For most Dolphin fans, Sunday's game cannot get here fast enough. Any time you get into these situations where there are crucial December football games on the horizon, it seems like the work week just drags on in between these games. Of course, Chris Johnson's tale about Ted Ginn ducking him in a race has made the week a little more interesting. But who really cares? Let's talk some football.
The Dolphins have their work cut out for them - especially defensively - when they travel up to Tennessee on Sunday. Here are my three keys to victory for this week - and note that the Dolphins did an excellent job of hitting on the three keys I laid out for them last week in their win against the Jaguars.
Be prepared for two different quarterbacks
Perhaps one of the worst things to come out of last week was that Vince Young suffered that hamstring injury that kept him from returning to their game and makes him a question mark for this week. Now the Dolphins have got to prepare for two different quarterbacks with two completely different styles.
If the Dolphins have to face Young, that means they have to worry about much more than Chris Johnson running and the quarterback throwing. Not only has Young been the better passer out of him and Kerry Collins this season. He's also a dynamic runner when the situations lends itself to VY escaping from the pocket - forcing opposing defenses to account for his legs. In three of his starts this season, Young has at least 30 yards rushing - including a 73 yard performance against the Texans and one long run of 40+ yards last week - the play in which he injured himself.
Last week the Dolphins had to worry about Jaguar quarterback David Garrard scrambling. And on Jacksonville's lone touchdown drive, Garrard ran three times for 18 yards. But the Dolphins made the necessary adjustments and limited Garrard to just 10 more rushing yards the rest of the game. They'll need to be aware of Young's legs if he is indeed the quarterback for Tennessee on Sunday.
But the differences between Young and Collins go beyond their ability to move in the pocket and run. If Collins is the quarterback, look for shorter passes. But if it's Young, we can expect shots down the field. On the season Collins is completing 10% of the passes thrown beyond 20 yards (2/20). Young, meanwhile, is completing 38% of those passes (10/26).
One of the challenges the Dolphins face this week in practice is preparing for two very different possible quarterbacks. Hopefully Paul Pasqualoni has his defense well prepared on Sunday.
Take away Chris Johnson at all costs
This is probably not possible. But the Dolphins do need to do whatever it takes to limit the impact Chris Johnson has on this game. He's the most talented player in this game for either team and can change the momentum of a game with a single touch of the football.
Johnson not only leads the league in rushing yards, but he's also topped 2,000 yards from scrimmage and is just over 400 yards away from the NFL single-season record in that category. And he's also done something no player has ever done - rushed for 85+ yard touchdowns three times in a career. He just happened to do it three times in one season. Yeah - pretty remarkable stuff.
The closest the Dolphins have come to playing against a back of CJ's style this year was either last week against Maurice Jones-Drew or back in week 3 against Darren Sproles. The Dolphins did a good job at containing both. Sproles was limited to just 55 yards of offense on 20 touches while MJD was limited to 83 yards of offense on 20 touches. But one thing the Dolphins did last week to limit MJD's opportunities to catch the football out of the backfield was to blitz early and often, forcing the Jaguars to keep Jones-Drew in to block rather than release into a route. If it's Vince Young under center, he has the mobility to stay alive facing a blitz long enough for Chris Johnson to release. So I'm not sure if employing that same strategy this week is a good idea.
What I am sure of is that no player the Dolphins have faced in 2009 scares me as much as Johnson.
Don't forget about Ricky Williams
I know I really ripped into Tennessee's porous secondary yesterday and highlighted the matchup of Miami's receivers against the Titan cornerbacks. As much as I do want to see the Dolphins throw it on the opposing defense for the third consecutive week, it's important that the Dolphins don't get too one-dimensional and too aggressive.
I know Ricky might be wearing down a little bit due to the extra workload. After all, he is averaging 23 carries per game over his past five games after seeing just 10 per game prior. But I don't think you want to put it all on Chad Henne's shoulders. That's probably not a good idea.
Sure, the Titans have the 7th ranked rushing defense, giving up only 98.8 yards per game on the ground. But they also see the fourth fewest rushing attempts against them out of all 32 NFL teams - only 23.5 per game. With that said, the Titans are surrendering 4.2 yards per carry, which isn't bad but isn't too good, either.
I'm not saying that the Dolphins will be able to run over the Titans. But they just have to be careful not to completely abandon the ground game. After all, the Dolphins have a $160+ million offensive line and want to be known as a power running team. So let's put those big guys up front to work and make them earn their money against a very physical Tennessee front four.