Miami Dolphins

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at Tennessee Titans

The Dolphins’ Kenny Stills, shown catching a touchdown pass Oct. 4 against the Jets in London, is likely to start for Miami in Sunday’s game against Tennessee. But the Titans’ strong pass defense could force the Dolphins to run more.
The Dolphins’ Kenny Stills, shown catching a touchdown pass Oct. 4 against the Jets in London, is likely to start for Miami in Sunday’s game against Tennessee. But the Titans’ strong pass defense could force the Dolphins to run more. AP

When the Dolphins pass the football

The Dolphins stressed competition in practice last week, but what good is competition if there is no prize for winning? Well, the right to play is the prize, and Kenny Stills seems to have won that after a good game against the New York Jets and a good week of practice. So Stills is expected to make his first Dolphins start ahead of Greg Jennings. The entire Miami offense has been under fire for being pass-heavy, and that might not be the best approach this week because the Titans have the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense. This team attacks the quarterback, which is the reason Tennessee is first in the NFL in sacks per pass play and is the third-best defense in third-down efficiency.

ADVANTAGE: Tennessee

When the Dolphins run the football

The Dolphins are making changes along the offensive line, with Billy Turner expected to start at right guard after watching Jamil Douglas play the position the first four games. The idea is to make the Miami front more aggressive and physical. The Dolphins seem to be in major need of committing more to the running game. They are 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game but are 10th in rushing yards per attempt. Simple math suggests more rushes would address the sagging rush attack. This is especially true against a team that struggles to stop the run.

ADVANTAGE: Even

When the Titans pass the football

Quarterback Marcus Mariota, the team’s first-round pick, and rookie receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who is 6-5 and 237 pounds with sprinter’s speed, were supposed to combine to transform the Tennessee passing game. It has not quite worked out yet. Although Mariota has been careful with the football and has only three interceptions, he is missing reads that would lead to big plays in the passing game. Green-Beckham, meanwhile, has all of three catches. This passing game relies more on the safer passes to tight end Delanie Walker and possession receiver Kendall Wright. The Dolphins are hoping to unleash what is supposed to be a very good pass rush, which so far has been disappointing. The status of cornerback Brent Grimes, meanwhile, bears watching, because although he is expected to play, he definitely is not 100 percent after spraining an MCL two weeks ago.

ADVANTAGE: Even

When the Titans run the football

Quick, name the starting running back for Tennessee. Eddie George? Chris Johnson? Nope. It’s Bishop Sankey, a second-year former second-round pick from Washington. Sankey isn’t big like George or exceedingly fast like Johnson. But he’s solid as his 4.1-yard-per-carry average suggests. The versatile Dexter McCluster is the change-of-pace back who is also a threat out of the backfield. The Tennessee running game has been middle of the road (ranked 14th), but it has more than enough potential to threaten a Dolphins defense that so far this season is ranked last in the NFL against the run. The fewest rushing yards the Dolphins have allowed in any game this season? It was 123 yards against Jacksonville.

ADVANTAGE: Even

Special teams

The Titans are last in the NFL in gross punting but have the best field-goal percentage in the NFL. The team that once authored the Music City Miracle on a kickoff return has been unspectacular in both punt and kickoff returns. Dolphins rookie punter Matt Darr leads the NFL in net punting average. One issue with the Miami special teams: Too many penalties. Those need to be cleaned up.

ADVANTAGE: Even

Coaching

Ken Whisenhunt is in his second season with his second team as coach and has yet to gain the traction he has hoped for. The Titans are usually well prepared and start fast, and come out of the halftime locker room with good adjustments, as evidenced by their 38-7 scoring advantage in the third quarter. But the team simply has not succeeded in closing out games — losing two times this season after leading in the fourth quarter. Dan Campbell is Miami’s new interim coach, and his staff is remade with a new defensive coordinator, new offensive assistants and new vibe. The question is can he get the most out of what is supposed to be a talented roster? It was an assignment predecessor Joe Philbin failed to accomplish.

ADVANTAGE: Tennessee

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