Five things the Miami Dolphins (8-7) need to do to keep their push for a playoff spot going, and beat the Tennessee Titans (10-5) on the road in Week 17:
Rattle Titans QB Ryan Tannehill’s cage
History shows that Tannehill has the worst pocket presence of any starting quarterback in the NFL. He’s been sacked 45 times this season, which is the second-highest sack total in the league. The Dolphins, who lead the NFL with 45 sacks heading into Sunday’s game, need to find a way to apply constant pressure, rushing Tannehill through his progressions and making him throw the football sooner than he’d like. Miami’s amoeba blitzes likely won’t affect Tannehill like it has other starting quarterbacks because he’s typically been good at finding and hitting his hot route receiver. That means Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaelan Phillip and Andrew Van Ginkel will need to be at their best when it comes to beating one-on-one blockers.
Lock down Tennessee WR A.J. Brown
Brown, who is 240 yards shy of delivering his third 1,000-yard receiving season in his three years in the league despite missing four games in 2021 due to an injury he recently came back from, is one of the NFL’s future superstars. There’s nothing Brown’s game is missing considering he’s a crisp route runner with great hands, has speed to create separation, and the size needed to bring down tough catches. Expect Tennessee to move him around to create favorable matchups, possibly freeing him from Xavien Howard shadowing him. Howard, who was selected to his third Pro Bowl this year, has typically followed the opponent’s best receiver everywhere on the field except inside to the slot.
Win the turnover battle
The Dolphins defense is at its best when the defensive front is forcing quarterbacks to throw quickly and Miami’s secondary is hawking down off-the-mark passes. Howard and Byron Jones have a tough assignment defending Brown, and possibly Julio Jones one-on-one. That’s why safety help from Jevon Holland and Eric Rowe will be critical to the unit’s success on Sunday. The Titans receivers possess a size and physicality that Miami’s secondary hasn’t faced much this season.
Limit Tennessee to fewer than 100 yards rushing
The Titans no longer have Derrick Henry steamrolling opposing defenses because he’s on injured reserve until the postseason due to a foot injury he suffered on Halloween. But Tennessee is averaging 128.7 rushing yards per game, and have scored 14 rushing touchdowns without Henry. The Dolphins have drastically improved their run defense since Raekwon Davis returned from a knee injury. Miami’s allowing 102.3 rushing yards per game and 4.3 yards per attempt. The Dolphins can’t just focus on D’Onta Foreman and Jeremy McNichols because Tannehill is averaging 5.4 rushing yards on 49 carries and has scored seven rushing touchdowns this season.
Rushing attack must balance out offense
Duke Johnson and Phillip Lindsay were unable to keep Miami’s rushing attack productive against the Saints, and Miami averaged 2.9 yards per carry on 30 attempts. But that doesn’t mean Miami can abandon the run, or should change the tailback depth chart because those two have the most upside for this offense, especially if the outside-zone runs start working. The Titans are allowing 111.4 rushing yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry. The Dolphins have been averaging 30 carries per game since their seven-game win streak started.
Provide Tua Tagovailoa a clean pocket
Tagovailoa has made magic happen playing behind a terrible offensive line all season because of his stellar pocket presence, and knack for getting the ball out his hands quickly. Despite facing constant pressure, Tagovailoa has only been sacked 15 times this season in 328 attempts. That means he’s sacked once every 21.8 attempts. The Titans possess a forceful defensive line, which is anchored by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, who has logged 51 tackles and a career-high 7.5 sacks this season. Dolphins starting right guard Robert Hunt will have his hands full keeping Simmons blocked and out Miami’s backfield.