It's time to turn our attention to Sunday's game in Tennessee between the Dolphins and Titans. For the third consecutive week, the Dolphins will play in what is essentially another "playoff game" - meaning a loss and their season could be over. A win and they live to play another meaningful December football game the following week. After the rough start that Miami went through, this is all we could ask for.
The Titans also had their own rough start but have battled back themselves, recovering from an 0-6 start to win six of seven and get back into the playoff picture. Their lone loss in their last seven came at the hands of the undefeated Colts. Needless to say, this one promises to be a battle.
Onto my weekly critical matchups:
Chris Johnson vs Dolphins rush defense
This is obviously a no-brainer. If the Dolphins are to win this game, then they must find a way to slow down the most dangerous runner in the NFL. Chris Johnson leads the NFL in rushing yards, over 300 yards in front of the second ranked rusher. He's run for over 100 yards in eight consecutive games and has his sights set on a 2,000 yard season. And his 6 yards per carry average is tops among all backs with at least 100 carries. He's simply a dynamic play-maker who has 20 runs of 20+ yards this season and 7 of 40+ yards and is a threat to score every time he gets his hands on the football.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, have done a much better job over the past few weeks in stopping the run. They held the Patriots to just 96 yards rushing and 3.8 yards per carry. Then last week, Miami limited Maurice Jones-Drew to just 59 yards and 3.3 yards per carry. Impressive, for sure - especially for limiting MJD like they did. But this unit has not faced a back as fast and elusive as Chris Johnson. And outside of MJD, the most talented runner the Dolphins have faced this season, DeAngelo Williams, ran for 122 yards on just 13 carries against this defense.
Needless to say, the Dolphins most focus this week on limiting Johnson's impact on this football game.
Dolphin receivers vs Titans Secondary
While the Titans will look to run the ball on Sunday, I have a feeling that the Dolphins' game plan will be to throw. The Titans are seventh in the league defending the run but 31st defending the pass. Now part of that is because Tennessee has had to play some games without starting corners Cortland Finnegan and Nick Harper. But still, with both of those guys in the lineup, Matt Leinart was able to complete 68% of his passes for 220 yards.
On the season, the Titans are allowing over 258 yards per game through the air and have surrendered 27 touchdown passes - the second highest total in the league, just two fewer than the Lions. But one of my favorite pass defense statistics is even more telling. The Titans are letting over 67% of the passes thrown against them get completed. And don't let a Titans fan tell you this is because of the injuries they've sustained in 2009. Finnegan is allowing 64% of the passes thrown his way get completed while Harper's completion percentage against is a staggering 73.3%. In fact, opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 115 when throwing in Nick Harper's direction.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, have really been looking to throw the football more often these past two weeks. Chad Henne is completing 62% of his pass attempts over these last two weeks and is averaging 278 yards in that span. Miami's receivers have been the key. Henne has had places to throw the football and his receivers have been consistent catching the football. In these last two games, the Dolphins have had two different 100 yard receivers - Davone Bess against the Pats and Greg Camarillo last week in Jacksonville.
For all of their faults, one thing you can say about this group of receivers is that they have a number of reliable targets. And I think the Dolphins will be able to exploit Tennessee's nickel corner. Whether it's Vincent Fuller or Jason McCourty, the Dolphins should get a favorable matchup against either - or both - of these two. Fuller has allowed 83% of the passes thrown his way to get completed while McCourty has let 89% get completed for an average of ober 14 yards per reception.
This is one matchup the Dolphins have got to exploit.
Ted Ginn vs Titans kick coverage
Here's a little "did you know." Did you know that Ted Ginn Jr. leads the AFC in yards per kick return, averaging 28 yards per attempt? Did you know that no player has more kickoff returns for a touchdown this season than Ginn - and only one player has as many? Did you know that Ginn is fourth in the AFC in kickoff returns of over 20 yards and second in the AFC in returns of 40+ yards? In fact, 72% of Teddy's returns result in at least 20 yards - the same percentage as "return star" Josh Cribbs. And only one player has more 40+ yard kick returns in the AFC than Ginn.
Meanwhile, the Titans are one of the worst teams in the league in kickoff coverage, surrendering 25 yards per kickoff return - the third most in the entire league. And with only 9% of Tennessee's kickoffs resulting in touchbacks, Ginn figures to have some opportunities to make plays on Sunday.
So how about it? Can we see something special out of one of the most polarizing players on this Miami roster?