ReFo: Titans @ Dolphins, Week 10
Jake Locker returned the field for the first time since Week 4 to lead the Titans into Miami. With a recent revival to the running game and the talented signal-caller returning, could Locker revive the Titans’ playoff hopes in a weak AFC?
Meanwhile, the Dolphins had a chance to go over .500, and stay on the heels of both the Patriots in the AFC East, and the Colts in the Wild Card chase. Miami has suffered two tough overtime losses and another nail-biting defeat to the Colts, so conventional wisdom backed the Dolphins to get the job done.
The game didn’t go as anyone planned, so let’s look at the how it unfolded, both the good and bad.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
Locker the Savior?
Matt Hasselbeck did not play terribly in his stint filling in for Locker, leading the Titans to a couple of wins. But at this point in his career, that’s just what he is: a very capable backup. His noticeable lack of arm strength leaves him unable to make downfield throws to Tennessee’s dynamic group of receivers. Re-enter Locker, who brings the dual threat of running and throwing, sometimes at the cost of more erratic play, back into the fold. Locker (+3.7) wasn’t very good throwing the ball if you look at the raw totals, but in addition to four throwaways (he didn’t force the ball), the Titans’ receivers dropped multiple balls. Take those away, Locker becomes 11 for 17 in a game where he didn’t have to throw the ball much. What was most impressive about Locker was his ability to pickup the first down with his legs. He ran for first downs on both third, and fourth-and-short, but his most impressive run was on a first-down play in the first quarter. On the play he tripped over his lineman, calmly rose and took off out of the pocket for a 20-yard gain. Most other quarterbacks are curling up and taking a sack in that situation.
Open Lanes for Johnson
Chris Johnson (+0.8) had a good day running the ball, but it came primarily on the back of his offensive line. He clearly looks like he’s running harder and with more confidence than he had at the beginning of the season, but his rapid rise up the leading rushers list has coincided with the increase in performance by the big guys in front of him. Steve Hutchinson had his best day of the season on Sunday (+3.4), but center Fernando Velasco and right tackle David Steward are also playing at an incredibly high level. It was also a help that tight ends Taylor Thompson and Craig Stevens, as well as fullback Quinn Johnson were in the majority of running plays, lead blocking and sealing the edge for Johnson.
Wimbley Silenced by Long
After signing for $13.5 million guaranteed in the offseason, Kamerion Wimbley has played somewhat inconsistently, coupling two big games with a couple of stinkers. He’s been more good than bad though, so the Titans likely aren’t complaining. With their defense able to play ahead the entire day, there wasn’t a pressing need to get pressure on Ryan Tannehill. Still, Wimbley (-3.5) was stood up by Jake Long for the entire day, logging just one pressure on the quarterback in 29 pass rush attempts. He ended up not recording a tackle or a stop, and while it didn’t matter much in the outcome of this game, at 4-6, the Titans need to play nearly perfect from here on out, and Wimbley will need to put forth better efforts than this one.
Miami –Three Performances of Note
Ryan Tannehill (-1.7) will likely get scrutinized for his haphazard throws leading to three interceptions, but in reality, he played a decent game, and continues to impress for a rookie quarterback who had only 20 college starts. Out of his three picks, two were not his fault, as one came on a tipped ball, and on another Anthony Fasano made a poor play with the end result of an Akeem Ayers INT. He was quite efficient in his 23 for 39, with the three picks and three Dolphin drops accounting for six of his incomplete passes. The only place where Tannehill really struggled throwing the ball was on short timing throws in between the numbers. On throws from 0-9 yards in between the numbers, he went 9 of 15 with an interception, while going 14 of 21 on all other throws.
Invisible Defensive Line
Coming in as a Top 5 defense against the run, Miami severely disappointed and were pushed around by the Titans. Almost every player on the defensive line for the Dolphins posted a negative grade, with just Olivier Vernon (+0.4) and Paul Soliai’s (+0.2) grades being on the plus side. Going against his former team, which usually propels players to great days, the Dolphins’ ineptitude was ‘led’ by Randy Starks (-3.1). Charged with anchoring the line, Starks was routinely pushed off the line by Velasco and Hutchinson, not even allowing him to record a tackle or make a stop. As I noted earlier, this offensive line has been manhandling people of late, so it may be a case of running into them at a bad time, but there’s no excuse for Starks to have his worst game of the season against his former club.
Hartline Gaining Consistency
Although his season stats have been inflated by that massive game he had at Arizona, Brian Hartline (+1.3) has proven to be Tannehill’s top weapon. Since emerging from the bye, they have cemented their connection. And they’ve been linking up both on short patterns as well as longer ones. In this game Hartline primarily did his damage underneath, catching all of his targets under 10 yards, and either getting a few extra yards or going down. In the fourth quarter, Tannehill threw an inch-perfect ball that would’ve gone for a 19-yard touchdown to Hartline, but Jason McCourty made his best play of the day to recover and knock the ball away. That would’ve pushed Hartline’s line to nine catches on 10 targets for 98 yards and a touchdown.
– After kicking five out of eight kickoffs for touchbacks, Rob Bironas’ total grade for the day was +4.5
– After being benched for the half eight snaps into the game for a fumble, Reggie Bush played nine snaps into the second half after dropping a short pass
– With Tannehill’s inclination to pass right, towards Hartline, Alterraun Verner allowed one completion on two targets, deflecting the other pass targeted at him
PFF Game Ball
Jake Locker, despite making just nine completions, was dangerous with the ball in his hands, both running and passing. If the offensive line continues its solid play, he will fun to watch with the weapons that he has it his disposal.