Before the season a Thursday Night Football game between the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins probably would not have garnered that much interest. However, entering the game it is a crucial matchup for both sides. Both teams currently sit at 4-3 and have the chance to give themselves a real shot at a playoff spot. With the NFL having a lot of middling teams this year being 5-3 after Week 8 will give teams a great shot of making the playoffs. For the Dolphins it would keep them in touch with the Patriots in the AFC East. For the Texans it would allow them to head into Week 9 assured of being at the top of the AFC South.
So what are the keys for the Texans to win this game at home? Let’s take a look at how they can get their fifth straight win in Week 8.
Keep Watson Clean
No quarterback in the NFL has been hit more while trying to pass this season that Deshaun Watson. The Texans offensive line did a great job last week limiting the damage on Watson. Watson was hit just five times, compared to an average of 10 in previous games and sacked just once. The reduction in pressure and hits on Watson allowed the Texans to play mistake free football for the first time this season. Heading into Week 7 the Texans had averaged just under two turnovers per game. Watson had thrown seven interceptions and fumbled the ball seven times. Last week he did neither of those things. He did not throw for many yards, just 139, but he kept the ball safe and allowed the run game to operate.
Run the Ball Strongly
The Miami Dolphins rank 29th worst in the NFL in terms of rush yards surrendered. Lamar Miller is coming off a 100-yard game and the offense needs to take the pressure away from Watson. Watson is pretty battered at this point in the season and with the short week taking the load away from him will be crucial. Getting the run game working will then hopefully open up the passing game with play action. The Dolphins also rank 23rd worst in terms of passing yards given up so the Texans should be able to move the ball in this game.
Both of the two points above will help feed into this and it is crucial they get it right. The Dolphins defense ranks sixth in the NFL in forcing turnovers. The Dolphins pass rush can be strong when it gets working and the Texans will need to keep it off balance to give their offense a chance to put up points.
Keep Doing The Same on Defense
The Defense has been pretty good this year and they just need to keep it up. The Dolphins offense has been fairly boom-or-bust this season, ranking 31st in average time of possession. They tend to either score or punt quickly. If the Texans offense can run the ball then the defense can limit their time on the field on a short week and keep their defensive line fresh.
The Texans defense has been extremely strong against the run this year. Despite opponents having the 10 most rush attempts then have surrendered the eighth least rush yards and second least rushing touchdowns with one. However, they have struggled a little more against the pass, ranking 22nd worst in passing touchdowns surrendered. This week they should have more success facing a passing offense missing their starting quarterback and two best wide receivers.
Summary and Betting
Entering the game the Texans are 7.5 point favourites and given the injuries the Dolphins have I am leaning towards them being a good bet this week. I think the Dolphins will struggle to put up points with a make shift offense on a short week. Usually you would expect them to lean on the run but that is where the strength lies in this Texans defense. The only question mark for me is about how many points the Texans can score themselves. I think they win this game but covering the extra 7.5 points will be extremely tight. A good bet for me this week is the under 44.5 points. I do not see either of these teams going far over 20-points. The only way the Texans get into the 30s is if Brock Osweiler has a complete meltdown. It is more than possible but I would not count on it. The only way the Dolphins score more than 20 is if the Texans defense fail to show. This should be a low-scoring game on Thursday in Houston with the Texans likely coming out on top.
Image credit: AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith