The Dolphins rolled up 30 first-half points and sacked Texans quarterback Kyle Allen five times for another comprehensive victory. The smothering performance included three takeaways and just two third down conversions on 13 opportunities for the visitors. Offensively, Miami scored on six of its first seven possessions, tilting the scoreboard enough to give quarterback Tua Tagovailoa an abbreviated day at the office as he played just two series in the second half.
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Here are the three takeaways from the Dolphins' 30-15 over the Texans
1. Spreading the wealth
By the second play of the third possession in Sunday's win, Tua Tagovailoa had found his sixth different receiver for a completion. Nine pass catchers got into the box score with a reception in the game, just one game after Tagovailoa found eight different receivers in Week 10 vs. Cleveland.
Despite feeding targets to two of the NFL's top five receiving yardage leaders (Tyreek Hill, first with 1,233 and Jaylen Waddle, fifth with 963), the Miami passing attack is hitting defenses from all angles. River Cracraft caught a career-high four passes for 55 yards and Trent Sherfield chipped in with two grabs for 33 yards. Sherfield made a tough, contested fourth-down catch inside the five-yard-line on Miami's opening touchdown drive, a microcosm of the type of player he has been for Miami this season – reliable, tough, and willing to do the dirty work.
Tagovailoa has been the premier passer in the NFL this year by nearly every efficiency metric; a distinction manifested by his own prowess, but also the belief of his Head Coach, Mike McDaniel.
"The reasons you've gotten there is you're an unbelievable point guard," McDaniel said of Tagovailoa post-game. "All he did was just come to work, buy in, listen, and then do what he could control. He chopped wood, got with Coach Bevell and Chandler Henley, and they've not done anything but tried to work on technique, fundamentals, and how to play the position at an elite level, and they've done an outstanding job with that, and henceforth we were 8-0 with him."
2. Getting home with four
In the Week 10 win over the Browns, the Dolphins dialed up their lowest blitz percentage of the season. The result: the best pressure rate all campaign. On Sunday vs. the Texans, the Dolphins dialed up an extra rusher on 17 of Kyle Allen's drop backs, resulting in three sacks.
The addition of Bradley Chubb, however, is paying immediate dividends in the way Miami can generate pressure without sacrificing a man in coverage. Allen took 28 drop backs without a blitz. While it produced one fewer sack than the three from blitzes, the four-man pressures did result in two takeaways.
In fact, against the blitz, Allen posted a 112.3 passer rating. When Miami dialed up coverage, that rating plummeted to 44.3. They got to the Houston quarterback for 11 pressures on 28 drop backs without a blitz.
It's not an either/or thing, but rather a critical tool for any team with aspirations of playing deep into January – the ability to win in multiple ways. We've seen the offense use the air, the ground and maintain control of the ball by limiting turnovers. In the second half of the season, we have seen the defense progress to a multi-faceted unit capable of changing its shape on a down-by-down basis.
Miami's trio of primary edge rushers all added a sack Sunday. Jaelan Phillips added five more QB pressures to his team-leading 4.5 sacks. Bradley Chubb is second on the team in pressures per game since his early-November arrival and added four more Sunday – the same number posted by Melvin Ingram. Together, the trio has 84 pressures on 551 pass-rush reps, a pressure rate of 15.2 percent.
3. A takeaway and scoring defense
Technically, the Miami defense only put six points on the board in Sunday's runaway victory. All three takeaways generated by the Dolphins defense paid off with either a touchdown or victory formation on the other side.
Eric Rowe and Kader Kohou teamed up for a big shot that jarred the ball free from Texans tight end Jordan Akins. Once again, none other than Xavien Howard was Johnny on the spot to scoop it up and return the recovery 16 yards for a touchdown. It's the fourth defensive score in the career of Howard, all of which have come at Hard Rock Stadium.
The big block by Howard on Andrew Van Ginkel's first career interception nearly sprung the linebacker for a touchdown of his own. Jeff Wilson Jr. took it over the goal line two plays later, but Van Ginkel was just two yards away from becoming the first player in Dolphins history with the three following return touchdowns: interception return, fumble return and punt block return.
Another first, from Week 12, rookie safety Verone McKinley pulled down a fourth quarter interception. McKinley played 22 snaps in the game with 20 of them coming in coverage. Houston attempted just six passes of 10-plus yards with a cumulative passer rating of 29.2 on those throws.