3TFO: Titans @ Dolphins, Week 10
Coming off a difficult loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Miami Dolphins return home to take on the Tennessee Titans. Miami is still right in the thick of the AFC wild-card race at 4-4, but last week’s loss was a major setback. Still, they’ve exceeded expectations to this point as they’ve been carried by one of the best defenses in the league. The arrow is pointing up and a win this weekend will vault them back into playoff contention.
In Tennessee, not much has gone right this season and they’re sitting at 3-6 after last week’s 51-20 thrashing at the hands of the Chicago Bears. They’ve had some individual players who have started to play better in recent weeks, but they’ve failed to put it all together, particularly on defense. A strong second half of the season will be crucial for coach Mike Munchak because the young, underachieving squad needs to finish on a high note.
Let’s take a look at the key matchups from this AFC battle.
Ryan Tannehill vs. Middle of Titans Defense
Along with the defense’s emergence, quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s development has Dolphins fans excited for the future. He’s certainly looked like a rookie at times, but he’s also shown an advanced feel for the position, particularly under pressure. Tannehill leads the league in accuracy percentage under pressure at 87.2 percent, and his +2.4 grade on such throws is encouraging for anyone, especially a rookie. He still has to do a better job of taking advantage of the middle of the field, and this week against the Titans may be a good time to start.
After a solid start to his rookie season, linebacker Colin McCarthy has really struggled here in Year 2. He’s third from the bottom in coverage at -5.8 and his 16.6 yards per reception allowed is second-worst among inside linebackers. Behind him is safety Michael Griffin, who’s had a disastrous season. He’s our worst graded safety at -17.2, including -10.6 in coverage. He’s tied for the league lead among all defensive backs with five touchdowns surrendered into his coverage.
Tannehill has focused most of his throws outside the numbers to this point, but he should be able to expand his repertoire and take advantage of the weak middle of the Titans’ pass defense.
Titans Interior Offensive Line vs. Dolphins Defensive Tackles
It’s been a mixed bag for the Titans up front as guards Steve Hutchinson (-6.8) and Leroy Harris (-7.2) have had their struggles but center Fernando Velasco (+9.3) is coming off three straight outstanding games that have vaulted him to our No. 9 center in the league. Hutchinson ranks 48th among guards with a Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) of 93.7 while Harris is currently on injured reserve, opening the door for backup RG Deuce Lutui. Velasco is eighth among centers with a PBE of 98.5, but it’s his run blocking that really improved in recent weeks. He’s been sealing defensive tackles and wiping out linebackers at the second level to the tune of a +11.1 grade in that area since Week 5.
One of the keys to Miami’s move to the 4-3 this year has been the play of their defensive tackles, Randy Starks and Paul Soliai. Starks is fresh off his inclusion in our Top 51 Player List, and he is fourth at the position in Pass Rush Productivity (PRP) at 8.0. Soliai has provided his usual stout run defense, and his 10.3 percent Run Stop Percentage ranks fourth at the position. He’s battling an ankle injury, and if he can’t go this weekend, look for rookie defensive tackle Kheeston Randall (-1.9) to get significant playing time.
Derrick Morgan vs. Jonathan Martin
Perhaps overlooked in the Titans’ mess of a defense is defensive end Derrick Morgan’s emergence in recent weeks. He’s coming off his two best games as a pro, picking up 16 pressures on his 68 pass rush attempts. His recent surge has put his PRP at 9.6, good for 11th among 4-3 defensive ends. The third-year player is finally showing the potential that made him a first-round pick in 2010.
With 98.6 percent of Morgan’s rushes coming off left end, he’ll be going up against Dolphins rookie right tackle Jonathan Martin. Most of Martin’s issues have come as a run blocker, and he’s still transitioning to the right side after playing left tackle in college. His –10.2 run block grade is third-worst among tackles. He’s only been slightly better as a pass blocker with a PRP of 93.7, good for 44th out of 59 qualifiers.
Follow Steve on Twitter: @PFF_Steve