We can sit around and debate this quarterback switch all day, but it’s time to get behind Chad Pennington and prep for what is absolutely a must-win for the Dolphins. A loss obviously doesn’t end the Dolphins playoff hopes mathematically, but it’s going to take at least 10-6 to get into the playoffs, if not 11-5 for a team who has performed poorly in conference and likely won’t have the advantage in too many tie-breaking scenarios.
That means a loss would force this Dolphins team to finish the year out 6-1 at the worst, but could mean they would need to run the table in order to sneak into the playoffs. An unlikely feat for a football team who has yet to find an identity on offense, and can’t seem to establish any consistency on defense.
So let’s attempt to see just how well the Dolphins matchup against the Titans.
Dolphins running game (16th) vs. Titans run defense (14th)
I really don’t know who to blame for the Dolphins rushing woes anymore. I’ve been pointing the finger at the interior offensive line all season, and there’s obviously some validity to that, but then again, it’s difficult to get anything going when your offensive coordinator decides to abandon the run.
The Dolphins arguably ran the football better than they had all season on that opening drive in Baltimore, but then Dan Henning goes out and decides to only give Ronnie Brown three more carries the rest of the afternoon. I’m still not going to give up on this offense’s ability to run the football, I think it’s just going to take a commitment from Dan Henning to stay balanced. I’m interested to see if starting Chad Pennington makes things even more difficult on the running game as defenses will be tempted to load up the box because CP10 doesn’t have the ability to stretch the field.
One things for sure, the Titans certainly don’t have a pushover run defense. They rank a solid 14th in the league against the run, and are conceding a decent 4.1 yards per carry. They’re not weak against the run by any means, but surely they can be ran on if the Dolphins decide to feature a heavy dose of Ronnie and Ricky. Of course, I’ve said that before about similiar defenses this season, though.
Titans running game (10th) vs. Dolphins run defense (16th)
On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins have actually been better than their 16th overall ranking suggest. They are currently only surrendering 3.8 yards per carry, and have done a much better job at setting the edge in recent weeks. Having said that, arguably their biggest test of the season is coming to town on Sunday. I say arguably because your in for a heated debate when discussing who the better back is between Adrian Peterson, who the Dolphins’ faced in Week 2, and the Titans’ Chris Johnson.
Johnson hasn’t had the same knack he had a year ago for breaking off long touchdown runs, but he’s still the fastest player in football and is a threat to score everytime he touches the ball, no matter where he is on the field. The Dolphins don’t have a particularly fast defense, so they must prevent Johnson from getting into the open-field.
Just like every other week, Cameron Wake, Koa Misi, and Ikaika Alama-Francis must continue to improve on setting the edge, especially against a speedster like Johnson. When the Titans decide to test the perimeter of the defense, the Dolphins also must be extra careful not to over-pursue Johnson to the edge, because he has the ability to cut back on a dime and spring to daylight up the middle.
Dolphins passing game (14h) vs. Titans pass defense (23rd)
This is obviously where everything gets real interesting. Although, I, along with many other Dolphins fans, don’t agree with this decision to bench Chad Henne so early in his career, I think I speak for everyone when I say I am very intrigued to see how this offense responds to Chad Pennington taking over as the starter.
I have my worries about how much is left in that arm after yet another shoulder surgery, but if Pennington is anywhere remotely close to the same QB that led this team to 11 wins in 2008, he should have a pretty efficient game against the struggling Titans’ secondary. They rank in the bottom ten against the pass, but one thing to be weary of is their ability to pressure the quarterback. That’s where the most upside to this switch at QB may lie.
For all of Pennington’s limitations, he’s always excelled in diagnosing the blitz and getting rid of the football quickly, something that has hindered Henne’s ability to emerge as a quality starter. But then again, that was two years ago, with an even healthier arm than he has now. I think that’s why we should know in a hurry whether or not this was the correct move for this year’s Miami Dolphins
Titans passing game (26th) vs. Dolphins pass defense (12th)
Randy Moss drastically changes what this Titans’ passing attack is capable of, but personally, in this stage of their careers, I will take facing Moss rather than Kenny Britt every day of the week. Who knows, we may see a rejuvenated Moss now that he has a change of scenery, but if Vontae Davis can hold him without a catch when Tom Brady was throwing him passes, I’m pretty sure he can hold him check against a banged up Vince Young.
On the other side, I expect Mike Nolan to allow Sean Smith to get some opportunities at covering Nate Washington with no safety help over the top. That way the Dolphins can shade the safety Moss’ way if necessary, and primarily focus on stacking up the box to stop Chris Johnson and the Titans dynamic rushing attack. One thing that does worry me about facing the Titans is Vince Young’s ability to get outside the pocket. The Dolphins tend to struggle against mobile quarterbacks, so hopefully that ankle injury prevents Young’s legs from having an impact on this game.
Yes, Dan Carpenter missed a crucial fourth quarter field goal against the Ravens last week, but it eventually had to happen. He’s bailed this offense out enough. Overall, though, the Dolphins’ special-teams aren’t making the same game changing mistakes that plagued them early on in the season.
The Titans will bring a pretty solid special-teams unit to town this week, though, led by the boot of Rob Bironas and the dangerous return man Marc Mariani. They don’t cover kicks particulary well, however, conceding just over 27 yards per opponent’s kick return. So maybe this is finally the week Nolan Carroll breaks off a big return.
I’m also interested to see how the absence of Jason Allen effects the coverage teams. They have been improving just about every week, but Jason Allen has been one of the finer special-teams tacklers this team has had over the past few years.