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45 posts from October 2015

October 30, 2015

Dolphins Cameron Wake tears left Achilles

FOXBOROUGH -- Cameron Wake has likely ruptured the Achilles tendon in his left leg, the Miami Dolphins believe, and the Pro Bowl defensive end will miss the remainder of this season.

[An MRI done this morning confirmed Wake tore his Achilles. He is out for the year.]

The team has scheduled Wake for an MRI and a further examination from doctors for Friday to confirm the initial diagnosis made without benefit of such technology at Gillette Stadium Thursday evening.

"We are going to meet with doctors tomorrow and take it from there," Wake said repeatedly after the game.

It is the only thing he said at an obviously emotional time for the 32-year-old player.

Wake's injury was the worst of three that all resulted in players being carted off the field or to the locker room. Right tackle Ja'Wuan James left the game in the first half and said he spent the entire second half in the locker room nursing what the team called a toe injury.

James declined to be specific as to the seriousness of the injury, as per team orders. He was wearing a walking boot as he left the locker room. It is feared James' injury will cause him to miss multiple games.

The story seems brighter for rookie wide receiver DeVante Parker. He suffered a foot injury to the same foot that has required two surgeries since 2014. Parker confirmed he injured the same foot.

But there is good news:

"It was only some tissue thing," Parker said. "I'll be fine. I'm fine."

Parker walked out of the locker room on his own power and showing no noticeable signs of injury.

Wake, meanwhile, was on crutches and in a boot. His season over, the disappointment has to be great because he had strung together three great performances the past three games, collecting seven sacks, including one against the Patriots tonight.

Unfortunately for Wake, this injury, if confirmed as feared, makes uncertain the rest of his career with the Dolphins. Wake is signed through the 2016 season but has a cap number of $9.8 million.

The Dolphins can save $8.4 million of that cap space by cutting Wake as only $1.4 million would remain on the books as dead money. The team likely wouldn't take that action if Wake had continued on his current season arc this year.

But next year he'll be 33 and coming off a season in which he suffered from a nagging hamstring injury the first month and then was lost for the year in October. The team's decision will be interesting to monitor.

October 29, 2015

This game, and the next two, could determine EVERYTHING

The Jets failed against the New England Patriots last week. The Bills failed against the Patriots before that. Two division rivals that had their way with the Miami Dolphins met their match against the defending Super Bowl champions.

So what makes you think the Dolphins will do the improbable?

Oh, yeah, sports.

It isn't played within the reaches of what is likely. Indeed, it is what is improbable and unlikely happening time and again that makes sports so great. And that's why the Dolphins think something big is about to happen.

"We're going to shock the world, man, you watch," one Dolphins player told me in confidence on Monday.


More on why the Dolphins are apparently very confident about tonight in a moment. But first this bit of reality:

Even if the Dolphins do not win at New England tonight -- and remember the Patriots have the best home winning percentage of any team in the four major American sports since 2009 -- that does not end the ride back from Joe Philbin.

The two weeks that follow will decide if that rides ends or not.

The Dolphins, you see, tonight begin a three-game road stretch. After the Pats, they travel to Buffalo November 8 and Philadelphia November 15.

And these three road games are everything.

Out of these three roadies, the Dolphins must -- must -- emerge 2-1 to have any chance of vying for a wildcard spot at the end of the season. And even at 2-1, it is preferable those two wins come against the division and conference rival Patriots and Bills.

And this: If the Dolphins lose to the Patriots and Bills the next two weeks, the season is over for most intents and purposes. They would be 3-5 with four losses within the division against no wins. Teams that cannot win games within their division the first three months of the season don't matter in December playoff talk -- particularly when the conversation turns to tiebreakers.

So these next three games is it.

They will decide whether Miami is a contender.

They will decide something else: Dan Campbell's fate.

It has generally been understood the Dolphins were giving Campbell 12 weeks to make a bid to become more than the Dolphins interim coach. But actually, a source has told me, the time period during which the Dolphins were going to give Campbell exclusive thought was 4-6 weeks.

And as Campbell is two weeks into that time period already, the man is getting four weeks or games, including tonight, to prove he's worth hiring for the full gig while the Dolphins do not look around or consider anyone else.

And how does Campbell keep Miami's full attention and keep the brass from starting to look around? Well, he's got to beat division opponents for starters.

Campbell goes 2-0 against New England and Buffalo the next two weeks, he suddenly becomes the favorite to land the Dolphins fulltime job. He can argue he took over a team that was 1-3 and 0-2 within the division and in a matter of one month had them at 5-3 and back to .500 within the division with a road victory over the undefeated defending Super Bowl champions among the wins.

How's that for lines on a resume?

So against that backdrop the Dolphins start putting out feelers, contacting agents, to feel out future coaching possibilities?

Nope, against the backdrop the Dolphins, who fired Philbin in part to get a jump on hiring the next coach, will do absolutely nothing. Dolphins executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum will not make a move on the hiring front -- regardless of how many times CBS.com reports he's reaching out to agents -- for fear of upsetting the chemistry or vibe of what is happening.

Remember, Tannenbaum is a former coach agent. He knows he calls any coach agent, it is in that agent's best interest to get the information out there. So he's not going to do that if the Dolphins are rolling.

On the other hand, Campbell goes 0-2 the next two weeks, getting basically the same results within the division that past failed Miami coaches got, and the Dolphins will indeed start to do their due diligence on conducting a thorough search for other candidates. In that scenario Campbell would get no favoritism based on his results.

So basically what this game tonight, and the two that follow will determine is with whether the Dolphins matter in December. What they mean to Campbell is mattering as the future head coach.

Now let me circle back and tell you why the Dolphins feel confident about tonight as explained to me:

1. They've played well against the Patriots in the past. They beat New England in the opener last year and were down only 14-13 at halftime in New England last December before they imploded in the third quarter.

2. They believe they match up well. The Dolphins think their defensive line will win the matchup against the New England offensive line tonight. They also believe there is success to be had running the ball on the Patriots.

3. The team's confidence, outside of anything that has happened against the Patriots in the past or what film suggests to coaches, is really high. It is hard to quantify that. The Dolphins have been a confident team in the past. The 2008 team was very confident after the first month of the season. The 2013 team was confident going into a Monday night meeting with New Orleans with a 3-0 record. This team confident also.  

October 28, 2015

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots

It is a quick turnaround for the Miami Dolphins this week with a game only a day away. But this is a team that has embraced the quick turnaround. Just look at the season.

Three weeks ago, this team seemed dead in the water after three consecutive losses and a coach firing on books.

Now they've won two in a row to climb back to .500 and have a chance to show they are playoff contenders if they can beat the Patriots at New England Thursday night.

And, I wonder, what Massachusetts native Joe Philbin is thinking? I know what Miami players are thinking. They're happy there was a change. But to a degree, they also feel they let Philbin down.

"To some aspect, sure," quarterback Ryan Tannehill agreed. "I have a lot of respect for coach Philbin and I think everyone in this building has a lot of respect for coach Philbin and what he did here and the kind of man he is. It's a little bit tough to sit here and think, 'Hey, it's the same people and the same schemes and we're playing this way now.' But you can't change the past, you can't change anything that's happened and all we can do is look forward."

The future is about this game's matchups.

Here they are: 

When the Dolphins pass the football: Ryan Tannehill is red hot, having just set the NFL mark for consecutive completions at 25 -- a feat he authored over two games. And as he only missed one of his passes last week, it could be said his accuracy is the best it has ever been. The interesting thing is the Dolphins are still getting big plays out short and intermediate throws. The 53-yard TD pass to Rishard Matthews last week was merely a 10-yard slant throw. The 50-yard pass to Jarvis Landry was a 12- to 15-yard sideline throw. The 54-yard pass to Lamar Miller was a screen pass that traveled maybe 5 yards in the air. So Tannehill is doing exactly what coaches have asked: Let the playmakers make plays. The only issue with the passing game was the four sacks yielded by the offensive line last week. The Patriots are neither a big pass rush team nor do they have a dominant secondary anymore. But they play great situational football, pressuring the QB when they have the lead, and tightening up in the secondary on their side of the field.  ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins run the football: Assuming the Dolphins want to continue having success running the football and keeping a balance on offense, they have a good opportunity here because the Patriots run defense is mediocre at best. While they are disciplined they aren't overwhelming up front. The linebackers is very good. The defensive line, particularly without Jabaal Sheard whose status for the game is uncertain? Well, the linebackers are very good. Teams are averaging 4.5 yards per carry against New England, ranking the Pats 24th in the NFL in yards per carry average. The Dolphins are getting strong, aggressive run blocking from every member of the offensive line and Lamar Miller is running as if "his hair is on fire," according to interim coach Dan Campbell. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Patriots pass the football:  This is the key to the New England success. With Tom Brady, at 38 years old still playing at an elite level, the Patriots are completing an impressive 68.9 percent of their passes and lead the NFL with only one interception thrown. Last week against the New York Jets, the Patriots allowed three sacks but the Jets have arguably the best front in the NFL and the Patriots offensive line was makeshift. Brady still threw for 355 yards and two touchdowns. The Dolphins pay their defensive line handsomely and this game is the time for the investment to pay dividends. Ndamukong Suh must dominate for Miami to have success. As has long been the case, the biggest matchup problem is Rob Gronkowski. The Dolphins will manage by throwing a variety of coverages and defenders at the tight end. Look for Reshad Jones to spend much of his evening trying to be physical with Gronkowski. ADVANTAGE: New England.

When the Patriots run the football: The Patriots didn't unpack their running game against New York as Tom Brady led the team with 15 rush yards. And while that proves that New England can win when the running game fails, the expectation is the Patriots will not call only nine running plays against Miami as they did against New York -- even if the Dolphins load up to stop the run as the Jets did. The Patriots can attack with a downhill approachled by LaGarrette Blount or a slashing run game led by Dion Lewis. Their issue is that Lewis (abdomen) is ailing as is their offensive line. The Dolphins run defense was the worst in the NFL until two games ago. Then Miami limited Tennessee to 3.5 yards per rush and Houston to 2.8 yards per rush in games the opposition knew it needed to run to have a chance. The Dolphins have been getting very good linebacker play from Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski has connected on all 15 of his field goal attempts this year, including a 57-yarder against the Cowboys. This match pits a team that's very good returning punts -- the Dolphins are fourth in the NFL, averaging 13.1 yards per return -- against a Patriots unit that is sixth best in punt coverage, yielding an average of only 5.4 yards per return. Damien Williams is emerging as the Dolphins' kickoff returner and he did a good job last week, averaging 32 yards per return. The Patriots are good in kick coverage, allowing 20.6 yards per return and ranking seventh in the NFL. Gostkowski's experience and knowledge of his home field compared to Miami rookie kicker Andrew Franks' inexperience is the deciding factor here. ADVANTAGE: New England.

Coaching: Yes, Dan Campbell has done some excellent worki the past two weeks. He has brought life to a comatose locker room. And the staff has followed his lead and effectively altered and improved their work. But…Bill Belichick has six Super Bowl rings. His staff is experienced and proven. Even Dan Campbell's biceps are impressed. ADVANTAGE: New England.

October 27, 2015

'At the end of the day' Dolphins need a big game from Suh

There are a couple of things about Ndamukong Suh that are of interest today.

Most importantly is his ability to push the pass pocket from the interior on pass plays and plant himself like Plymouth Rock on run plays to where he's either swallowing blockers or the ball carrier. His ability to do these things is why he got a $114 million contract from the Miami Dolphins.

And those abilities are exactly what the Dolphins need to show up against the New England Patriots on Thursday. Let's face it, the formula for beating the Patriots is making quarterback Tom Brady uncomfortable about the inside rush -- up the gut, in his face, affecting his vision, comfort and confidence.

And that's what makes Suh so important now.

Is he up to the task of having a great game against the defending Super Bowl champions?

"I’ve had some success against them in the past and it’s all about getting after their quarterback," Suh said today.

But the success Suh has had versus New England is a matter of perspective. He's played two regular-season games against the Patriots during his career. Last season he had four tackles in a 34-9 loss. In 2010, he had three tackles and a sack in a 45-24 loss.

That's the depth of his regular-season experience against the Pats.

Obviously, despite factoring some on defense with a handful of tackles and a sack, Suh wasn't able to positively affect the outcome of the game. The Dolphins hope perhaps the cumulative affect of Suh, Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and Earl Mitchell can do what Suh and the Detroit Lions defense could not.

If that can happen on a regular basis -- like maybe twice a year? -- during Suh's days in Miami and starting on Thursday, the $60 million in guaranteed money the team is paying the defensive tackle will start paying dividends for everyone.

Oh, yes, the second issue of interest concerning Suh?

He says "at the end of the day" a lot.

Count them from today's press availability:

(On the challenges of stopping the Patriots’ offense) “They execute, they find ways to win games and that’s something that they obviously pride themselves on and something as a defensive line we got to get after their quarterback and try to get him off his spot and out of rhythm. They’re a big rhythm team; I’ve had some success against them in the past and it’s all about getting after their quarterback."

(On how much respect he has for Tom Brady) “I definitely have a lot of respect for him.  I think we’ve come across each other every single year that I’ve been in the league and had good interactions; obviously played against him in preseason games, regular season games and I’ve always enjoyed going against a great competitor like him."

(On if there is a disadvantage to being the road team in a Thursday night game) “At the end of the day we’re all at a disadvantage because it’s a short week, but I wouldn’t say there’s a huge disadvantage. Obviously they have the luxury that they don’t have to travel anywhere, we have to travel somewhere, but it’s a night game so we get to make up some time there and have the opportunity to see some different things and have some extra film time in the evenings to get ready to play on Thursday. At the end of the day, you really put those things to the side and kind of do what you need to do so you’re prepared for the game regardless or nonetheless and go out there and play as hard and as fast as you can."

(On the biggest difference in the pass rush over the last two weeks) “Executing, working together. I think we’re starting to mend and play off each other a lot better. I’m getting a good feel for Cam (Wake), a good feel for C.J. (Mosley) as well as Earl (Mitchell) and obviously (Olivier Vernon) O.V. as well, I’ve gotten some rushes over there with him. At the end of the day, it’s over time people are going to get better and better as we get more opportunities to rush the passer.”

(On the different atmosphere since the coaching change) “It’s always good to have a positive home and be able to obviously feel good, but at the end of the day, you come here and you have to focus on the task at hand and being a professional. You’re going to have many distractions and you got to be able to play through those things and be able to come out on the other end, whether it’s a Thursday night game, a Sunday night game or Monday night game and be successful."

Miami Dolphins must abandon preparation regimen that has worked so well

One of the reasons the Miami Dolphins have reached .500 after a 1-3 start is the physical and competitive nature of their practices, interim coach Dan Campbell has said. The Dolphins have put a premium on winning and performing in practice and that has translated to the games.

The only problem with that is this week the Dolphins aren't going to get very physical at all in practice. This short week that will offer the Dolphins only two practice sessions before Thursday night's game at New England, the preparation will have to be more about brain than brawn.

That's bad for a team that has been building its foundation for success on tough, physical practice preparation.

“We’re not going to do anything physical this week," Campbell said Monday. "When you’re on a short week like this it’s hard and what’s most important is rest, recovery and then the mental work."

And so aside from playing on a short week. And traveling to that game. And not being able to use the formula that has proven itself fruitful the past two weeks, the Dolphins are going to have to simply find another way to be ready.

The Dolphins are going to have to prove they're not just a physical, tough team, but instead will have to show they're a smart team. 

Indeed, they'll have to prove they're smarter than the New England Patriots.

"That to me is what it’s about and that’s where this team, talking about the New England Patriots, among other things that they’re so good at," Campbell said. "They try to find a weakness. They exploit it and then they will repeat it over and over and over. They’ll get the certain formation you know? If you’re talking about us defensively, they’ll get in these certain formations. They’ll get in empty. They’ll go hurry-up. So we have to be able to communicate. We have to get lined up. We have to be ready to go when the ball is snapped, things of that nature defensively.

"They are going to give us some looks. I’m sure they are going to try to take some of our players out [of the game plan] and we’ve got to have other answers. At the same token though, we have to find ways to get our playmakers the ball. So to me that’s what it is. It’s more of an emphasis mentally because you aren’t going to be able to get the physical work that you want to get. It’s just too short of a week."

This is obviously not great news for the Dolphins. You'll recall that when they've had an advantage over the Patriots is when they beat the Patriots in the smarts department. You'll recall Miami surprised the entire NFL in September 2008 when Tony Sparano's team sprung the Wildcat package on the Patriots.

The shots of New England coach Bill Belichick trying to diagram the play and explain to his defenders what was happening and how they should react was evidence the surprise was complete.

The Dolphins also had a mental advantage in the 2013 regular-season opener because the Patriots had no template for what to expect from the Dolphins offense. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was new at the time. It was his first game. The Patriots didn't know what they were about to face.

On Thursday, the Patriots have a template of what to expect. They have the advantage of being home. And the Dolphins are at the disadvantage of having to separate themselves from what has worked for them in preparation.

Oh, and New England being a more veteran team also helps them.

"It's tough physically and mentally, it’s tough to prepare the way you want to, but you have to find a way to get it in, spend extra time, obviously we’re here, we’re going to be here late tonight and back at it early again tomorrow," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said before Monday's evening practice, which was really just a walkthru. 

"It’s going to be a jam-packed three days, but we’re going to be on top of our game and be ready to go."

October 26, 2015

No celebration for Miami Dolphins yet -- sorry

The Miami Dolphins are relevant again, as I wrote in my column today.

But, if you noticed, I didn't exactly throw a party in my prose. Why?

There's still a long way to go. The Dolphins' climb back from being so bad they fired their head coach has been done on the backs of two bad opponents. There were signs Sunday, even in a great 44-26 victory, that troubled.

And Thursday there is the New England Patriots.

All that is covered in my column except for the troubling signs we saw Sunday.

I'll cover those here:

Trouble sign one: The Miami offense converted one of nine third down opportunities. That is bad even on a day the offense was rolling with both Ryan Tannehill and Lamar Miller setting NFL marks.

Trouble sign two: Coach Dan Campbell told his team not to let the Houston Texans off the matt in the second half. The Houston Texans got off the mat in the second half. They outscored Miami 26-3 in the second half. You can do that with a 41-0 halftime lead, but how often does any team build a 41-point cushion? You can do that against the Texans but New England, the New York Jets, even the Buffalo Bills at home in two weeks, are not the Texans.

Trouble sign three: The offensive line was excellent but giving up four sacks is still a lot and the right guard position is still unresolved. Billy Turner is improving and gaining confidence and experience. But he's still not good enough. According to ProFootballFocus, Turner's graded out a -6.1 on Sunday. That was 35 out of 37 guards playing this weekend.

Trouble sign four: The other cornerback spot is still a concern. Brice McCain is expected back this week, per The Herald's Adam Beasley. And that is good because Jamar Taylor was clearly targeted by the Texans. While Brent Grimes spent much of the afternoon on Houston No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Taylor was on Nate Washington. Washington caught nine passes for 127 yards. No, not all of those were on Taylor. But many were.

By the way -- and this is not a trouble sign -- Cameron Wake was outstanding again. He's healthy and so he's playing great right now. He was PFF's highest rated 4-3 defensive end this week after collecting two sacks to go with the four he had against Tennessee.

[Correction: Cameron Wake was outstanding but he was not the highest rated 4-3 defensive end. That was Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints. Wake was second.]

But on the other side, Olivier Vernon didn't have a tackle or a sack. He did have one QB hurry, per the stat book. But PFF rated him the 37th 4-3 defensive end of the weekend. They only rated 37 4-3 defensive ends.

October 25, 2015

Miami Dolphins defeat Houston Texans, 44-26

The Miami Dolphins had a great day.

Ryan Tannehill established an NFL record for most consecutive completions at 25. He completed 18 in a row today and had seven in a row to end the Tennessee game last week.

The Miami quarterback also posted a 158.3 passer rating in throwing four touchdown passes. That is a perfect rating, by the way.

Lamar Miller rushed for 175 yards on merely 14 carries.

Ndamukong Suh picked up a couple of sacks -- his first in a Miami uniform -- to go along with his usual offsides penalty.

Reshad Jones had an interception which he returned for a touchdown. It was the second consecutive week he had a pick six.

Rishard Matthews and Lamar Miller caught TD passes while Jarvis Landry caught two.

It was a complete team victory.

Miami Dolphins 44. Houston Texans 26.

The Texans had a day from hell. Their backup QB missed the team flight, they were down 41-0 at halftime, and they reportedly lost starting running back Arian Foster for the season with an Achilles injury. 

Was it perfect? No.

Jamar Taylor was in the crosshairs all day long. Jarvis Landry seemed to tweak something which forced him to miss much of the second half.

But it was darn impressive.

Miami Dolphins headed toward a rout of Houston [Updated]

The Miami Dolphins outgained the Houston Texans 219-0 in the first quarter today. They had 35 points on the board before Houston gained a yard.

This is a butt whipping and the Dolphins are about to win their second consecutive game against no losses under Dan Campbell.

Miami leads 35-0.

And here's the thing, suddenly questions about starting fast and playing dominant defense and having balance on offense are not a thing anymore. The Dolphins have all that in both games they've played so far under Campbell.

They also have two pick six TDs from safety Reshad Jones.

This is the Dolphins team everyone hoped they'd see when the 2015 regular season began in September. it is almost November and we're finally seeing.

Better late than never. 

The Texans were 7-0 against the Dolphins all time. They had outscored the Dolphins by a grand total of 33 points in those seven games.

Miami has already erased that today.

[Update: Lamar Miller busted an 85-yard run that was sprung by a great block on the middle linebacker by Mike Pouncey. the Dolphins defense did the rest. At one point these guys had back-to-back-to-back sacks -- two from Ndamukong Suh and another from Cameron Wake. It was Suh's first sacks since joining the Dolphins.]

Offensive line may be 'Pouncey's crew' but Branden Albert is most important player

The Miami Dolphins offensive line, long the epicenter of all that is right and wrong with the Miami Dolphins, is fascinating to me.

Remember when the team invested $154 million in the unit around 2009-10 and got not much in return? Remember the coach who gifted his players blowup dolls for Christmas? Remember the record breaking sack year in 2013, and by record breaking I don't mean fewest?

The Miami offensive line continues to intrigue. This unit's leader is center Mike Pouncey. Coach Dan Campbell has told me the offensive line is "Pouncey's crew."

But the best player and most important player on the unit is left tackle Branden Albert.

So maybe Pouncey is the heart but Albert is the lifeblood of the group. And, as I write in my column in today's Miami Herald the lifeblood is pumping strong again.

Albert had a breakout game last week. I know because he told me as much. And that is excellent news for the Dolphins because the statistics with Albert and without are eye-opening.

Check out the column.

October 24, 2015

Keys to the game: Houston Texans at Miami Dolphins

There was a time the Houston Texans were an opponent to be seriously concerned about. They had talent everywhere.

Andre Johnson was at one time perhaps the best wide receiver in the NFL.

Jacoby Jones was a great punt and kickoff returner.

They had Arian Foster and Ben Tate in their prime.

Owen Daniels was a very good pass-catching tight end.

DeMeco Ryans, Connor Barwin and Brian Cushing were very good linebackers and Mario Williams was great.

And, yes, there was J.J. Watt.

This was a franchise that had a good run. But this is now a franchise in transition. The coach is new. The quarterback position is unsettled. Foster has been injured so often he's not the same. Barwin, Johnson, Williams, Daniels, Tate and others are gone.

J.J. Watt remains and is the superstar of the team. But one man does not a team make.

So what am I saying? Compare the rosters of the teams playing on Sunday. The Miami Dolphins have a better roster. They're playing at home.

They should win this game.

Consider the matchup:

When the Dolphins pass the football: If the Dolphins continue to follow the script written during last week's win over Tennessee, this team will throw fewer passes in hopes of having more balance and scoring more points. The passing game has some things to clean up as last week a ball bounded off a receiver's hand for an interception and there was a miscommunication where a receiver continued a route while quarterback Ryan Tannehill expected him to sit down in a zone. That resulted in another interception. The offensive line that seems to be finding a groove run-blocking still has much work to do on improving its pass-blocking. Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner are solid run-blocker but the pass protection needs improvement. The Dolphins are aware and supposedly have a plan for containing J.J. Watt. Part of that plan will have to fall on Tannehill, who must move in the pocket to find passing lanes. If Tannehill fails to do this, Watt is expert at batting passes at the line of scrimmage. The Texans lead the NFL in third-down defense. The Dolphins easy answer? Stay out of third down situations. Houston starting CB Kareem Jackson will not play. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football: It's amazing what happens when the Dolphins make the commitment to running the football. The team that is No. 3 in the NFL in rush yards per carry is No. 26 in rushing yards per game because, until last week, circumstances and other issues (calling it?) prevented Miami from running effectively. It didn't happen last week and now the question lingers whether this team has successfully altered its offensive personality or just stumbled upon a game it could and wanted to run in? The Texans are a good, not great run defense. Vince Wilfork, the anchor of the New England defensive line during their Super Bowl runs, is in Houston now and although he remains savvy and proficient, he isn't the player he used to be. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Texans pass the football:  The Texans have two issues throwing the football. The first issue is neither Brian Hoyer nor Ryan Mallett have been good enough, consistently enough to convince anyone they are the team's longterm answer at the position. Hoyer gets the start and he's been more accurate and less prone to turnovers. The other problem is the Texans have only one good receiver weapon and that's DeAndre Hopkins. So what happens when the Dolphins lock Brent Grimes on Hopkins or double Hopkins? Journeyman Cecil Shorts is the next best option but he's out with a hamstring injury. The Texans have a solid offensive line. After a tough opener in which they gave up four sacks against Kansas City, the line has allowed only one sack per game the past five weeks. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Texans run the football: Arian Foster, a four-time Pro Bowl player, is not the same guy he was in 2010 when he led the NFL in rushing. Foster's been slowed by multiple groin and hamstring injuries and although the team is 21-11 in games he rushes for 100 yards or more, that hasn't happened yet this year. Foster is averaging 2.3 yards per rush. Alfred Blue had a great game against Cleveland last year, rushing for 156 yards so he should not be dismissed.  The Miami run defense still isn't where coaches or players want it to be. Miami limited Tennessee to 63 yards and so the test continues whether that is the aberration or the new run D under new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams: Texans punter Shane Lechler, a former college roommate of Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell, is the NFL's all-time leading punter with a 47.4 gross average. That's good but the Texans are 28th in the NFL in net punting average this year and that's bad. The Texans aren't exceptional in any special teams category and they're especially challenged covering kickoffs, as they are 31st in the NFL in that statistic. The Dolphins remain very good in punt return average and have been solid in most other special teams categories. Limiting penalties on special teams remains a focus. ADVANTAGE: Miami

Coaching: Bill O'Brien is a competent and thorough head coach who bases much of his approach on the New England Patriots model. He worked for the Patriots from 2007-11. The problem for O'Brien? No Tom Brady. O'Brien's focus in recent weeks has been getting a team that turned the ball over too much early in the season to stop beating itself. Dan Campbell infused a new vibe with the Dolphins and, not surprisingly, the team was engaged in played a physical brand of ball. Can they do that consistently? ADVANTAGE: Even.

October 23, 2015

Earl Mitchell is Miami's two-way player

The Houston Texans never considered putting Earl Mitchell in the offensive backfield as a fullback because they had Vonta Leach on the team and he was a Pro Bowl player. But when Mitchell arrived in Miami as a free agent last year, it wasn't long before he was throwing the idea of him playing on offense to coaches.

"I would kind of make jokes here and there to (offensive coordinator Bill) Lazor," Mitchell said. "I'd say, 'Hey man, if you need a lead blocker I got you.' One day he just came to me and said, 'Hey, um, we've got a plan for you today.' And I took it as a joke but they actually put me in at practice and it grew from there."

So how big is this Earl Mitchell at fullback thing?

He's done it in two of the Dolphins five games so far -- at Jacksonville and at Tennessee.

When he did it against the Jaguars, former teammate Jared Odrick joked that Mitchell should maybe try to renegotiate his contract. When he did it against the Titans, there wasn't quite the same amount of comedy involved.

"I think a lot of guys were surprised when I came around the corner lead blocking on that outside zone play," Mitchell said. "It's cool."

Expect more of Mitchell as a two-way player the rest of this season. Yes, he remains a starting defensive tackle. But he's also proven to be valuable on offense for a team that doesn't carry a fullback on the roster.

"It's definitely a little bit more time required," Mitchell said. "There's more stuff on my plate. I'm kind of trying to squeeze in more meeting times and pulling coaches to the side and stuff like that. But we're all working together and it's encouraging for the guys to be all in on this because it's taking extra effort for the coaching staff and myself to figure out how can I go in on offense and who's going in for me on defense when I'm not in at practice. It's definitely a together thing as far as me helping the team."

So far the thing has been all about blocking. But Mitchell leaked out of the backfield on a pass play against the Titans last week and was actually open for a potential first down if quarterback Ryan Tannehill had seen him.

Tannehill instead rolled in the opposite direction but the possibility of Mitchell catching a pass, improbable as that seems, is a reality.

So how does a defensive tackle by trade weigh a sack versus catching a touchdown pass? Which would be more valuable to him?

"I mean both," Mitchell said. "Both are equally exciting. You help the team. If I could do both in one game that would be a memorable experience. That's really what I'm looking forward to one day.

"By the time I'm done playing this game I want to be recognized as a true football player and my teammates will respect that. It'll be a great memory for me to one day look back and be able to tell people I got to play both sides of the ball."

The growing legend and myth of Dan Campbell

Dan Campbell has become something of a living legend in the weeks since he made the climb from mild mannered (not really) tight ends coach to superhuman interim head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

The guy has biceps that make Dolphins fans believe their coach can beat up the other team's coach. The guy comes up with stuff that makes his team interested in working hard -- such as the black jerseys he awarded this week to the offense after it had a better practice day on Wednesday than the defense. The guy extracted energy and passion from a team last Sunday that previously seemed and played as if disinterested under former coach (nice man) Joe Philbin.

The latest legendary status is how Campbell just talks about stuff freely where his predecessor clammed up as if he was holding state secrets. Philbin refused throughout his three-plus years to reveal who was helping him have such a good replay challenge record. Campbell revealed that its assistant special teams coach Marwan Maalouf within the first two weeks of his tenure and credited Maalouf for helping get a challenge right on Sunday against Tennessee.

Campbell spent part of this week discussing his love for the metal band Metallica. You didn't think he'd be a Captain and Tennille fan did you?

“You must have been speaking to (Houston Texans punter) Shane Lechler (and Billy Liucci); those are two of my roommates (in college)," Campbell said. "Don’t listen to those guys, they’ll tell you things that aren’t entirely true. Those are good friends of mine, the whole ‘Dantallica’ deal, I’ve always been a Metallica fan and those stories go way back, but they loved to mess with me about that.

" As a matter of fact, I’ll tell you this, when I was in college I wanted to go see Metallica play in Houston and we were in College Station. I knew tickets were going to be on sale at eight in the morning and all of that stuff, I stayed up all night, went and got tickets for myself, Billy, Lechler and another one of our friends Jason Bragg, and I was fired up.

"I had asked them the night before you guys want to go and they all go “Yeah that will be great,’ so I come find out that every time I wasn’t around they were talking crap behind my back about the fact that they didn’t even want to go to the concert, that just shows how good of friends they really are."

Look, I cannot tell you Dantallica is going to be a great NFL head coach. I can't tell you he's going to put Bill Belichick to shame -- like maybe next week when Miami plays the New England Patriots.

But I can tell you the legend of Campbell is growing almost to mythic proportions. Consider that Thursday during the CBS national pregame show, former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher gushed about Campbell and talked about how tough the guy is. Cowher told about how Campbell made his players go through an Oklahoma drill during his first practice.

Cool, right?

Except it's not true. It was a one-on-one drill. Anyone who knows football knows that. Campbell has said as much. But that's part of the growing Dan Campbell myth that can only get larger as the Dolphins continue to recover from their 1-3 start. (Yeah, I predict they beat Houston on Sunday, making Campbell 2-0 and the team 3-3).

Things will only get crazier then. Understand that the Dolphins are within sight of selling out Sunday's game already for a game between two teams under .500. Imagine if Miami wins and goes to New England with a chance to knock off the defending Super Bowl champions?

Craziness will ensue.

The myth will grow.

To what proportions? Well, I asked my twitter followers to share how the myth of Dan Campbell will grow with more wins. Some offerings:

Dan Campbell never gets queasy.

Dan Campbell eats at Chick fil A ... on Sundays.

Dan Campbell can fine and suspend Roger Goodell.

Dan Campbell thought Richie Incognito was kinda wimpy.

Dan Campbell doesn't flush his toilet because he merely scares the crap out of it.

Dan Campbell is not going to be the Alabama coach ... unless he wants to.

Google goes to Dan Campbell for searches.

Colonel Jessup wants Dan Campbell on that wall.

Dan Campbell could fail forward fast and succeed!

Dan Campbell loves Metallica and he's "too hip hop" and he's still got a chance to get the gig.

The Sandman plays Enter Dan Campbell.

Dan Campbell could bench press Rex Ryan...before the lap band surgery.

Mike Wallace wants to return to the Dolphins to play for Dan Campbell even if he doesn't get targeted 10 times a game. Whatever number Dan says is fine.

Marshawn Lynch learned Beastmode from Dan Campbell.

Putin will pull out of Syria if Dan Campbell tells him to.

If Seal Team 6 is tired, the government calls Dan Campbell.

Dan Campbell could say it's no sin to punt and suddenly you would think that's a genius statement.

Dan Marino is convinced Dan Campbell will get him a Super Bowl ring.

(Actually, if this guy is what everyone hopes, that last one might not be a joke). 

October 22, 2015

Men in black; McCain down, McCain up; Bowman back

The Miami Dolphins secondary is all but certainly going to be without a starter on Sunday.

Cornerback Brice McCain, nursing a right knee injury, missed practice for the second consecutive day and his chances of playing against the Houston Texans seem dim. McCain suffered the injury last week against Tennessee.

That means rookie Bobby McCain will likely be the nickel cornerback as he was last week against the Titans once McCain went down and Jamar Taylor will start for the Dolphins.

Zack Bowman, who missed practice Wednesday due to a personal issue, returned to practice today.

So I walked into the Miami Dolphins locker room today and thought I was covering the Oakland Raiders.

Apparently on orders of head coach Dan Campbell, and without explanation to players, there were black jerseys laid out for every offensive player today. That was their practice wear.

The look was of a solid black jersey and white number.

"Yuck," Cameron Wake exclaimed as he walked past offensive linemen wearing the gear.

I'll update after practice on what Campbell's idea means.

[Update: Brandon Albert told reporters the offense won at practice on Wednesday and so they got the cool (hot in the sun) jerseys today.]

October 21, 2015

Olivier Vernon fined for hit on Mariota; Brice and Bobby McCain update; Ajayi back at practice

Olivier Vernon today said he has been fined by the NFL for his low hit on Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. Vernon also said he is appealing.

Vernon declined to say how much the fine was for. "A decent amount," he said.

The NFL fine schedule dictates that a player be fined $17,363 for roughing the passer which is what was called on Vernon in the second quarter of the game. That was the play Mariota suffered an MCL sprain.

Interestingly, Vernon was called for two roughing the passer penalties so it's possible his fine is for the second offense, which would be $34,728.

It is also possible the NFL is fining Vernon both amounts. The NFL has not yet returned a message from The Miami Herald for clarification.

So what could Vernon claim to win the appeal? Well, perhaps that he had no intent to hit the quarterback and was merely falling down.

"I feel like, I mean, if you look at certain angles, my arm is being held and I'm falling down," Vernon said. "There's only so much you can do as a player, as a human being, to stop your momentum. So it is what it is."

After the game, Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhunt called Vernon's hit on his quarterback "B.S." and added that is not how the game should be played. Basically, the coach insinuated Vernon took a cheap shot on the QB.

"I know I'm not a dirty player and everyone else knows I'm not a dirty player. That's all that matters to me," Vernon said. "I tried to talk to [Mariota] on the field when he was down to make sure he was OK. Nobody tries to play the game to hurt nobody -- long term or short term or whatever. You could end somebody's career. That's definitely not my game."

The Dolphins returned to practice this afternoon in full pads. Today is the hitting day.

And while cornerback Brice McCain (knee) and Zack Bowman (unknown reason) missed the portion of practice open to the media, running back Jay Ajayi returned to practice for the first time since training camp.

Ajayi is on the injured reserve list with designation to return. He can practice this week and next and would be eligible to play his first game against Buffalo on Nov. 8.

So for the next two weeks, Ajayi has to get his conditioning back and help the team in ways not apparent on game day.

"My mentality these next two weeks is giving the best look in practice because I'll be helping out with the scout team," Ajayi said.

The running back said he feels "absolutely" 100 percent healthy following the healing of a cracked rib.

It will be interesting to see what the Dolphins do in the next couple of weeks with Ajayi, Damien Williams and Jonas Gray. It's possible the team keeps Ajayi on IR or might cut Gray to get Ajayi on the roster.

Yes, the team could keep four running backs on the roster. But that would be unorthodox.

On the defensive side of the football, it seems pretty obvious that cornerback Jamar Taylor will be in the starting lineup with Brice McCain likely not playing on Sunday. So what will the Dolphins do in the nickel package without McCain in the slot?

Rookie Bobby McCain is next man up.

October 20, 2015

Salguero and PFF review of the Dolphins victory over Tennessee

The buzz should have worn off by now.

The Miami Dolphins won on Sunday and that caused partying across Dolphins nation because it hadn't happened in four weeks. It was also gratifying to see your team play with energy and life and some of those other things we all assume a football team will display every time it takes the field.

So it was a good start for Dan Campbell's head coaching tenure -- however long that will be. (Will be pretty long if they keep this up).

But ...

It was the Titans, folks.

And despite the convincing victory, there are mistakes to correct because the Dolphins remain in the AFC East cellar and the Patriots, Jets and Bills are better than the Titans.

Let's get to that:

Left guard Dallas Thomas was good in some respects. And not so good in others. Sunday was typical in that he was pretty good on his run blocking. According to ProFootballFocus his run blocking grade was better than his pass blocking grade for the fifth straight game this season. Miami has only played five games.

The perfect illustration of that was a block he made on a right off tackle run by Lamar Miller in which Thomas pulled and swallowed up a Tennessee linebacker to spring Miller for 13 yards. The kid looked like a beast on the play.

The illustration of his pass blocking deficiencies is that he failed to recognize -- or recognized too late -- a stunt up front and the Tennessee pass rusher steamed right past Thomas as he was trying to engage a defensive lineman who was already blocked. That caused a sack of Ryan Tannehill.

So, some good. Some bad.

Billy Turner made his first start and seemed to be an upgrade over what Jamil Douglas previously offered.

On one play, Turner pulled right with center Mike Pouncey and the escort looked about as intimidating and well aligned as a pulling guard and center combo can look. The play gained 22 yards. Excellent by both linemen. Turner, by the way, had a very good game for his first NFL start.

No, wait.

Turner had a very good game. Period.

Miller, meanwhile, ran with as much authority as he has at any point in his Miami career. Obviously, he got the message that coaches wanted him being decisive and getting all the yards possible, plus perhaps a couple of more on effort. There was no chop-stepping by Miller in this game.

According to PFF, Miller gained 78 of his 113 yards running right.

Cameron Wake, not surprisingly, was the best 4-3 defensive end in the NFL on Sunday. Pretty obvious when you have four sacks, including two strip sacks.

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, meanwhile, continues to puzzle. It's not that he's playing poorly. He's been at the same level for the last three games now after starting slow the first two weeks of the season. And that level is solid. Good, even.

But there is nothing explosive or dynamic about his play.

Suh's highlights this game were two batted passes he got at or near the line of scrimmage. On one, he read Marcus Mariota's eyes, got in the pass lane and slapped the pass away. Issue here? It was obviously a pass play and he got no push on the pocket. So good that he did the next best thing in breaking up the pass. But, again, no push on the pass pocket.

On another play in which he affected the pass, Suh seemed to drop off the line of scrimmage and into a coverage. I don't know if he did this by design or by instinct but it worked. It affected the play.

Suh is tied for the No. 15 rated interior lineman, per the PFF metrics.

Before this game, I reported that Campbell told quarterback Ryan Tannehill to simply "manage" the game. He didn't have to think about carrying the team. (Say what you will about telling a $96 million QB he doesn't have to carry the team, but it is what it is).

Anyway, Tannehill did exactly that.

His pass grade on PFF was second best of any QB playing Sunday. But it was also Tannehill's highest grade of the season. Obviously, two touchdown passes and two interception is, on its face, not a great day at quarterback.

But recall that one pass simply bounded off a receiver's hands and into the defender's hands. So there is that.

Linebacker Koa Misi continues to have a quiet but very good season. He's PFF's seventh-rated outside linebacker and last week was his third best game of the season.

The Dolphins continue to give rookie Zach Vigil some snaps at middle linebacker. But Kelvin Sheppard remains the starter and continues to get the brunt of the action. Sheppard got 24 snaps this game to Vigil's 10 snaps.

What is interesting is that previously, Vigil got more run snaps than pass snaps in every single game. This game he got 10 snaps on pass plays. And zero on run plays, per PFF. Sheppard split his snaps on runs and passes.

October 19, 2015

Miami Dolphins act, feel like a football team again

NASHVILLE -- Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross told players and coaches after Sunday's victory over the Tennessee Titans that "the sleeping giants have awoken."

And, yes, the Dolphins played very well in their 38-10 victory. But interim coach Dan Campbell was smarter than making grand proclamations about his team. Instead he stressed to his team that they now have a model for winning and they need to keep following and building on that model to keep succeeding.

You know, Campbell has this budding reputation as a brawny, rah-rah, crazy man. I think that's a caricature that doesn't do him justice because he is more than that. He showed me something Sunday evening when delivered a post-game talk that, as I wrote, connected with players.

Campbell was also smart enough to understand his mission is currently 12 games long and he has only gotten beyond the first of those. There is much more to do. There is much more that needs to be addressed.

The emotional guy who was worried before the game about throwing up on his shoes, as he said, was in control throughout and recognized that even his postgame speech was a teaching opportunity..

The Dolphins got great performances from players they need to get great performances from. Coaches tweaked the rush lanes for the defensive ends and obviously that tweak helped. Cameron Wake had four sacks. Olivier Vernon had one sack. It was the first time this season either one reached the quarterback for a sack.

No more wide rushes for Miami's ends. They took the more direct route to the QB.

(In Vernon's case, the route to Marcus Mariota included two fouls called on his tactics and Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt ripped the player afterward. "It's not the way you play football," he said. "I think it was done with the idea of trying to hurt our quarterback and that's [BS] football.")

Alrightie, then.

Brent Grimes, clearly not 100 percent as he returns from a sprained MCL, had an athletic diving interception. Reshad Jones, who has played very well in wins and losses, told me he recognized the formation from film study and that helped put him in position for his pick six.

Lamar Miller was decisive with his running.

The offensive line was physical.

"I felt all our guys had that," Mike Pouncey told me. "You watch the film, we moved those guys off the ball all day long."

It wasn't perfect.

Ndamukong Suh is still curiously unimpressive. He had no solo tackles. He did get credited with two passes defensed.

Ryan Tannehill's day was up and down. Two touchdown passes is great. But he also threw two interceptions. One of the picks probably wasn't all on him as there was miscommunication with a receiver. But they don't hand out interception stats for receivers so ... it remains an issue that needs correction.

Look, this is the type of effort the Dolphins were expected to deliver every game when the season began. Fans don't expect an undefeated team but they expect one that seems interested, engaged, into the assignment.

The Dolphins looked like that for the first time on Sunday.

That, I wouldn't say, merits a grand proclamation that giants have been shaken from their sleep. This isn't America awakening after Pearl Harbor.

But major step in the right direction? Absolutely.

The Dolphins are not painful to watch now. They acted like a football team on Sunday.

October 18, 2015

Miami Dolphins beat the Tennessee Titans,

NASHVILLE -- The Miami Dolphins showed up today.

They beat thoroughly whipped the Tennessee Titans, 38-10 in today and suddenly it was if the season had begun anew. Maybe that's because all seems new for the Dolphins now.

The offense is new because it has balance. Lamar Miller got the football more than 11 times, which is what he'd been averaging previously, and he went for over 100 rushing yards. Indeed, after three quarters the Dolphins had 148 rushing yards and 147 passing yards.

The defense is new because it pressures the quarterback (six sacks) and causes turnovers. Cameron Wake had four sacks and caused two fumbles. Reshad Jones scored a touchdown on an interception. Brent Grimes had an interception.

Coaching matters, folks.

We saw that today with Dan Campbell at the helm of this team.

He's 1-0 as Miami's interim coach. The Dolphins are 2-3.

Dolphins everyone expected show up first half in Tennessee

NASHVILLE -- The Miami Dolphins everyone expected to see this season -- a team with a pass rush, a team with a running game, a team with an attacking defense -- has shown up here this afternoon against the Tennessee Titans.

The Dolphins took the opening kickoff and marched for a touchdown. It was their first first-quarter touchdown and lead of the season.

The team got that score on a Jarvis Landry 22-yard run. That was the first rushing touchdown of the season for the Dolphins but Lamar Miller would add another. And for Miller, it was a fine half, as he gained 99 yards on 13 carries.

Miami leads, 17-3.

Miller had been average 11 carries per game before Sunday.

On defense, the Dolphins got four sacks of quarterback Marcus Mariota -- from Cameron Wake alone.

Wake, who hadn't had a sack all season, was dominant. Olivier Vernon also had a sack.

This team is playing with passion, with life. It started fast.

In other words, it has been doing everything it failed to do in four previous games. So far.

Miami Dolphins giving Dan Campbell legitimate chance to be the boss

The Dan Campbell era begins today. Will it be the Dan Campbell error?

The Miami Dolphins don't believe so. The Dolphins believe Campbell, hired as the interim coach after the firing of Joe Philbin, will do the job.

And if he does the job, Dolphins executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum tells me Campbell absolutely can get the fulltime gig.

"Absolutely that's the case," Tannenbaum insisted even when I pressed him. "I know it's not going to be perfect. I know there will be bumps in the road. But I'm encouraged watching him. Everything he has said would happen has happened so far."

And one of the things he's said would happen is he would work toward relating to his players -- something that wasn't necessarily a Joe PHilbin strength.

I wrote my column in today Miami Herald on the topic.

Campbell took me inside his conversations with Ryan Tannehill, Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey this week as he tries to forge that relationship.

Read the column.

October 17, 2015

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at Tennessee Titans

Remember way back (five weeks ago) when everyone, including me, thought the Miami Dolphins were a playoff contender and possibly a 10-win team? Back then, this Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans was supposed to be a walk on a cake, as you Americans like to say.

Well, the Dolphins instead are eating humble pie after four weeks and their bye. They're 1-3. The head coach got fired. The defensive coordinator got fired. The running game is second-worst in the NFL. The run defense is worst in the NFL.

Oh no, we suck again!

Anyway, the hope for Dolphins fans and the organization is that playing the struggling Titans, a team that hasn't won at home in a year -- they were 1-7 at home last year and are 0-2 there this year -- will cure a batch of ills for Miami.

But then I did the matchups below. And slowly this began to feel like a hard-fought game on the horizon even though the Titans are also 1-3. This promises to be a tough one that may require fourth-quarter heroics, folks.


When the Dolphins pass the football: The Dolphins stressed competition in practice this 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 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 No. 1-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. Dolphins receivers have 10 drops this year. That's one-third as much as all of last year and we're only a quarter of the season in. And remember the group that dropped those passes last year got blown out of town. Just saying. 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 will 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. While 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 while he is expected to play, he definitely is not 100 percent after praining an MCL ligament two weeks ago. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Titans run the football: Quickly, name the starting running back for Tennessee. Eddie George? Chris Johnson? Nope, 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 in 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 head coach and has yet to gain the traction he's 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 third-quarter scoring advantage. 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 head 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.