over for Walter if he can't go, set a new club record with his fourth career special teams touchdown after taking a punt back 79 yards against the Colts.
The Dolphins will be licking their wounds before this game after allowing 622 yards of total offense in the national spotlight against the Patriots. The summary play came when defensive back Benny Sapp was beaten for Wes Welker's 99-yard score, and the nickel defender had his contract terminated during the week as a result. To take Sapp's place, Miami re-signed veteran Will Allen, one of the team's final cuts during training camp. He should step into a nickel role behind starters Vontae Davis (4 tackles) and Sean Smith (3 tackles). Safety Reshad Jones (12 tackles) led the Dolphins in tackles versus New England, while linebacker Cameron Wake (3 tackles) came away with the team's lone sack. Defensive end Jared Odrick (2 tackles) came up with an interception on a deflected pass, one of the defense's few highlights on the night.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
Henne did his best to keep the Dolphins in the game, throwing for a career- high 416 yards with a pair of touchdown passes. He also rushed for 59 yards and a score while getting picked off once and sacked four times. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall (7 receptions) got plenty of looks from his quarterback and ended with 139 receiving yards, and Reggie Bush was targeted often as well in his Dolphins' debut. The running back made nine catches for 56 yards with a score and rushed for another 38 yards on 11 carries. Wide receiver Davone Bess and tight end Anthony Fasano also had big games on Monday, with each making five catches and totaling 92 and 82 yards, respectively. Miami would like to see a better effort out of the offensive line, which is led by All-Pro left tackle Jack Long, after Henne was under consistent pressure in the opener.
Miami will be getting its first look at the Texans' new 3-4 scheme that had success a week ago. In his new role at outside linebacker, Mario Williams (2 tackles) had two sacks -- giving him 50 for his career -- along with a forced fumble, while defensive end Antonio Smith (3 tackles) added a sack and forced fumble of his own. Houston struggled against the pass a season ago, but held Indianapolis' Kerry Collins to just 197 yards through the air and a fourth- quarter touchdown pass. The new-look secondary features corner Johnathan Joseph (5 tackles) and safety Danieal Manning (2 tackles), both acquired as free agents during the offseason, while rookie defensive end J.J. Watt (5 tackles) also made his debut as a starter last week. Linebackers Brian Cushing (7 tackles) and DeMeco Ryans (6 tackles) also had solid games for Houston in the opener.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Dolphins will need to keep an eye on Johnson, who will be looking to go off in his hometown. The Miami-born wide receiver has 30 catches, 426 yards and three touchdowns in four career games against the Dolphins and will certainly be looking to copy what made the New England receivers so successful in Week 1.
The team that has the ball last just might win. Four of the five all-time meetings between these clubs have been decided by three points or less, including three in the final 30 seconds of the game. Schaub ran for a three- yard score to clinch a Houston win in 2008, while the Texans' Kris Brown was good on a field goal attempt from 57 yards out with one second to go in the previous season's matchup.
Miami's secondary will need to quickly forget last week; no silver linings, just get better. It is unfortunate that Sapp was the one to fall on the sword, but now the rest of the unit needs to turn the guilt into anger and big hits versus the Texans.
After getting torched through the air on Monday, the Dolphins will be facing a more balanced Houston attack and could have to contend with a rested -- and hopefully healthy -- Foster. Henne will be out to prove that last week's numbers were not a fluke, while Houston should also be looking to show that missing a matchup with Manning didn't lead to its big defensive showing. The Texans raised expectations for the season with their big Week 1 victory, but can't afford to take the foot off the gas in Miami.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 21, Dolphins 17