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Dolphins vs Titans: Matchups and keys to victory

For the second consecutive week, I was forced to push back our look at Sunday's game due to some big midweek news. Last week it was the Dolphins' decision to not put in a waiver claim for Randy Moss. This week, ironically enough, it was the news that Randy's former college quarterback - Chad Pennington - would replace Chad Henne under center for the Dolphins.

And wouldn't you know it that both of these players make their 2010 season debut for their teams on Sunday against one another.

That, of course, is where we start as our look at Sunday's big game between the Dolphins and Titans.


Randy Moss vs Vontae Davis

After Vontae shut down Moss back in week four on national television, we didn't think that the Dolphins would have to worry about him again until the final week of the season. Then Moss was traded to Minnesota and we all thought that the Dolphins wouldn't see him again for a few years. But as fate would have it, Randy will make his debut with the Titans on Sunday against the Dolphins.

In his four previous team debuts, Moss has been sensational. His NFL debut with the Vikings saw Randy catch four passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns. His debut in Oakland resulted in a five catch, 130 yard, one touchdown performance. Moss made nine catches for 183 yards and a touchdown in his New England debut. And finally, his first game back with the Vikings earlier this year was a four catch, 81 yard performance that also included a touchdown.

For those scoring at home, that's 22 receptions for 489 yards and 5 touchdowns in four games. Clearly, Randy has a knack for putting on a show in his first game in a new uniform.

Moss has also been a Dolphins killer throughout his career. In nine career games against Miami, Randy averages 84 yards receiving per game and has scored ten touchdowns.

Of course, Vontae Davis did an excellent job shutting down Randy in their first meeting of 2010. Davis held Moss without a reception back in week four.

Vontae knows that Randy is going to be gunning for him on Sunday. On Thursday, Davis joked that Moss is "on his revenge tour. He found a team he knew Miami had to play, so he's looking for me. He's looking for me now."

I'm expecting Mike Nolan to again allow Vontae to shadow Moss all over the field just as he did back in week four. The question is if he will be able to keep Moss quiet for the second consecutive game.

Chad Pennington vs Father Time

Maybe this isn't a real matchup. But for better or for worse, all eyes are going to be on CP10. His performance is going to be scrutinized all week next week - good or bad. It was major news this week when Tony Sparano declared Pennington the starter, sending Chad Henne to the bench. And that puts a lot of pressure on Pennington and his 34 year old arm.

Keep in mind that the Dolphins are 0-4 in Pennington's last four starts. Pennington didn't look good in those four games, either. Though he completed 67.8% of his passes in those four - dating back to Miami's playoff loss to the Ravens - Pennington averaged only 5.9 yards per attempt and had a 2:6 touchdown to interception ratio.

While Pennington will now have the luxury of throwing to Brandon Marshall this time around, he's also a year older and coming off of another shoulder surgery. He's also being asked to shake off some rust considering he's only attempted 28 passes in live game action (all in the preseason) since September of 2009.

This coaching staff is asking a lot out of their veteran quarterback. Does he have any magic left in his 34 year old arm?


1. Protect the football. Allow me to share with you some interesting statistics about the Titans. Tennessee is 24th in the league in total offense, averaging only 310 yards per game. They are 22nd in the league in average yards gained per drive - only 27.49. And they are 17th in third down conversions, converting only 39% of them.

However, the Titans are also 2nd in the league in points scored per drive (2.22) and 1st in the league in points scored per game (28). That's right - the Titans are the NFL's highest scoring team...and that was without a guy named Randy Moss.

How can an offense be among the lowest ranked total offenses in terms of yards gained but at the very top in scoring? They take advantage of turnovers. And Tennessee's defense gets a bunch of them. The Titans have forced 19 turnovers this year - tied for the third most in the league and trailing the league leader by only two. Most of those are courtesy of interceptions. Only the Bucs and Packers have more interceptions than the Titans.

Chad Pennington has to be 2008-esque in his ability to protect the football.

2. Make the Titans one-dimensional. This is really a goal every week for every NFL defense. But against a team with a weapon like Chris Johnson at running back and Randy Moss at receiver, forcing the opponent to become one-dimensional is even more important.

It won't be an easy task, of course. Last week this defense displayed some truly terrible tackling, letting ball carriers to juke and power their way through would-be tacklers. And if bottling up Ray Rice and Willis McGahee was difficult, then how will this team bottle up the fastest and most elusive running back in the league?

Actually, it might not be as difficult as it seems. Last year during Johnson's 2,000 yard season, the Dolphins actually did better than any team he faced in containing the speedy back. Though he still topped 100 yards, Miami's defense held CJ to a season low 3.6 yards per attempt.

Johnson isn't having the kind of season he had last year, either. While he's still on pace for over 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns, he's also averaging a career low 4.1 yards per carry and is coming off of two games that saw run for just 125 yards combined, averaging only 3.2 yards per carry.

If the Dolphins can contain Johnson on early downs, that will put the Titans in more third and longs than they would like to be. And with either a dinged up and possibly gimpy Vince Young or the immobile Kerry Collins under center, putting Tennessee in as many passing situations as possible will allow Cameron Wake and company to pin their ears back and attack the quarterback.

That's the recipe to defeating these Titans.