By: Justin Hawkins
“Keep pushing, you can’t look at your record to determine how you’re going to go out there and play. Circumstances can’t define your work ethic and how you go out there and standards you hold yourself to that.”
– Titans QB Will Levis following Sunday’s OT loss to the Colts
Anything that could go wrong, just about did for the Tennessee Titans who lost to their AFC South division rival Indianapolis Colts 31-28 in overtime. The Titans undefeated streak at Nissan Stadium this season was snapped and like the poet Geoffrey Chaucer once said, “All good things must come to an end”. One of the only good things the Titans have been able to accomplish this season was winning at home, but now they have more problems on their hands. This week, the Titans (4-8) are on the Monday Night stage as they head to South Beach for a tough matchup with the top seed in the AFC, Miami Dolphins (9-3).
Last Time Out
In a tight-knit game at Nissan Stadium that saw all kinds of action, the Tennessee Titans wound up on the wrong side of the scoreboard for the first time this season at home in a 31-28 overtime loss to the Indianapolis Colts. The loss resulted in the first series sweep for the Colts since 2018.
This game had just about everything including two blocked punts (Indianapolis), an interception returned for a safety (Tennessee), and Titans kicker Nick Folk missed his first PAT this season. To add insult to injury (literally) for the Titans, Tennessee found the injury bug Sunday after Derrick Henry, Jeffery Simmons, Ryan Stonehouse, Josh Whyle, and Kristian Fulton all left the game with injuries. Henry left and did not return as he was evaluated for a concussion (Update: Henry is not in the NFL’s concussion protocol). Simmons left with a knee injury and is expected to miss a couple of weeks. Stonehouse had two of his punts blocked, and injured his knee on the second (Update: Stonehouse will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing knee surgery). Whyle, who also suffered a knee injury, left early and is questionable to play this week. Fulton suffered a hamstring injury in overtime and his status for Monday is uncertain.
The Titans on offense, outside of the run game, were fairly dysfunctional. Quarterback Will Levis had a hard time finding time in the pocket as he was sacked six times and hit nine. Levis went 16-of-33 for 224 yards and a touchdown. Levis showed how tough he can be with a couple of runs, including one that sent him airborne and secured a first down. He also was a part of one of the most confusing plays this season as he was strip-sacked, recovered by Indianapolis, and then went and forced the Colts player to fumble and recovered it back for the Titans. Levis is slowly winning over Titans fans each week with his tough play, leadership, and willingness to throw the ball down field (and is having success with it).
Derrick Henry before his early exit at the end of the third quarter, rushed 21 times for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns. Henry looked like his old self Sunday showing good bursts of speed and playing physical football. D-Henber is real folks.
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins continues to be a bright spot with his 5 catch 75 yard and touchdown performance. Hopkins’ touchdown came late in the fourth quarter to tie it up with Indianapolis, but kicker Nick Folk missed his first extra point of the season and could not give Tennessee the one point lead with just over five minutes to play.
The Titans held a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter, but scored 15 unanswered until Titans safety Amani Hooker picked off Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew on a two-point conversion try and ran it back for a two point score. Minshew, 26-of-42 for 312 yards and two touchdowns, had his way with the Titans secondary the majority of the game including overtime when Minshew found wide receiver Alec Pierce for a 55-yard bomb to the Titans 4 yard line to set up the Colts winning touchdown to Michael Pittman Jr. with 2:31 left in overtime.
The Titans defense were stout against the run as they allowed just 55 yards, but could not affect Minshew enough to alter the game. The Titans had three sacks including one by former Colt Denico Autry who strip sacked Minshew in the red zone.
Injuries were not the cause, but will certainly impact this team in the near future, including Monday Night against a high-powered Miami Dolphins offense.
The Miami Dolphins put their offense on full display Sunday in the nation’s capitol as they defeated the Washington Commanders 45-15.
The always explosive Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill continues to shred defenses and change games. This Sunday was another game amongst a long list this season Hill had over 100 yards. He secured 5 catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns, including a 78 yard touchdown to open the scoring four and a half minutes into the game.
Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was very efficient Sunday throwing 18-of-24 for 280 yards and two touchdowns, both to Tyreek Hill, and having a solid 90.3 QBR.
The Dolphins were also successful in the run game and both top running backs, De’Von Achane and Raheem Mostert, had a touchdown. Rookie Achane had 73 yards and two touchdowns while Mostert had 43 yards and a touchdown.
Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell did the best he could behind an offensive line that is on pace for giving up the most sacks in NFL history. Howell went 12-of-23 for 127 yards and an interception, which was returned for a touchdown, and also added two rushing touchdowns.
All-time the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans have met 39 times between the regular and postseason with the Dolphins leading the way 21-18. The Titans won their lone playoff game against the Dolphins in 1978 when they were the Houston Oilers. The Titans head down south to Miami in a tough matchup with the current top seed in the AFC Dolphins.
The Dolphins are a top team in the AFC for a reason and it starts with their offense. The Titans are a rough comparison when put side-by-side.
The duo of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver Tyreek Hill have been tearing apart defenses all season and the Titans very well could be next as they may be without cornerback Kristian Fulton as he deals with a hamstring injury. Tagovailoa and Hill have connected on 93 receptions for 1,481 yards and 12 touchdowns. The yard total and touchdown marks are both league high’s. The Titans secondary is going to have their work cut out for them Monday night because they don’t have to just worry about Hill, but also Jaylen Waddle.
The Dolphins have four players of the top-10 fastest players in the NFL with wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle as well as running backs De’Von Achane and Raheem Mostert. The Titans do not have a lot of speed on the backend, and if Kristian Fulton misses the game with his hamstring injury, they are going to have a tough time covering Hill and Waddle. I would expect a lot of safety help and playing zone the majority of the time.
The good news for Tennessee is that the majority of the offense remained healthy and can expect nothing to change come Monday night. Derrick Henry is not in concussion protocol and should play. Sunday gave a little taste into what life without Henry could be like with the Titans with Tyjae Spears as the lead back and he did a good job.
What the Titans do not want is to be put behind early and then force to throw the ball more than they would like. While quarterback Will Levis has done a decent job through six games of showing his arm talent, throwing the football is not the Titans DNA. If the Titans get behind early, it will spell trouble. That is especially the case because the Dolphins defense is solid when defending the pass.
The best way for the Titans to attack on offense is to provide a well-balanced offense by featuring both Derrick Henry and Tyjae Spears in the backfield as well as try to move the ball downfield through the air. If the Titans can get to the red zone, that is where the Dolphins are the weakest. Henry has two touchdowns in each of his last two games, more of the King needs to be the focus. The Dolphins are stingy against the run with big defensive tackle Christian Wilkins leading the way. The Titans offensive line will have to bring their A-game to keep the Dolphins defensive front out of the backfield and keeping Will Levis upright.
Tennessee Titans (4-8) @ Miami Dolphins (9-3)
Time: December 11th @ 7:15 PM CT
Location: Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, FL)
TV Broadcast: ESPN (News Channel 5 locally)
TV Broadcast Crew: Chris Fowler, Dan Orlovsky, Louis Riddick, Laura Rutledge
Radio: Titans Radio (104-5 The Zone)
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Ramon Foster, Rhett Bryan
Referee: Adrian Hill
Line: MIA -13.0
Keys To The Game
Replacing Jeffery Simmons
Defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons is expected to miss at least a couple of weeks with a knee injury. There is not a player on this team that replace him. What the Titans can do is fully embrace the “next man up” mentality. Teair Tart is that guy this week. Tart has shown flashes this season of being a solid run stopper and can occasionally break through the line and pressure the quarterback. Tart is who I am looking to for stepping up and playing more quality minutes.
Stopping Tyreek Hill
Can you really stop Tyreek Hill? This season, almost no one has. Hill has 1,481 yards and 12 touchdowns on 93 receptions. His nickname is Cheetah for a reason. Hill has reached 3 of the top-10 fastest ball carriers this season reaching speeds of 22.01, 21.68, and 21.66mph. There is not a Titans player on defense that can reach speeds of that nature, so covering him will be very difficult. Playing zone, dropping a safety down to help in coverage, and trying to pressure quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is the key to stopping Hill. Seems like a lot, but this Dolphins offense can pick apart defenses with ease and do not need much time to do it.
Establish The Run Early
This game may not feature Derrick Henry like it has the last two weeks, but the King and his counterpart Tyjae Spears are still big parts of this offense. Getting both guys off to a good start initially will help this team find a rhythm on offense throughout the game. Henry showed quality bursts last week, so more of that is needed to not be continually behind the sticks and in third and long situations.
Spread The Wealth
It is no secret that veteran wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is the best receiver the Titans have, and the Dolphins know it too. Will Levis needs to try and spread the ball to all of his receivers to take the pressure off of Hopkins. If Hopkins is double-teamed then another receiver or tight end is open, but Levis will just need to find time to scan the field for his open guy. With Treylon Burks set to play in his second game since his concussion, the Titans and Will Levis will need the him to come alive.