Editors note: with the news of Tunsil and Albert out, I am changing my prediction to a 16-14 victory for Tennessee.
Tennessee Titans (1-3) @ Miami Dolphins (1-3)
Sunday October 9, 1:00 EST – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL (Hopefully)
Betting Line – Dolphins -3.5
I need to first apologize for the preview piece last week. I fell victim to a homer pick and the hopes of this team getting out to a quality 2-2 start vs. a brutal schedule. After playing the Patriots and Seahawks so close, I desperately wanted this game to be the turning point and it was anything but that.
The Dolphins were undermanned, outcoached, outplayed and got embarrassed in front of a national audience. The short week on the road with a rookie head coach and eight starters missing was a disaster waiting to happen and I ignored it. I won’t play the homer card again, you have my word.
That said, the fan-base jumping off a cliff is knee-jerk reacting at it’s finest. There is a lot of football left and the numbers aren’t really all that awful from a quarterbacking stand-point. A good four game stretch can put him near the top ten stat-wise and make everyone forget about the Cincinnati game. And it was just that, one game. But, because it was in primetime, it causes mayhem.
For the first time this season, the Dolphins play a horrific team with a complimentary bad coaching staff. Mike Mularky had no business retaining the job after a 2-7 mark as interim coach in place of Ken Whisenhunt in 2015.
This Titans team looks awfully similar to the 2015 version of the Dolphins in terms of preparedness. I watched two of the Titans games on the coach’s film and it’s a vanilla scheme on both sides of the ball with extreme predictability and telegraphing of their concepts.
Marcus Mariota has veto power at the line of scrimmage and when he gets out from under center, raises arms to his sides and checks to a run play, the offensive linemen tighten their splits. It’s like clockwork as you can identify run before the ball is even snapped.
If you think our quarterback is bad, Mariota has a 2.3% touchdown rate, 3.7 interception rate and averages 5.7 yards per throw. Tannehill, comparatively, is at 4.3 TD%, 3.6 INT% and 7.8 yards per pass.
DeMarco Murray is an exceptional player and the lone bright spot this offense is featuring currently. The Dolphins singular concern should be dealing with the former NFL rushing champ and flying to the ball carrier so he can’t shed tackles. The Titans will run on running downs, they will run on passing downs, hell, they may even run on punting downs.
Off the running game, they like to get Mariota in space in the play action game and let his legs be the focal point of the aerial strike. The problem with this method is that his accuracy waivers when he throws from different platforms and he struggles to make plays from inside the pocket on third and long situations. The same problems he had at Oregon are persisting at this level and his poor coaching is only perpetuating those problems.
The Titans might have the worst passing offense in the NFL and the Dolphins absolutely should see its first interception since the season opener in Seattle.
I’m predicting that the Dolphins pick Mariota off twice in this game and Reshad Jones being the recipient of one of those INTs. Just like he did a year ago, Jones is going to be flipping into the end-zone with his fourth career pick six.
Rookie Jack Conklin was struggling with Jadaveon Clowney in the Texans game and has struggled with a speed rush all year. He’s a pretty solid mauler in the run game, but he’s a complete liability in pass pro, so expect Cam Wake to feast in this game.
Their running concepts offer little versatility with a pulling guard and/or fullback cracking back on wham and trap plays just about every time they hand it off.
The passing tree isn’t any more complex than that. They often flood one area of the field with multiple routes in an attempt to make Mariota’s reads easier but, instead, it creates more traffic in the throwing lanes.
Defensively, the Titans are better, but nothing special. Just like with Murray on offense, the defense centers around one player – defensive lineman, Jurrell Casey. Casey is a three technique by trade but he lines up all over the line. He has played 75% of the Titans snaps and done so from the three, one and five techniques throughout the course of four games. He’s an exceptional pass rusher capable of collapsing the pocket all game.
Getting Mike Pouncey back should go a long way in shoring up the interior of the offensive line and while I’d love to see Brandon Albert moved inside to guard, it’s not going to happen. I have to imagine Pouncey’s presence will help rookie Laremy Tunsil in the one aspect he has struggled with in his pre-snap reads and assignments.
If the Titans offense is vanilla, the defense is plain flavored Greek yogurt. It honestly looks like they’re throwing darts at a defensive alignment board and going with whichever coverage it strikes. I saw them inexplicably line up with three safeties in cover three with press man on the boundary against 22 personnel (2 backs, 2 tight ends.)
The linebackers don’t seem to have a plan although when they sniff out run and get flowing downhill, they’re ultra-effective splitting gaps and making tackles.
Avery Williamson is playing 94% of the Titans snaps and he struggles big time in coverage often sucking up too close to the line of scrimmage. The Dolphins should capitalize on his lack of discipline with the play action game and crossing routes underneath the center field safety. I look for the slant to be a big part of this week’s plan.
Their blitzing concepts are as predictable as it gets. They rarely bluff and almost always blitz on third down passing downs. Second and long (another passing down) was another frequent blitzing down but outside of those two scenarios, they rely on pressure from their front four. Derrick Morgan has his moments rushing the passer and Jurrell Casey is a monster, but they offer very little outside of those two.
The Dolphins should, let me reiterate, SHOULD be able to protect Tannehill and pick up chunks in the passing game. With ten days to prepare against a coaching staff that has proven time and time again that it can’t compete at this level, there are no excuses in this game.
The five crucial match-ups for Sunday’s tilt are:
1.) Mike Pouncey and the guards vs. Jurrell Casey –
Casey is not often stopped or even contained. Mike Pouncey has been itching to get onto the field for a while and I think there’s a spark he will bring to this offensive line. He typically struggles with power players and Casey is certainly capable of getting behind his 305 pounds. However, the communication and protection call improvement that Pouncey brings will elevate the play of the guards and take care of the Titans best player.
2.) Marcus Mariota vs. Reshad Jones –
Mariota is the engineer behind the offense and Jones is going to be following his orchestrating on Sunday. Mariota has an issue with making up his mind before the snap and struggles with accuracy. It’s very possible he sees Jones in his nightmares on Sunday night after this game is over.
3.) Ryan Tannehill vs. Avery Williamson –
The Titans safeties have been juggled throughout four games and Williamson makes the defensive calls. He’s often out of position and has the Titans in the wrong defense. When Tannehill’s pre-snap reads are correct, he’s a damn good player. He’s going to have a clear direction this game and pick the Titans apart.
4.) Cameron Wake vs. Jack Conklin –
As stated previously, Conklin was brought to Tennessee to improve the running game. His pass protection is a work in progress that is, frankly, not making much progress. The Titans will be in passing downs often with the Dolphins jumping to a lead and shutting down the running game of the Titans meaning Wake gets on the field more than he has all year. He broke out in this game (albeit against a different tackle) last year with four first half sacks and two forced fumbles. I don’t expect that Herculean effort, but it could be close.
5.) Jarvis Landry vs. Brice McCain –
Brice McCain handles the slot duties (remember him?) playing 60% of the snaps with Jason McCourty and Parrish Cox handling 90 plus percent of the snaps on the boundary. McCain has consistently graded out amongst the worst slot corners in football and the Dolphins have a pretty good slot receiver. Jarvis Landry might catch 300 balls in this game and I don’t like either McCourty or Cox’s chances of containing Devante Parker on the perimeter.
Five advantages for Miami. I was trying to think of some areas the Titans could expose the Dolphins but the areas where that’s a possibility is entirely contingent on getting other areas handled first – which I don’t think Tennessee can do.
I have Miami winning this game in a landslide. The Dolphins match up well with this team and can bury them early much like they did last year. If the Dolphins don’t come out with a resounding victory, I will then buy into the doom and gloom that all the fans have forecasted after four games.
10 days of rest, embarrassed on national TV, a host of healthy players returning, the second game and the newly renovated stadium – the only monkey wrench that could potentially throw this game off the tracks would be hurricane Matthew. There are preliminary plans to move the game if necessary, but it appears the storm will have passed come Sunday.
You can check out the Bengals review podcast episode here.
Chris is back from his never-ending vacation to join Sam for the Titans preview pod here.
We also just posted our first ever Perfectville NFL power rankings here.
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