Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 9: Texans-Dolphins — Four Things To Watch For

Tyrod Taylor, back at practice, has given his teammates a morale boost.
Tyrod Taylor, back at practice, has given his teammates a morale boost. Photo by Jack Gorman
For the last couple of weeks, the Houston Texans have spent seemingly as much time dealing with the smoke from Deshaun Watson trade rumors as they have preparing for their opponents. Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, with no trade for Watson happening in 2021, the focus is now this final nine game stretch.

The begins this Sunday, and ironically, the team on the other side is the one team in the NFL for whom the Watson trade rumors were even more disruptive than they were for the Texans — the Miami Dolphins. It is widely known that the Dolphins were the only team for whom Watson waived his no trade clause, so Dolphins head coach Brian Flores has been getting weekly questions about a quarterback who isn't even on his team.

The end result, thus far, is that the Dolphins have the same awful 1-7 record as the Texans, and only play slightly better football than the Texans, aesthetically. So, when you think about it, Watson will probably be no less a topic on Sunday this weekend than he's been for both of these teams since training camp.

So in terms of non-Watson storylines, what is there to watch in what is undoubtedly the most underneath-undercard games of the NFL weekend this Sunday:


4. Those Texans left behind
Given all of the work it would have taken to settle Watson's legal issues prior to the trade deadline (reportedly a prerequisite for the Dolphins to move on a deal) on Tuesday, it's not a great shock that Watson remains a Texan. for now. What WAS surprising was that Nick Caserio only pulled the trigger on one deal, sending defensive end Charles Omenihu to the 49ers for a 2023 sixth round pick. It was expected that the Texans would be involved in at least two or three more deals. It's no secret that there are a few players who would openly welcome a one-way ticket out of Houston, linebacker Zach Cunningham chief among them. So now it will be interesting to watch on Sunday and see how the players whose names were involved in trade rumors perform. Names to keep an eye on, aside from Cunningham — TE Jordan Akins, S Lonnie Johnson, and all of the remaining running backs.

3. Tyrod boost
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is back at practice, and it would appear as though he is closer to being able to play in actual games. Head coach David Culley has said that when he is available, Taylor will play because he gives the Texans the best chance to win games. It is debatable whether winning games is what's best for the Texans at this point, given how losing is rewarded come draft time next spring, with higher picks, but there was no doubt that Taylor's presence back on the practice field gave the team some extra pep in their step this week. Several players acknowledged as much on Wednesday at their media sessions. An offense with Taylor under center is certainly a more watchable brand of football than the Davis Mills Era has been.

2. Turnovers
The Texans make a big deal about turnovers. Protecting the football is the focus of their offense (practically to their detriment, with the most conservative play calling in the league), and Lovie Smith's defense has always been about forcing turnovers. Through the first five games, the Texans had forced eight turnovers, matching their total for all of 2020. In the last three games they've forced just one turnover. That's the bad news. Here is the good news — the Dolphins turn the ball over on offense, A LOT. In eight games, they've turned it over 13 times, and have only one game with a clean turnover sheet offensively. This could be a chance for the Texans' defense to get some of that turnover mojo back from earlier this season.

1. I guess it really IS Tua's team (for now)
So now Brian Flores can say that "Tua is my quarterback" and "This is Tua's team" and be, at least, somewhat truthful. I mean, it is literally impossible for the Dolphins to trade for Deshaun Watson until March. If you're Tua, the next couple months are essentially a nine-game audition to keep your job. If you're a Texans fan, it's somewhat conflicting as to what to root for with these Dolphins. If they lose a bunch of games down the stretch, then maybe a godfather-offer is sitting there in March from the Dolphins. For me, I prefer the alternative — I would love to see Tua ball out these last nine games, have the Dolphins say "thanks, but no thanks" to a Watson trade, and force Watson's hand in choosing from a bigger pool of teams for whom to waive his no trade clause. There's more drama in that scenario, and for Texan fans, that's really all we have to hope for, at this point — more drama.


SPREAD: Texans +7.5
PREDICTION: Dolphins 26, Texans 19
SEASON RECORD: 8-0 SU, 6-2 ATS

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast