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Chris Perkins: Five things to watch for in Dolphins-Texans


The Miami Dolphins (7-3) host the Houston Texas, (1-8-1) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium; here are five things to watch for in the game:

Tua and Dolphins’ offense

Let’s see if the Dolphins offense can continue finding different ways to win, a skill that will come in handy down the line. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been among the NFL’s best in the past three weeks with a passer rating of at least 135.0 in each game while totaling nine touchdowns and no interceptions. In the meantime, running back Jeff Wilson Jr. rushed for 119 yards in the 39-17 victory over Cleveland on Nov. 13, the pass protection unit hasn’t allowed a sack in the past two games, and eight players caught a pass vs. the Browns.

In other words, the offense is showing amazing diversity, especially when you consider wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle combined for just nine receptions, 110 yards and one touchdown against Cleveland. Recently, the run game has been effective, the passing game has been effective, and the same is true for pass protection, run blocking, execution and play-calling. Of course, the Dolphins have been playing the so-called “soft” part of the schedule, but consider this in-season training for the rough part of the schedule, which comes after the Houston game.

Dolphins’ pass protection vs. Texans DL Jerry Hughes

Dolphins fans are familiar with Texans defensive lineman Jerry Hughes from his days with Buffalo (2013-21). Hughes is tied for 10th in the league with 8.0 sacks. He moves from side to side so Dolphins left tackle Terron Armstead and right tackle Brandon Shell will be busy. The Dolphins will also have to be aware of the Texans’ stunts up front.

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Armstead has done a great job this season against elite pass rushers but we’ll see whether Shell, who has done well, can keep things going for a pass protection unit that’s only allowed two sacks the past three games (both against Detroit) and none in the past two games. Recent history has shown if the Dolphins can keep Tagovailoa upright and out of danger, good things will happen in the passing game.

Dolphins’ pass rush trio of Chubb, Phillips and Ingram

Houston, which is starting quarterback Kyle Allen instead of Davis Mills, has allowed 28 sacks, tied for 10th-most in the league. The Dolphins’ 20 sacks are tied for 26th in the NFL, but they’re still experimenting with ways to effectively use their pass-rushing trio of edge rushers Bradley Chubb, Jaelan Phillips and Melvin Ingram. We’ve seen the trio used in various ways the past two games, since the Dolphins acquired Chubb in a trade-deadline deal from Denver.

But mostly look for Chubb on the right edge, where he’s played 75% of his snaps with the Dolphins. Look for Phillips on the left side, where he has played 66% of his snaps since Chubb’s acquisition. Ingram has played 57% of his snaps on the right side since Chubb’s acquisition. If he’s comfortable on the inside that could be where the bulk of his snaps come when he’s on the field along with Chubb and Phillips. But the Dolphins need to find ways to generate a pass rush as they head into the last seven games of the regular season.

Dolphins’ run defense vs. Texans RB Dameon Pierce

The Dolphins are 16th in run defense at 116.9 yards per game. Texans rookie running back Dameon Pierce is seventh in the NFL with 780 yards rushing, three touchdowns and a 4.5 yards per carry average. But he’s coming off a season-worst 10 yards on eight carries in a 23-10 loss to Washington. Pierce is fourth in the league in rushing attempts (175) so he’ll get his chances.

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But Pierce only has 354 yards before contact, which ranks 19th in the league. Among others in the top seven in rushing yards, only Las Vegas’ Josh Jacobs, who is No. 3 in rushing yards, is close to Pierce in yards before contact with 293, which ranks 12th. On the other hand, Pierce’s 426 yards after contact ranks fifth in the league. Oh, and Pierce is second in the league in broken tackles at 22, just behind Tennessee’s Derrick Henry (23) and ahead of Cleveland’s Nick Chubb (21). Houston’s best chance of offensive success rides on Pierce.

Keeping focus on Texans, not looking ahead

The Texans probably aren’t good enough for this to be considered a trap game. Houston is on a five-game losing streak, the longest current slide in the league, while the Dolphins are on a four-game winning streak, which is tied with Kansas City and Baltimore for the longest in the NFL.

Houston fans probably would like for their team to lose so they can get a step closer to the No. 1 pick on the 2023 draft, but Texans players will try to win so the Dolphins can’t take this team lightly. Yes, Houston is a bad team, and, yes, Houston hasn’t scored more than 24 points in a game this season. But it might be worth noting its only victory was on the road, a 13-6 decision at Jacksonville. That’s not worth noting? OK, well, I apologize. I tried to provide a little intrigue.

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