A month ago, the Texans were picking up the pieces from a third straight loss to start the season. Not just any ol' loss, either. It was a loss to the New York Giants, a team that is selling off its players like spare parts this week, and whose only win to date is STILL that win at NRG Stadium. The Texans were 0-3, they'd just made Eli Manning look like Joe Montana, and the season was going nowhere.
So needless to say, with the Texans sitting at 4-3 on the season now, with the one Thursday night game of the season coming up tonight — a home game against BROCK OSWEILER, no less — with the Texans as a 7.5 point favorite, this feels pretty damn good, even if it's looked discombobulated and somewhat fortuitous in those four straight wins. For now, who cares? This game has juice tonight!
If the Texans can win this game, and get to 5-3 on the season, they'll be sitting on a patch of schedule in which there is one game over the next 24 days, a trip to Denver on November 4. That's plenty of time for Deshaun Watson's body to finally heal. (SIDE BAR — I have no idea what all I'm going to write about with one freaking game over a 24-game stretch, so the suggestion box is open!)
So let's get to some things to watch in tonight's game (7:20 p.m. kickoff, listen to ME on the pregame and postgame show on SportsRadio 610, please and thank you!)
4. Jakeem the Dream
One of the more underrated sparks to this resurgence for the Texans has been the play of their special teams, not so much in the return game, but in the coverage game. The coverage units have been outstanding. They will get tested this week, however, by Jakeem Grant, a diminutive third-year speedster from Texas Tech. He's returned a punt and a kick for a score this season, and he will be a handful. The Texans are 4th in Football Outsiders' DVOA on special teams, but the Dolphins are 3rd. Special teams could decide this one, or at the very least, equalize things for a team trying to battle as a touchdown underdog with Brock Osweiler at quarterback. Also, it's worth noting that wide receivers Albert Wilson and Kenny Stills are both going to miss this game for the Dolphins. Wilson is out for the season, and that's a big blow because he and Osweiler seemed to have a good connection. I say all that to point out that Grant could factor into the passing game, as well.
3. (Lamar) Miller Time
It was nice to see the Texans regain some ability to pound the football on the ground against the Jaguars last week. Lamar Miller, in particular, ran with some authority (22 carries, 100 yards, one touchdown), and allowed the Texans to possess the ball and control the clock. The Texans should be able to do that again this week. The Dolphins were torn up on the ground last weekend by the Lions, who ran for 248 yards on 36 carries (7.1 yards per carry), so expect the Texans to challenge the Dolphins' front with a heavy dose of Miller, which should set up play action for Deshaun Watson. Speaking of Watson....
2. One more for Deshaun (then he rests)
The Texans did a nice job last week of keeping Watson relatively clean and "big hit" free (and when I say Texans, I include Watson himself, with some smart decision making in the pocket and outside the pocket). The Dolphins' pass rush should be a step down in weight class for what is still a challenged Texans offensive line. After three weeks of the Cowboys, Bills, and Jaguars — all three very talented pass rushes — the Dolphins come to town with just 11 sacks all season, good for 28th in the NFL. Getting Cameron Wake back last weekend should help the Dolphins, but if the Texans are trying to build some momentum on the offensive line, this should be a game, especially on a short week at home, where they can do that. Last week Watson had just 139 yards on just 24 pass attempts, but if the Texans can win that way, at least in the short term while Watson is dealing with a bruised lung and battered torso, then that's just fine.
Let's face it, this is the reason we're all watching tonight, right? The football gods, evil as they can be at times, quite frankly just got this one right. When Brock Osweiler signed with the Dolphins this past offseason, and then the schedule came out with a Week 8 primetime game at NRG Stadium between the Texans and the Dolphins, it HAD to happen, right? So now here comes Brock, and here's the thing — he is actually playing pretty well right now. Not only are his stats actually very good (619 yards, 5 touchdowns, 2 interceptions), but Brock Osweiler has actually LOOKED very confident and in command, which has been more the rule rather than the exception whenever Osweiler has operated in Adam Gabe's system. (The Dolphins head coach was Osweiler's OC in Denver.) So what's the worst case scenario tonight, if you're Bill O'Brien? Obviously, losing to a Brock Osweiler-led team would be an unfathomable kick in the nuts, and would immediately reset the skepticism level to around DEFCON 3 on the entire team. However, if the Dolphins win AND Brock throws for about 300 yards with a clean turnover sheet in the process, then... whoa, mama, are things going to be bad for Bill O'Brien. I think most of Houston still blames the failure of the Brockster here on the quarterback, not the head coach, but if Brock continues a career renaissance at O'Brien's expense... well, at least talk radio will be fun the next few days!
I tell you, though, I don't see it happening.... sorry, Brock.
SPREAD: Texans -7.5
PREDICTION: Texans 23, Dolphins 13
RECORD: 3-4 SU, 2-5 ATS
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.