WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN THE BALL
The Dolphins need to run the football more. Last week against the 28th-rated run defense, Miami rushed only 18 times even in a game it led much of the way and were never more than a touchdown behind. If the Dolphins do not abandon the run, they should do damage against the Titans because the visitors have shown little ability to stop opponents’ running games. Despite fielding what coach Joe Philbin calls “a good front seven,” the Titans are yielding 141.6 rushing yards per game (30th in the NFL behind only Buffalo and New Orleans) and give up 4.4 yards per rush (25th in the NFL). Lately, Miami has been more willing to let Daniel Thomas carry the load when the game is a more bruising affair. This happened against the New York Jets. But that 18-yard run that left half of the Indianapolis defense dazed by his cuts suggests Reggie Bush is still Miami’s best bet for an explosive play out of the running game. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS THE BALL
The Dolphins are finally starting to discover the tight end. Anthony Fasano has a touchdown in two of the past three games and Charles Clay scored his first touchdown of the season on a 31-yard pass last week. If this becomes a trend, it opens new possibilities for Ryan Tannehill, who is in need of more targets, particularly ones that can add yards after the catch once the completion is made. Brian Hartline, silent for a couple of games, had his third 100-yard game last week and he remains Miami’s most dangerous receiving threat. The Titans are a wreck in pass defense. They yield 273 yards per game, which is 27th in the NFL. And opposing quarterbacks have a 108.4 rating against them, which is the worst in the NFL. They’re also not especially good at getting to the quarterback, with 14 sacks all season — half of what NFL leader Green Bay has posted. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
WHEN THE TITANS RUN THE BALL
Chris Johnson used to strike fear in the hearts of defenders, but he seemingly leveled off after signing his big contract a couple of years ago and then started slow again this year. But since Week 6, Johnson has regained his old form, gaining 526 yards, including a 195-yard game against the Bills. He’s as explosive as ever and that’s why he got loose for an 80-yard touchdown, his fifth from that distance during his career. The Dolphins continue to be a good run-defending team, but this game presents their biggest challenge because the Titans average 4.8 yards per rush, which is fifth-best in the NFL. It’s interesting that despite the high average, the Titans don’t seem to stick with the run. They have only 185 rushing attempts, which is 29th in the NFL and approximately 100 rushes fewer than the NFL leaders. ADVANTAGE: Even.
WHEN THE TITANS PASS THE BALL
The Titans this week have been weighing whether to start veteran Matt Hasselbeck or youngster Jake Locker, who was the starter at the start of the season but was knocked from the lineup because of an injury. Either is dangerous. Hasselbeck has the experience and still can do damage, as his 62.7 completion percentage and 81.3 QB rating attest. Locker is more athletic and was seemingly getting comfortable with his starting role before he got injured. He had four TDs and two interceptions and showed a good ability to extend plays — something that hurt Miami last week. The Titans have solid options outside, including Kendall Wright, who leads all NFL rookies with 42 catches. Miami has to correct the issues that allowed it to yield 433 passing yards last week, including an inability to play press. ADVANTAGE: Tennessee.
Both teams average 12.7 yards per punt return, which is tied for fourth in the NFL. The Dolphins have a slight advantage on kickoff returns, averaging 27.7 yards per return to Tennessee’s 25.4. And although Brandon Fields averages 45.8 yards per punt, Brett Kern averages a similarly impressive 44.0. Dan Carpenter enjoys an advantage over Rob Bironas in that he’s 4 of 6 from 40 to 49 yards, whereas Bironas is only 2 of 5 and hasn’t tried any field goals of 50 yards or more. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
Tennessee coach Mike Munchak and his staff still haven’t figured out how to stop anyone. The Titans are the worst team in the NFL giving up points. Opponents are averaging 34.2 points per game, which is almost three times what the league leaders allow. No wonder Tennessee owner Bud Adams called out his coaches last week. No such issues with Joe Philbin and his crew. They haven’t gotten the Dolphins to the point they are playoff contenders, and that might not happen this season. But for the most part, the team plays solid, sound football week after week. ADVANTAGE: Miami.