DOLPHINS // TEXANS OVERVIEW
Following the game on Thursday night, one of these two teams will be sitting pretty at 5-3 — with the Dolphins jumping out to a surprise 4-3 record to start the year, and with the Texans reeling off four consecutive wins after their 0-3 start. Brock Osweiler and the Dolphins’ banged-up offense are not getting much respect from Vegas, as 7.5 point underdogs — traveling to Houston on a short week.
This game pairs two contrasting styles of play, as Houston ranks fourth in pace of play to Miami’s 30th. Each team runs the ball at an above-average rate (Miami is 20th in pass play rate; Houston is 23rd), and each team allows a (slightly) above-average number of opponent plays per game. Miami runs the second fewest plays per game, while Houston runs the sixth most plays per game. Miami has been poor at sustaining drives (27th in DSR) and has lived off the big play. Houston ranks sixth in drive success rate allowed, creating a tough spot for the Dolphins’ offense.
The one big edge Miami has is in the red zone. Their defense ranks seventh in red zone touchdown rate allowed, while the Texans rank 31st in red zone touchdown rate on offense.
DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE
This is the big question mark, with Albert Wilson and Kenny Stills both out of action this week — leaving behind only underneath man Danny Amendola, gadget player Jakeem Grant, and disgruntled DeVante Parker — with Brock Osweiler at quarterback.
Given what we know about Adam Gase and his willingness to win ugly, we should expect a few things here:
1. We should expect the Dolphins to come into this game with four or five “outside the norm” plays (I don’t want to use the term “trick plays,” as that’s not exactly what I expect; but more “unusual looks and designs” that the Texans will not have seen before, in the hopes of throwing them off balance).
2. We should expect Miami to use extra motion and misdirection in this game, in the hopes of springing something free.
3. We should expect a run-leaning approach — even against a defense that ranks second in yards allowed per carry, compared to 12th in passing yards allowed per game.
Hopefully, we will also see Kenyan Drake involved more heavily in the pass game, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
In two games with Osweiler under center, Amendola has seen target counts of 11 and seven — good for a respectable 24% of the total passes thrown. While crazy things can happen in the NFL (see Kearse, Jermaine), we should expect him to soak up the bulk of the targets on the Dolphins this week — giving him a very safe floor. Amendola is averaging a lowly 9.5 yards per reception, so he’ll need a touchdown to make a big box score dent, but he’s as good a bet as anyone on this offense to push the ball into the end zone, and he has the most reliable workload on the team.
Albert Wilson (5’9″, 4.43 40 time) has seen most of his targets within five yards of the line of scrimmage — primarily with jet sweep action, slants, and wide receiver screens — and this is likely how the Dolphins will use Grant (5’6″, 4.34 40 time — though if you ask Texas Tech, they think he ran in the 4.1s (okay…)). Before getting injured last week, Wilson had seen target counts on the year of 5 // 5 // 2 // 6 // 6 // 9. Some guesswork is obviously required here, but the likeliest outcome is five to six targets for Grant — giving him a non-awful floor and big upside with the ball in his hands. It is worth noting that Houston ranks top eight in YAC allowed per reception.
Parker is a true wildcard in this spot. He wants out of Miami, and the Dolphins seem to want him out, so maybe both sides put on a showcase — with Parker bringing his “A” game, and with Miami trying to get him the ball. Absent that narrative, expectations would be more modest, though Miami has allowed Osweiler to attack downfield. Last week, nine of Brock’s passes traveled 15 or more yards, while four traveled 25+. Houston’s pass rush can make deep passing difficult, but their secondary is non-threatening, and it would make sense for Parker to see at least four to six targets this week, even on the low end of projections.
This passing attack wraps up with Mike Gesicki, who has two to five targets in each of his last five games. Gesicki is a talented, athletic, but raw rookie at a difficult position, and has not yet put it all together on the field — setting a “career high” last week with 44 yards, and failing to score on four red zone targets (with minus one yard on his two targets so far inside the 10). Houston has been a middling matchup so far this year for tight ends.
DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE
In addition to running the second-fewest plays in the NFL, Miami has continued to split carries between Frank Gore and Drake, with Gore seeing touch counts over the last four weeks of 13 // 12 // 16 // 11, and with Drake responding with touch counts of 4 // 13 // 17 // 10. Only four of Gore’s touches in that stretch have been receptions, while Drake has hauled in 16 catches. Drake has three touches inside the 10-yard-line, to six such touches for Gore. Houston has been elite on the ground, allowing the second fewest yards per carry and only one rushing touchdown on the year, though they have been middle of the pack against pass-catching backs. It seems likely that Miami leans a bit more on Drake as this game moves along, giving him a shot at something like eight carries and four to six receptions.
TEXANS PASS OFFENSE
A Miami pass-rushing unit that has struggled early in the season (they entered last week ranked 29th in adjusted sack rate) will have a chance to get on track a bit against a Houston team that has taken the third most sacks in the league, but they could otherwise find themselves in trouble this week against DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, as they have been middling in both aDOT and catch rate allowed, and no team in the NFL has allowed more YAC per reception.
The best film for Houston to watch will be the Oakland and Cincy games against the Dolphins, where each team was able to spring their featured receiver free for some big gains (Jordy Nelson for Oakland; A.J. Green for Cincy) by running intermediate crossing routes moving from the left side of the field to the right. The extra traffic created with these routes was able to loosen coverage enough for each receiver to have a big game, and we should see a similar approach this week with DeAndre Hopkins. In spite of coverage from Xavien Howard, Green was able to post 6-112-0 in this matchup on 10 targets. Hopkins should see double-digit targets this week after dropping below that mark the last two weeks against Tre’Davious White and Jalen Ramsey.
Miami has not gotten hit for many downfield passes this year, but they have given up their fair share of big plays on short passes and yards after the catch. This is how the Lions attempted to use Golden Tate last week, and it is how the Patriots used Phillip Dorsett against Miami. Expect Hopkins to get some of these looks as well, but Fuller should be schemed a few wide receiver screens, and should also be used on short routes on the perimeter (same as he was used last week). He’ll have a shot at some big gains with the ball in his hands.
With Keke Coutee out again following an aggravation of his hamstring injury, targets should be concentrated on Hopkins and Fuller. Vyncint Smith (four targets on the year) will fill in, while RB/KR Tyler Ervin (two catches on the year) is expected to see some plays as well. Behind the wide receivers, the tight ends remain uninvolved, with Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas combining for one target last week in the absence of Ryan Griffin, one week after Griffin goose-egged on five looks.
TEXANS RUN OFFENSE
Lamar Miller is not Kerryon Johnson, but this is still an above-average matchup for the Texans’ lead back. The Dolphins rank 22nd in yards allowed per carry, and only seven teams have allowed more touchdowns on the ground. The Dolphins have also allowed the fourth-most rushing yards per game and the sixth-most running back receptions. Most of these receptions have come from teams attacking Miami’s slow linebackers with speed, but Miller does have recent target counts of 6 // 0 // 3 // 3, which adds a small boost to expectations. He has recent carry counts of 10 // 14 // 15 // 22, and we should expect 16 to 20 touches for him in this spot.
Nothing in this game pops out on the full-weekend slate, though Hopkins is a matchup-proof receiver who should post a solid score no matter what, and who has the upside to post the highest score on the slate even in a slower-paced game against a top corner. Fuller also carries nice upside, with solid floor. Games against Miami always carry pace and play volume concerns, so layer in some added risk if considering them on the full-weekend slate. The upside, of course, is there.
On the Showdown (as always), the best approach will be to attack with multiple lineups — mixing and matching various “likeliest to happen” elements with one or two “less likely to happen” elements.
Floor rankings in this game for me go: Hopkins // Deshaun Watson // Osweiler // Fuller // Amendola // Miller // Drake // Grant // Gore // Parker. (Each of these teams ranks top 12 in fewest fantasy points per game allowed to quarterbacks.)
Ceiling rankings for me go: Watson/Hopkins // Fuller // Osweiler // Grant // Parker // Amendola // Drake // Miller // Gore.
Everyone on that ceiling list has 12-point (FanDuel) to 15-point (DraftKings) upside. Grant and Parker are less likely to hit their ceiling than the guys listed behind them, but if either guy does hit, he has the upside to pass what Amendola/Drake/Miller/Gore can do.
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