The Miami Dolphins finally get the regular season underway Sunday. Fans have a lot of mixed emotions in regards to the state and direction of the team. After the egg laid by the Miami Hurricanes over Labor Day Weekend, Dolphins fans could really use a big home win. Last year these two slugged it out and the game ended with a 16-10 Dolphins victory. This one could be a similar type of affair. Let’s take a look at the Titans and how they match up with your Miami Dolphins.
When Tennessee has the ball
Tennessee does not like to party like it’s 1999 when it comes to their game plan. That year NFL MVP Kurt Warner and “The Greatest Show on Turf” took home the Lombardi Trophy. Ironically, Vince Lombardi would be a fan of the Titans offense. Per Pro Football Reference Tennessee ranked 30th in the league with just 14 passing touchdowns, while finishing second in rushing scores with 18 total. Last year the Titans defined the term running back by committee as DeMarco Murray (184) and Derrick Henry (176) had nearly an identical workload. Despite having fewer carries, Henry had more rushing yards (744) than Murray (659) due to a superior yard per carry average (4.2/3.6). Now that Murray has retired, Henry is the clear feature back and should see his attempts nearly double this year barring injury. Look for Tennessee to feed Henry early against a suspect Miami run defense, which ranked 31st in the NFL last year. Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel may want to lean on the run game as long as possible. They may go with some of 12, 13, and even 21 personnel in the passing game to mix things up. They leaned heavily on the 11 group last year (44%) with poor results through the air, their passer rating was an abysmal 57.2 in that package. Miami will also need to be aware of quarterback Marcus Mariota beating them with his feet. If his first or second reads aren’t there, look for him to take off especially if there is man coverage and the secondary has their back to him. Running back Dion Lewis could have an impact in the pass game on third downs, he’s a savvy veteran and a good outlet for Mariota in a jam.
That being said, Miami cannot sleep on the passing game. Despite their poor statistical ranking through the air Tennessee has some weapons. Delanie Walker will get his against Miami coverage no matter what, it’s simply a sheer high volume of targets going his way. Corey Davis is set to make a huge leap if he can stay healthy, he gives Marcus Mariota a deep threat to stretch the defense. Speaking of Mariota, he’s prone to the interception and if Miami can get the pass rush going, look for some game changing plays to be available. Miami will have to make sure they are disciplined in their assignments and communicate in the secondary, this is the first real meaningful game together for a lot of these guys. If the Titans fall behind the chains on early downs, they are especially vulnerable to the pressure Miami can bring off of both edges. Akeem Spence, Jordan Phillips, and the rest of the interior defensive line better be ready for a busy day. Matt Burke will likely rotate guys early and often to keep them fresh, especially as it’s the first game and in the the scorching September sun.
When Miami has the ball
Have you heard? Ryan Tannehill is back! Any Miami Dolphins fan who endured the reality TV spectacle that was the 2017 season deserves a medal. No need to recap the made for television drama, this is an entirely rebuilt Miami offense. Gone is the gluttonous bubble screen target consumption of Jarvis Landry. Say farewell to the tight end who has lost his athleticism that is a red-zone afterthought. These skill position players are dynamic. They possess a range of abilities that compliment each other and play to the strengths of Tannehill as a quarterback, and Gase as an offensive play caller. Tennessee has a very stout run defense, finishing first in the NFL last year allowing only five rushing touchdowns. Jurell Casey is a killer from defensive tackle, providing excellent pass rush for that position as displayed by his six sacks last year. Free safety Kevin Byard earned first team All-Pro honors last year with eight interceptions, tying for the top mark in the league.
Gase may be wise to lean on the young legs of Kenyan Drake to get things going, mixing in some tempo and quick passes for Tannehill to establish rhythm. Tennessee likes to bring pressure from the linebacker spot, both Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan had at least seven sacks in 2017. Mike Gesecki could see a lot of work against a below average Titan pass defense. The speed and elusiveness that the Dolphins can bring from multiple receiver sets could spell a long day for Tennessee. Tempo could be a factor late in the game as the road team begins to feel the effect of the balmy conditions. The Titans struggle to cover running back and tight ends, and with Gesicki along with Drake that athletic matchup leans heavily to the Dolphins favor.
“The Dolphins have heard nothing but how bad they’re going to be for six months. Now they are underdogs in their own building. Tennessee will be the unfortunate recipient of all that pent up frustration”.
The Titans have a Pro Bowl punter in Brett Kern and a veteran kicker in Ryan Succop. Miami has a rookie kicker Jason Sanders who struggled at times with accuracy at New Mexico. Where Sanders is a huge upgrade is the simple fact he will prevent kick returns by drilling it through the end zone. Miami ranked near the bottom of the league last year with a 41.8 percent touchback rate on kickoffs. Cody Parkey was actually pretty effective last year, although he did shank three extra points. Special teams coach Darren Rizzi is one of the best in that role, and he likely made the call to go another direction. Matt Haack has become really consistent at pinning the ball deep on angle punts and is an important part of maintaining positive field position. For an offense that could struggle to move the ball at times, this could be a factor. In the return game Jakeem Grant could get some run if he is back and ready for action, Danny Amendola will likely be the guy when a fair catch is expected on punts.
Adam Gase is in a prove it year, no Jay Cutler to use as a scapegoat any more. Matt Burke had an uneven year with the defense last year, look for a tremendous bounce back from that side of the ball. The special teams unit is deep but has some uncertainty, Rizzi will get them on the same page quickly.
For the Titans, Mike Vrabel gets a chance to run the show for the first time. He will have some rookie coach mistakes as to be expected, while new veteran defensive coordinator Dean Peas is one of the better coordinators around. They will run mostly 3-4 and bring a lot of pressure from multiple looks. Tennessee had a lot of turnover in the coaching ranks which could be a factor early in the season.
So who takes it?
As the matchups have shown, this looks like a pretty even contest. Miami will likely have some trouble running the ball but should try to stick with it, as the game moves on those two and three yard runs could wear down the Titans. Drake can pop a big play in both the run and pass game at any time. On defense the Dolphins must stay disciplined and key on Derrick Henry, they cannot give up chunk runs repeatedly. The difference in this one could be a big turnover, in an even matchup one play can decide the game. Ironically, that was the difference last year as Reshad Jones recovered a fumble and took it in from 38 yards for the opening touchdown. I think Miami is going to be the one to make that big play again, either on special teams or defense. Miami averages right around 25 points a game at home under Gase, despite the turmoil at the quarterback position and the team in general during his tenure.
Prediction- Dolphins 24, Titans 20