Texans 30, Dolphins 10: Finesse Tops Power As Texans Pass First Test
Check out our slideshow of the Houston Texans' season opener against the Dolphins.
Photo by Marco Torres Handoff to the vegan, a staple of the Texans' playbook.
It ended with the exact lopsided score we predicted Friday, but at the same time, the 2012 season opener was quite different from the anticipated Texans blowout.
The oldest NFL cliché is that winning depends on running the ball and stopping the run. The Texans (1-0) a year ago excelled at both, but on Sunday did neither very well. Arian Foster rushed for a meager 3.0 yards per carry, while Ben Tate was even worse at 1.2, largely due to inconsistent blocking. On the other hand, much-celebrated 2006 draft bust Reggie Bush gashed the Texans for nearly five yards per attempt.
By the middle of the second quarter, those factors converged to put the Texans in a 3-3 slugfest that had their own fans booing them at a sold-out Reliant Stadium.
In seemingly an instant, though, the Texans dug deep and decisively swung momentum. Wade Phillips's defense forced four turnovers in the second quarter alone, and the Houston offense converted three of those into touchdowns.
Somehow, the Texans had a commanding 24-3 halftime lead that would never be threatened -- even while falling short of their usual standards for success.
"I won't sleep good tonight," said head coach Gary Kubiak, who immediately began preparing the Texans for next week's game at Jacksonville (0-1). "I thought we were a little shaky early.
"But we were explosive as a team in that period of the second quarter."
Some could look at the early struggles as a sign of impending trouble. But it's important to note these Texans are still working in two new starters on the right side of the offensive line, and it stands to reason they'll improve as they get more repetitions.
The listless 20-minute stretch may have also reflected overconfidence from a Houston team eyeing bigger measuring sticks than a likely last-place team in Miami. It's a battle the Texans haven't often fought before, and it's not to be undervalued.
Regardless, these Texans were good enough in the passing game on both sides of the ball to overcome a few issues up front. Here's a look at Sunday's standouts that helped the cause.
5.) Brian Cushing
The Texans' star linebacker had a team-high seven tackles and an interception, though his best play may have come on the ground. It's hard to remember, but the Bush-led Dolphins had rhythm in the early going, pounding the Texans up the middle against a defense seemingly reeling amid fewer-than-usual snaps for nose tackle Shaun Cody (back). If the Dolphins had been able to score an early touchdown, it might have made the Texan sideline very nervous.
Instead, on an early 3rd-and-1 inside the Houston 15, Cushing sliced into the backfield and blew up a handoff to Bush before it could even begin. That held Miami to a field goal and began to swing momentum.
4.) Kareem Jackson
Jackson wasn't perfect, and found himself beaten on a couple of occasions by Miami's Brian Hartline. But what the Texans have to be happy with is his willingness to make plays on the ball. Jackson had the alertness to grab a tipped Ryan Tannehill pass for an interception and also avoided what could've been a costly interference penalty by turning his head and swatting at the ball, not Hartline. Both were plays he wouldn't have made as a rookie.
Jackson, now in his third year, lacks the deep speed to develop into an elite No. 1 cornerback. That's fine, because the Texans don't need him to be. That's what Johnathan Joseph is for, and Joseph did his part Sunday with the first of three Houston interceptions.
What the Texans need from Jackson is steadiness. His priorities are to stay with opposing receivers in the short and medium zones, funnel deep routes toward safety help, tackle well (he had five on Sunday), avoid major penalties and show the awareness to make plays on the ball when available. If he does those things, Jackson can be a capable No. 2 cornerback on a good defense, even without great speed. For one week, mission accomplished.