Texans’ defense bracing for dangerous, dynamic Dolphins offense

Houston Texans coach Lovie Smith answers a question after an NFL football game against the Washington Commanders Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Houston. The Commanders won 23-10. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith) (Eric Christian Smith, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

HOUSTON – In a blink, with a deep spiral heaved and a sprint behind the secondary, there’s another deep strike. Yet another touchdown pass for one of the most dynamic offenses in the league.

The Miami Dolphins are headlined by their dangerous offense. Now, they’re the last-place Texans’ latest problem to face during a dismal season.

With resurgent quarterback Tua Tagovailoa playing the best football of his career and having recovered from a scary concussion and creative first-year coach Mike McDaniel at the controls dialing up well-crafted plays, the Dolphins have been prolific.

They’re off to a 7-3 start heading into Sunday’s game against the 1-8-1 Texans at Hard Rock Stadium and rank third in the NFL in total offense, sixth in scoring offense and second in passing offense.

They feature the speediest deep threat in the NFL in wide receiver Tyreek Hill.

Acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs in a blockbuster trade this offseason, Hill has caught 81 passes for 1,148 yards and four touchdowns and is complemented well by Episcopal graduate Jalen Waddle. Waddle has caught 51 passes for 878 yards and six touchdowns, forming one of the top receiving tandems in the league.

Hill ranks first in the NFL with 20 receptions of at least 20 yards.

“Explosiveness,” Texans cornerback Desmond King said. “That’s one word you can use to sum up their offense and the players they’ve got on their team. They got Tua back. They’re rolling right now. They’re doing what they were expected to do.

“Our key is to not give up the deep ball against them. They’ve got Tyreek. They’ve got Waddle, so we know what’s going to come with that.”

Tagovailoa, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama who was almost supplanted a year ago when the Texans and Dolphins were in serious trade discussions involving quarterback Deshaun Watson at the NFL traded deadline, is extremely accurate.

He’s completing 71 percent of his throws for 2,265 yards, 18 touchdowns and three interceptions for a 118.4 passer rating. He’s only been sacked eight times and is taking good care of the football.

“First, what I know about him just from being in the college game and all that, he’s an accurate thrower, more athletic than people probably want to give him credit for, and that’s how he’s played since he’s come back,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “It seemed like forever that he went through that injury, because right now, he’s running an offense that’s running on all cylinders. Of course, wide receiver-wise they have special players. They have a few special players really.”

The Texans are coming off a 23-10 loss to the Washington Commanders, and now they’re facing a much more talented team on the offensive side of the ball.

The Dolphins are averaging 391.5 yards per game and 293.8 passing yards, scoring 25.7 points per contest with Tagovailoa and McDaniel running the show.

“That’s a dynamic team, a dynamic offense,” defensive tackle Maliek Collins said of Tagovailoa. “He’s obviously having a great season. To come back from that concussion earlier in the season and get right back in line and keep progressing. We’ve got a challenge.”

“Big plays for sure. Having an explosive offense. Their defense has been good for the past three or four years, just seeing them. Big plays, really. You have to limit those big plays and keep everything in the bottle defensively.”

One of the reasons the Texans have struggled besides a one-dimensional offense quarterbacked by struggling second-year passer Davis Mills is their porous run defense. They’re ranked last in the NFL in run defense, allowing 178.9 rushing yards per game and 1789 rushing yards and 14 touchdown runs overall.

The Texans have just seven interceptions this season and have 15 forced fumbles and 13 fumble recoveries.

Not taking the football away has impacted the Texans, including a dropped interception by rookie safety Jalen Pitre against the Commanders.

“One takeaway from the last game is that we have to take the ball away,” Collins said. “That’s critical. Me myself, when I’m going in for a tackle, I’ve got to punch at the ball better. Not just punch the ball but punch the ball out. Make sure I’m getting the ball out to give us the opportunity to score.

“We’re always having conversations with each other about what more each of us can do. Hold each other accountable, but one thing for sure is taking the ball away. We’ve got to do that. You can’t not take the ball away and win. That’s not the game in the NFL. We’ve got to give the offense more opportunities to score. We’ve got to limit other teams’ drives. That’s just the game.”

Pitre leads the Texans with two interceptions, but both were against the Chicago Bears earlier this season. King’s lone interception was against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Middle linebacker Christian Kirksey, injured rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., defensive end Jerry Hughes and cornerback Steven Nelson have one interception apiece.

“When the opportunity presents itself, we’ve got to capitalize,” King said. “That’s just what it is. The quarterback is not going to throw you the ball, obviously. When that opportunity shows up, you have to capitalize on it, and that’s what is going to make that difference.”

King moved to outside corner from nickel with Stingley out with a hamstring injury against the Commanders.

The first-round draft pick from LSU could miss his second consecutive game Sunday. He has a mild hamstring strain, according to Smith.

“That’s tough because I know it’s his rookie year,” King said. “Keep your head up and keep working and get back healthy.”

As trying as this season has become with mounting losses and dwindling attendance in the stands, King emphasized the Texans have to stick together and not have a fractured locker room.

“It’s still the same,” King said of the bond within the team. “We’re a family and we know this is not the path that we want to go down right now. We just got to find a way. Got to find a way to pull it together, got to stay together.

“Can’t let this separate the locker room or the team, so that our goal right now, kind of regroup and go on to the next game. Go in with the same focus as next week. We don’t want this to be a distraction to what we’re trying to build. I think right now we just have to find a way and stay together.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com