Every game counts. While every game counts, once you get to this point of the season, to the point where playoff talk is no longer just talk, it’s a reality as the 7th seed in the AFC, the games right now are basically playoff games in and of themselves. There’s no room for error, any loss can potentially eliminate our playoff chances so when we square off against the AFC South division leading Tennessee Titans, this is HUGE. The Titans at 10-5 are one game ahead of the Indianapolis Colts. We are 8-7 and Wild Card #3, the #7 seed. It’s clear how we’ve arrived at this point, it’s the men pictured above that have carried us here. The defense is the unit that is ready for prime time, ready for the playoffs and maybe more. The offense has improved, but without stellar defensive play, this team can’t hang with the big boys.
This week we face a very good team. They’re not the same team without their star RB Derrick Henry, but they’re still a tough team. Derrick was injured in the 8th game of the season with the Titans at 6-2. Since then they’ve gone 4-3 to get to 10-5. They have a good defense, midpack statistically and the same for their offense. They are not nearly as fearsome without Derrick Henry in the lineup. The Titans haven’t scored 30 points since Henry’s departure and they’ve been held to 20 points or lower in 5 of those 7 games. QB Ryan Tannehill misses Henry. Tannehill wasn’t exactly killing it with Henry but he’s dropped off some without him. For comparison, Tannehill had a 90.2 QBR through 8 games with Derrick Henry. 10 TD’s – 7 INT’s, 2002 yards, completing 65.6% of his passes. With Henry OUT, Tannehill’s QBR is 78.6, 5 TD’s – 7 INT’s, completing 68.4% of his passes for 1325 yards. Clearly not as effective without the elite run game. The Titans trio of RB’s (D’Onta Foreman, Jeremy McNichols and Dontrell Hilliard) have managed only 755 yards combined since Henry’s injury. The good news for the Titans is that WR A.J. Brown is now healthy, and he’s the biggest threat in this offense. Tannehill has really had to spread the ball around when A.J. Brown was out. Still, Julio Jones is just a shadow of his former self and still has zero TD’s playing in 9 games.
Not being cocky here, but I like our chances with our defense against Tennessee’s offense. If there’s anything I know about Tannehill (and most QB’s really) is that they don’t do well with lots of pressure. I think if we turn up the heat on Tannehill our secondary could have a day. They will try and run the ball on us, as they should, but if we can hold up like we did against New Orleans and force them into 3rd and long situations, I think we’ll thrive like that. On offense, we have to protect Tua from LB Harold Landry, DE Denico Autry and DT Jeffrey Simmons with 11, 8 and 7.5 sacks respectively. The Titans have 37 sacks as a team, we lead the NFL with 45. The beauty of our defense is our sacks come from everywhere. DT’s, DE’s, LB’s, S’s, CB’s, all of them. DE Emmanuel Ogbah has been the constant throughout his tenure here in MIA. Rookie Jaelan Phillips and LB Andrew Van Ginkel have been coming on strong the second half of the season. Our scheme on defense has been tough to solve for opposing offenses. It’s the old Dolphins QB vs the new Dolphins QB. It’s the new Dolphins era vs the old Dolphins era. Can Brian Flores give this team the intestinal fortitude to step up instead of fold?
Historically over the last couple of decades, games like this have been a nightmare for Dolphins fans. I’d like to think it will be different, and I honestly do feel like it’s different, but it sure would be great to actually see it happen. Just last year it was against the Bills Game 17, and we were shredded by a team who pulled their starters after the 1st half departing after a 28-6 lead at half. We lost 56-26. In 2018, at 7-6, we got crushed by the Minnesota Vikings 41-17. In 2016, it was the Wild Card Playoff game against the Steelers losing 30-12 with Matt Moore in for the injured Ryan Tannehill. In 2013, at 8-7 we go up against the Bills with QB Tyrod Taylor OUT, and QB Thaddeus Lewis (Who???) in for Taylor, and we fall 19-0 as Ryan Tannehill before getting injured was sacked 7 times and put up a 46.7 QBR. These are the nightmares I’m talking about. Oh lord, we need to be different, we need to be better, we need to be tougher. We need our O-line to be mean Sunday. Maybe Duke Johnson and Phillip Lindsay bring the physical nature we need but we need the hogs up front to open holes and keep the defense off of Tua. We need to include DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki in the pass game. I love Waddle but I’m going to guess that Titans HC Mike Vrabel, much like Bill Belichick will do his best to limit Waddle, which means the other guys I mentioned should have opportunities. Make it happen, make our fans happy, and turn that corner from meek and mediocre to tough and battle tested and winners!
A prayer for our friend Jon (#stangerstrong) Hoping for Godspeed in his recovery.
Happy New Year!!!