The Tennessee Titans, refreshed from a bye week and with new weapon Randy Moss, will visit the Miami Dolphins Sunday in an important intraconference game.
On the surface, this Dolphins team seems very ordinary and average. Look at all of the following team stats. All of them rank the Dolphins in the teens, from 12th to 17th, which is right in the middle of the pack.
Yards – 17th
Pass yds – 14th
Rush yds – 16th
Points allowed – 17th
Yards – 13th
Pass yds – 12th
Rush yds – 16th
Their record: 4-4. About as average as you can get. According to the Bill Parcells school of thought, which says you are what your record say you are, the Dolphins are an average team. I disagree just a little. Miami is a better team than their stats or their record indicate.
The Dolphins’ four losses have all been to teams ranked in the top five in all the power rankings: the Jets, Patriots, Steelers and Ravens, which have a combined 24-9 record. One of those losses (Steelers) should have been a win but the zebras blew a call on what should have been ruled a touchback after a Rapistberger fumble.
Miami can also boast a road win at Lambeau Field, which is no mean feat when the Packers have a strong team. Had it not been for their extremely tough early schedule and the zebras costing them a game, the Dolphins could very well have a 6-2 record at this point.
Miami is still on the schneid at home (go figure) so that streak will hopefully continue for another week.
Here’s the skinny on the Dolphins.
Offense: The big news in Miami this week is a change at quarterback with Chad Pennington taking over from Chad Henne. Pennington, who threw 25 touchdowns to Randy Moss in college, last played the Titans in 2007. The Titans won 10-6 but Pennington passed for 264 yards, completing 26 of 32 attempts (81.3%), and a touchdown. This will be Pennington’s first start since Week Three of last year, when he was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. Henne has been the starter since then, including the overtime loss to the Titans last year.
The Dolphins have several big problems on offense. They’re 28th in the league in scoring (only 17.9 ppg) and have not yet scored more than two touchdowns in a game. Red zone scoring has been mostly dependent on the foot of kicker Dan Carpenter as the Dolphins haven’t been able to score touchdowns with any regularity.
Despite the great backfield tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, Miami has only three rushing touchdowns this season. Neither back has rushed for 100 yards in a game.
The Dolphins acquired big-play receiver Brandon Marshall in the offseason but he’s only scored once. Slot receiver Davonne Bess leads the team with 3 TDs.
I don’t think Pennington is going to make a difference as far as Marshall’s game is concerned. Pennington doesn’t have a strong arm (never did, even before his multiple shoulder injuries) and that’s what it takes to bring out the best in Marshall, a strong-armed QB like Jay Cutler. The Cutler-to-Marshall combo was pretty darn good in Denver.
In the good news department for Miami, they’re fourth in the league in converting third downs (45%) so getting off the field will be a key for the Titans defense.
If you’re a fan who appreciates good line play, watch Jake Long. I know we’ve got a good ‘un in Michael Roos, but it will still be a treat to watch him. Just hope he doesn’t play too well, especially if the Dolphins win. There are some great young tackles in the league (Clady, Thomas, et al) and Long is one of them. The first overall draft pick in 2008 is on the injury report this week (knee) but with full participation in practice, so we’ll have to see how that plays out. If Dave Ball or Jacob Ford can get a sack against a healthy Long, that will be a real accomplishment.
Defense: The Dolphins still play a Parcells-style 3-4 D but there are a lot of personnel changes from the team we remember from Week 15 of last year. The most changes have been in the linebacker corps, where only ILB Channing Crowder remains. I love the addition of Karlos Dansby, Miami’s leading tackler, next to him. I thought Dansby had a great game against the Titans when he was with the Cardinals last year. ROLB Cameron Wake (8½ sacks) is the edge rusher who Roos will try to block.
I know this much. Wake has a much better chance of making Roos look bad than Ball has a chance of making Long look bad.
On the line, NT Paul Soliai has replaced Jason Ferguson. Interestingly, Soliai, who played against the Titans last year, is the only NT the Dolphins have. Former Titan Randy Starks, who has played some excellent football since leaving Tennessee, remains at RDE and can move further inside. He’s played over the nose for the Dolphins on a regular basis before and still slides inside for quite a few plays every game. I’d like to see Leroy Harris knock him around a little.
In the secondary, SS Yeremiah Bell had a Pro Bowl season last year. The Dolphins’ two young corners, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, are pretty good and should only improve the next several years. Davis was Miami’s first-round draft pick last year and Smith followed him in the second round. The Dolphins just cut former first-round pick Jason Allen and claimed Al Harris, who’s about to turn 36 years old, off waivers. BTW, Allen was in turn claimed by the Texans, who need all the help they can get in their secondary.
Special teams: Carpenter is second in the league in made field goals (19 for 22), primarily because the offense has trouble scoring touchdowns. Punter Brandon Fields is second in the league in blocked punts (2). The Titans already blocked one of league-leader Mike Scifres’ four blocked punts, so I’m sure that’s something both teams have been working on this week. Bess is the tenth-best punt returner (minimum ten punt returns) in the league with a 10.8 average. Kick coverage is a problem for Miami. The Dolphins are second-worst in the league, allowing 27.1 yards per return. The Titans should be able to start with some good field position after Dolphin field goals and Marc Mariani may bust a long one.
The Moss/Collins factor: In ten games, Moss has 10 touchdowns against Miami and has averaged 4½ receptions and 76 yards per game. In his last game against them, he was targeted only once and had no catches when the Patriots beat the Dolphins earlier this year.
Vince Young practiced sparsely this week and Kerry Collins took most of the snaps again in Friday’s practice. As per Jonathan Hutton, Collins and Moss also worked together on a side field following practice. The two were teammates for a year in Oakland, so there’s already some familiarity there.
Moss had 60 catches for 1,005 yards and 8 TDs in 2005. Most of those were presumably from Collins, the Raiders’ starting QB that season.
I think Moss is better in his first game with the Titans with Collins than he would be with Young, whom he hasn’t practiced with much. Later this year, it shouldn’t make much of a difference, but I think Collins as the starter helps Randy this week. Vince is questionable and several sources report Fisher will make a gametime decision on the starter. Hutton said it was his impression, based on his practice observations and Vince’s injury, that Collins will be the starter this week.
The Moss prediction:
4 catches, 67 yards, 1 touchdown
The game prediction:
Titans 20 (2 TDs, 2 FGs)
Dolphins 16 (1 TD, 3 FGs)
Those are my thoughts. What do you think about the Dolphins vs the Titans?