Miami at Houston (-7.5, 44), 8:20 pm ET, FOX/NFLN
On a Thursday night less than 14 months ago, Deshaun Watson was unleashed. The rookie who won a national title at Clemson made his first start in Cincinnati a few weeks earlier than most expected he would. The Texans offensive line was a disaster and head coach Bill O’Brien thought his elusiveness gave his team their best chance to win.
Although most of his throws were off and he finished with only 125 passing yards, Watson’s second-quarter 49-yard run that ended up doubling as the game’s only touchdown dropped jaws and opened eyes, ultimately serving as the beginning of a fun six-week rollercoaster ride as the Texans’ starter.
The Houston Texans sit atop the AFC South with the Miami Dolphins coming to town on Thursday night with a familiar face at quarterback. The Dolphins will be starting former Texans signal-caller Brock Osweiler after ruling starter Ryan Tannehill out for the game.
The friction between coach Bill O’Brien and Osweiler was well documented and what ultimately caused him to be traded to the Cleveland Browns. O’Brien has liked what he has seen from his former quarterback the past two games for the Dolphins.
“Playing really well right now,” O’Brien said of Osweiler. “I think he’s thrown for 600-plus yards in the last two games. He has a great history with (Dolphins coach) Adam Gase. They’re doing a great job with him. Brock’s a very talented player and he’s a having a really good year right now for them. He’s doing a real good job.”
With both O’Brien spending time with Osweiler in the quarterback room, there is an inside look the Texans have on Osweiler knowing his strengths and weaknesses. O’Brien downplayed the idea that knowing Osweiler as a quarterback changes anything for the upcoming game.
“I think it’s a different system, different players around him, so I don’t think that’s important,” O’Brien said of knowing Osweiler. “He’s got a lot of different types of players than what we had, just different skill sets than what we had here, different personnel groupings. So I don’t think that means anything.”
Gase knows Osweiler was a good fit with their offense because it was the system he arrived to as a draft pick out of Arizona State with the Denver Broncos. That knowledge of Gase’s system has helped the Dolphins the past two weeks as he passed for 629 yards with six touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Gase is not worried about the history of Osweiler with the Texans and only cares about the quarterback doing his job for the Dolphins this week.
“The only thing I care about that he worries about, is trying to make sure that we’re in a good position to play well and he prepares the right way,” Gase said of Osweiler. “When we get to Thursday, he does a good job of just keeping that group together and focusing on one series at a time.”
For the Dolphins, wide receivers Albert Wilson and Kenny Stills — arguably their two biggest playmakers this season — will not play.
That’s a serious problem for the Dolphins (4-3), who trail the New England Patriots by one game in the AFC East.
Now the Dolphins have to face the scorching-hot Texans (4-3), who have won four straight games.
“Those guys will be missed because they are talented players,” Osweiler said of Wilson and Stills. “But injuries are going to happen. It’s all about the next-man approach.”
Osweiler was sacked four times last week in a loss to the Detroit Lions, and he will face two ferocious pass rushers this week in J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
Dolphins tackles Laremy Tunsil on the left side and Ja’Wuan James on the right will have to have big games if Miami hopes to be successful consistently on Thursday.
The Dolphins may also require a running back or tight end to chip on that Texas twosome, and Osweiler, ultimately, will have to get the ball out of his right hand quickly.
“They’re horrible to go up against,” Gase said of Watt and Clowney. “When you have both of those guys on the edges, it makes it hard to do anything, running or passing.”
Clowney had one of his more dominating games of the season where he put up seven total tackles, two sacks, four quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“He’s had some real good games for us, but he really played well,” O’Brien said of Clowney. “There’s no doubt about that. He was very disruptive. He’s a very instinctive player. I thought he played loose and free. He wasn’t over-thinking things. He’s got a real knack for going to the ball.”
Clowney is now up to 20 total tackles, 4.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits through seven games.
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson continues to have his health improve and even with his current state of injuries he is expected to start Thursday night. Wide receiver Keke Coutee had a hamstring injury against the Jaguars and missed the majority of the game. He has already been ruled out for Thursday’s game.
For the Dolphins to be successful, they want to stop former Miami running back Lamar Miller, who is coming off his first 100-yard game of the season. If the Dolphins can stop Miller cold, perhaps they can force Watson into mistakes. Watson has fumbled seven times in seven games, and he been intercepted seven times as well.
As for the Houston defense, it has to make life tough on Osweiler by making him beat zone looks. Osweiler has always been able to handle man coverages, but he has struggled to be patient at times with the football. Forcing the Dolphins to beat them through the air is one of the most important factors on Thursday.