This Sunday, our resurgent 8-7 Dolphins try to maintain their recently-acquired grip on a Wildcard berth. Doing this will be no easy feat, however, as they have to hit the road, go into a chilly Nashville, and beat the 10-5 Tennessee Titans. Let's try to get a sense of what the matchup is looking like:
The Tale of the Tape
Here are the key per-game stats for both teams, as per pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, and nflpenalties.com:
These stats and ranks seem to paint a picture of two very different teams. Oddly, in the grand scheme, Tennessee and Miami are in similar spots, if for different reasons. I'll be getting into this a bit shortly, but the simple version is that neither offense is currently better than average, while both defenses are forces to be reckoned with.
It should be noted that the Titans' eye-popping rushing yards stats are a bit inflated due to the early success of human freight train Derrick Henry, who has been on the Injured Reserve list since Week 9. However, the Titans have still shown the ability to run the ball quite successfully at times, despite Henry's absence.
It should also be noted that the Dolphins defensive numbers are still slightly skewed downwards, due to their early struggles. Since the start of the current seven-game win streak, however, they put up some of the best numbers in the entire NFL. The caveat here, of course, is that it has come against a string of mostly sub-standard quarterbacks and offenses.
So what can we tell from the Titans' two most recent games?
Full disclosure: while I usually watch the two previous games of our upcoming opponents, I was unable to do so this time around. The following descriptions come from box scores and recaps from pro-football-reference.com and espn.com.
Two weeks ago, the Titans headed into a chilly Pittsburgh to face an offensively-challenged Steelers team that was fighting to remain Wildcard relevant. In short, the game was ugly. Though they managed to rack up 201 rushing yards on 42 carries, the Titans fumbled the ball five times, losing four of them. Add in a Ryan Tannehill tipped-ball interception, and Tennessee did everything they could to make life hard on themselves. And yet, they almost managed to win. If not for a clutch stop on their own 10 yard line, the Steelers would have probably lost. Instead, they hung on to get a 19-13 win and send the Titans home with the L. The Titans defense held the Steelers offense to a paltry 168 total yards, which is a bit less impressive when you realize that the Steelers offense has struggled all year. Still, Tennessee really kept a lid on them. The Titans pass game was, to put it diplomatically, limited. Tannehill was 23-32, but for only 153, no touchdowns, and the interception. He was sacked four times and fumbled twice, losing one of them. In other words, it was the kind of "bad Tannehill" game that we Dolphins fans saw plenty of between 2012 and 2018. Tennessee's offense almost overcame the countless miscues, thanks mostly to D'Onta Foreman's 108 yards on 22 carries along with his fellow RBs' additional 84 yards, but it just wasn't enough to make up for the countless turnovers.
After they had licked their wounds from that loss, the Titans got to go back home to Nashville and host a 49ers team that had been rolling a bit. After starting the season 2-4, the Niners were coming in having gone 6-2 over the previous eight games, including some nice wins over probable playoff teams. San Francisco more or less owned the first half, taking a 10-0 lead into halftime. The Titans regrouped, though, and responded in the second half. They put up 10 unanswered points in the third, and then pulled ahead a few minutes into the fourth on a TD pass to A.J. Brown. The Niners tied it up at 17-17 with 2:20 left, but then allowed the Titans to drive into their own territory and give up the game-winning, 44-yard field goal to Tennessee. This was a hard-fought win for the Titans, who were without the entire starting left-side of their O line. The first half looked like the beginning of the end, as the offense really struggled, but the entire team bounced back and played a winning second half. They showed some real resilience, even if they didn't play a complete game.
Tennessee versus Miami
This one is tougher than normal for me to evaluate, not having watched all of the Titans' two previous games. From what I've read and the highlights I watched, though, this is clearly the Dolphins' toughest matchup since their Thursday Night game against the Ravens nearly two months ago.
The Titans' defense truly is no joke. They boast one of the very best run defenses in the NFL, only having surrendered more than 100 rush yards three times all year. And as we know, the Dolphins have one of the worst run games in the league. Ground yards are going to be tough, without a doubt. Based on recent games, Miami's OCs won't abandon the run, but none of us should expect a lot of success in that area. Through the air is a different story, however, as the Titans will concede passing yards. Not a ton, mind you. They've only allowed three 300-yard passers all year, and they won all three of those games (Seahawks, Bills, and Niners). In short, they do enough to keep themselves in games and give their offense plenty of opportunity to win. Given the Dolphins' generally conservative approach to the offense, I don't expect any sort of fireworks. I think Jalen Waddle will be a huge factor here, racking up his typical 8 to 10 catches as Tua takes what the defense gives him. The Titans don't blitz a ton, so I expect Tua to keep things in check.
On the other side of the ball, I'm more optimistic. No, the defense hasn't faced a decent offense in quite a while. Still, I think the matchups favor our defense quite a bit here. Since the Titans lost Derrick Henry to injury, they haven't been nearly as consistent in running the ball effectively. Yes, they racked up a ton of ground yards against the Steelers, but the Steelers have literally the worst run defense in the NFL. They did also pile on an insane 270 rushing yards against the Patriots, but the Pats defense is also a below-average against the run (23rd in rush yards allowed per game). The Dolphins run defense, on the other hand, is excellent. Now, I do think it's imperative that we get at least one of defensive tackles John Jenkins and/or Adam Butler back to round out the middle of the D line rotation. If that happens, then I don't see the Titans running wild on us like they did against the Steelers and Patriots. The Titans' passing game is possibly even a rosier picture. As good as the Titans' offensive line is at run-blocking (and they are great), they are not at all good at pass blocking. That, coupled with Ryan Tannehill's propensity for holding onto the ball too long, are why the Titans have given up the 4th most sacks in the NFL, and why their passing game is well below NFL average. The Dolphins pass rush has only gotten better and more ferocious in the last two months, which bodes poorly for Ryan Tannehill and well for the Dolphins.
I'm going to give "other areas" nod to the Dolphins. Mike Vrabel is a good coach, but not appreciably better than Brian Flores. Both place kickers are merely decent this year, but Miami's coverage team continues to dazzle. The Dolphins are also better with penalties, as the Titans are one of the more penalized teams in the league.
Summary & Prediction
This one is going to be a back-alley knife fight. It's going to be cold. Neither defense is going to surrender yards easily. Air yards will be tough to come by, and ground yards even tougher. This one is going to come down to probably one or two big impact plays in the fourth quarter, and it may very well be that whoever has the ball last is going to win.
Dolphins 20, Titans 17
The score might end up being on the high end, but I think each team manages to grind out a couple of TDs, maybe even relying on a defensive score. In the end, I think our Dolphins are able to do enough to win a tight one, get to 9-7, and set up an epic showdown with the Patriots in Miami next week.
How you feeling about this one? Drop a comment down below!