The Joe Philbin era got off to a bit of an uneven start on Sunday, with the Dolphins falling 30-10 to the Houston Texans.
Both the offense and defense started relatively strong, but a brutal stretch late in the second quarter was too much for the Dolphins to overcome.
Here are my five key takeaways from today’s season opener:
- Eliminate Turnovers: Just as Joe Philbin had stressed throughout the week, the turnover margin decided the game. If the Dolphins had been able to use takeaways to set up the offense, they may have stayed in the game deep into the second half. But, instead, it was the Texans who took control with a barrage of turnovers. A nice start was quickly erased during one game-changing stretch in the second quarter. Committing four turnovers in four possessions is typically a recipe for disaster. Houston capitalized quickly, turning the mistakes into 24 points. If you give Matt Schaub a short field, he’s going to make you pay.
- Watt Happened?: Surely, JJ Watt and Andre Johnson were on the Dolphins’ radar heading into Sunday’s game–they are two of the league’s most explosive players. With the way the duo performed on Sunday, though, perhaps preparation could only help so much. They are dynamic talents, but you can’t let two players beat you. Watt was nothing short of a force, batting away a handful of Ryan Tannehill’s passes at the line of scrimmage. The disruption he created directly led to turnovers. Johnson, typically a Dolphin killer, went to work against his hometown team. The former Miami Hurricane was a beast, simply overpowering the secondary for eight catches, 119 yards and a TD.
- Special Teams Were a Plus: With the Dolphins trailing 24-3 early in the 3rd quarter and in need of a spark, Marcus Thigpen stepped up. The first-year running back/returner took a Donnie Jones punt 72 yards to the house. That play, along with the preceding three-and-out forced by the defense, built a little forward momentum. It, of course, was too little, too late. Nonetheless, it was nice to see some firepower reappear in the Dolphins’ return game. Dan Carpenter and Brandon Fields’ usual steadiness set the foundation for Darren Rizzi’s unit, which could potentially be a strength the entire year.
- Dolphins Defense Responded in Some Tough Spots: The Dolphins’ defense has to be graded on a bit of a curve. Statistics alone–and the score, for that matter–give a very surface-level look at how the unit performed. Oftentimes, they were asked to stand tall deep in their own territory. Sure, the Texans moved the ball nicely at times, but the defense came up huge a couple of times, especially in short-yardage situations. Led by Randy Starks–two sacks–the front seven did an adequate job containing Arian Foster, who finished with 79 yards.
- Hartline’s Health: Reggie Bush and Davone Bess consistently showed up for Tannehill early in the game. Beyond that, though, nobody seemed to shake loose. But early in the fourth quarter, Tannehill found Brian Hartline three times, highlighted by a nice 34-yard touch pass up the right sideline. When healthy, Hartline can bring a much-needed change of pace to the offense. Instead of opposing defense keying in on Bess and Bush underneath, they may have to keep an eye on Hartline, the former track star, in the intermediate passing game. The Dolphins offense was able to establish an early rhythm, keeping Houston off kilter. Against Oakland, they must be in sync for more than a quarter and a half.