Titans vs. Dolphins: 9 Keys to the Game for Tennessee
The Titans didn't just lose to the Bears last week—they lost ugly. The game was so bad that Bud Adams even called the team out, and now the coaching staff is apparently feeling their seats start to warm.
Winning on the road against a pretty good but beatable Dolphins team would do a lot to restore confidence in the Titans locker room, but it won't be easy. Miami has the third-ranked rush defense in the NFL, and Ryan Tannehill is having a solid rookie debut.
Here are nine things the Titans need to do if they want to come out of Miami with a W.
1. Start Slow
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Jake Locker is expected to start on Sunday for the first time in several weeks. Hopefully, he'll be playing at 100 percent, but even if he is, he may be a little rusty.
The Titans don't need to start their first drive relying heavily on big passes from Locker; if they do, there may be some issues. The wide receivers have been playing the last several weeks with an older quarterback who can't air it out that much.
Locker's playing style is very different from Hasselbeck's, and that could mean turnovers if the Titans aren't careful.
The first drive should focus short passes and the running game, at least until Locker gets comfortable. Then they can start airing it out.
2. Keep the Run Game Varied
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Leroy Harris is going to be out for a while, so his backup, Kevin Matthews, will probably be starting at right guard.
The Titans interior line was already weak, but now it will be that much weaker, which spells trouble for the running game. Furthermore, like I said in the previous slide, this is a Titans team that will need quality rushing for a victory.
So what do you do if you already have a weak running game and are now missing a starting lineman? Mix it up.
Design new runs for Johnson to make. Have a designed run or two for Locker (to the sideline). Put Jamie Harper in every now and then. Keep the defense guessing where the run is going, so they have a tougher time defending it.
With a banged-up offensive line, ground-and-pound won't work against a pretty good Dolphins defense. Chris Palmer will have to get creative if the ground game is going to work.
3. Be Aggressive Early
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Now, like I said earlier, on the first drive or two, you want to be conservative until Locker gets back into a rhythm, but after that, the Titans should be really aggressive offensively.
The Dolphins are a pretty good team, but they've lost a lot of close games. If the Titans can turn on the heat early and make the Dolphins try to come back and win, then the Dolphins will start making mistakes.
If aggressive play isn't working, who cares? Keep it up.
After the terrible game against the Bears, the Titans don't need a conservative game plan that keeps them hanging around. They need at least a few big, dynamic plays to get their confidence back.
Once that confidence is back, then you can start scaling back the aggression. However, until the Titans prove to themselves that, yes, they can get out here and win games, they won't.
4. Shut Down Cameron Wake
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The Dolphins pass defense is awful, ranking 30th in the league. However, they do have a dangerous pass-rusher in Cameron Wake, who already has 8.5 sacks this season.
With Locker coming off an injury, Wake needs to be kept away from him at all times.
That's one reason it's important to take a lead early. If the Titans can stay ahead of the Dolphins and run the ball a lot, you'll keep Wake's pass-rushing ability out of the game. If the Titans have to play catchup, then Wake will be making a beeline to Locker every play.
Locker simply cannot sustain an injury yet again, so the offensive line will have to make Wake their No. 1 priority.
5. Rattle Tannehill
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Despite what the numbers say, Tennessee's defense isn't really that bad. They're not good, but they aren't nearly as terrible as the points allowed this season make them appear.
The defensive backs should have an easier time against the Dolphins than they did the Bears. The Dolphins are weak at receiver, and they don't have a big downfield threat like Brandon Marshall (at least not anymore).
If Jerry Gray takes advantage of Akeem Ayers' ability as a pass-rusher and Zach Brown's ability as a playmaker and blitzes them more often, then they will get pressure on Ryan Tannehill. And when they do, the Dolphins receivers won't have time to get open.
Tannehill is a rookie, and rookies get rattled. Just look at Andrew Luck when the Titans got pressure. He made mistakes he didn't usually make. Unfortunately, the Titans couldn't keep pressure up consistently, so he picked them apart.
If they can keep blitzes coming against Tannehill and keep him under duress, he'll make mistakes, and it just takes a few turnovers to change the course of a game.
6. Don't Overcommit to Bush
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Reggie Bush is having an impressive season, but the Dolphins are only 13th in rushing yards this year. That's just mediocre.
Now, a lot of that is because they've had to play catchup quite a bit and weren't able to run the ball often in those circumstances, but they still aren't that big of a rushing threat.
More importantly, you don't win games running the ball. You win by throwing it.
If the Dolphins are staying on the ground, they're limited. They don't have a great group of running backs the way that the Bills or the Texans do—they have one good running back (Bush) and one okay running back (Daniel Thomas).
Bush can't run up and down the field the entire game without getting tired, so if he's the lion's share of their offense in the first half, great. That just means they'll be in a position to lose in the second half.
Stopping the pass is priority No. 1 for the Titans on defense. Even if the Dolphins are running successfully, they can't forget that.
7. Cut Out the Stupid Penalties
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Now, obviously no one actively seeks penalties. Sometimes they just happen, and sometimes it's better to take a holding call than to allow a sack. However, it's the stupid penalties that will really kill you.
Things like false starts, dumb personal fouls, delays of game, etc. are the kinds of penalties that don't happen when a team is prepared adequately. That's what the Titans need to do this week.
Now, with a (relatively) new right guard, I expect a couple of false starts, but if Bruce Matthews runs the line through all the different snap counts and blocking assignments enough, they'll play smoothly and with discipline.
The same goes for Chris Palmer. He needs to know exactly what plays he's going to want to run in every yardage and scoring situation. That way, the Titans are never in a spot where he has to think for too long about what to do. He needs to be prepared for every scenario.
It's that kind of preparation that cuts down mistakes. And nine times out of ten, the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins.
8. Be Aggressive on Special Teams Too
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The Titans special teams have been very good overall this season. Rob Bironas hasn't been as good as in the past, but he's still better than most kickers, and Darius Reynaud is turning into a very dangerous kick returner.
If ever there was a time to give Reynaud permission to return any kicks he wants, now is the time. If the Titans aren't doing well on offense, a big special-teams play could be the spark they need.
In the Lions game, a couple of big special-teams plays not only took pressure off the offense, it also deflated the Lions, and they played more desperately and sloppily afterwards.
Like I said, the Titans need big plays to restore their confidence. If those big plays have to come from special teams first, so be it.
9. Try Different Things
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Again, I'll refer to the Lions game.
The Titans made up a play the week before Detroit came down to Nashville called "Maroon Six." They saw an opportunity and ran that play in the game, and it resulted in a touchdown.
Then, the Titans were in desperation mode. They'd lost their first two games and looked awful doing it, and they needed a win badly. The situation they're in now isn't much better.
The team has three wins under its belt, but it's also got two losses in a row, and the one against the Bears was one of the worst in team history.
Now is the time for Palmer to draw up some plays that opponents haven't seen the Titans run before. Now is the time for Gray to dial up heavy blitzes every once in a while. Now is the time for Mike Munchak to maybe take a timeout in the first half to give his defense a rest.
The Titans need to try new things in all aspects of the game, because as it stands, what they're doing isn't working very well. If the new stuff doesn't work, scrap it. However, they might just find a couple of things that do work, and that they can build on.
Something has to change, and if the coaches don't try something new, the thing that changes might be them.