The Dolphins were unable to overcome several turnovers and self-inflicted mistakes on Sunday, losing to the Tennessee Titans, 37-3, at Sun Life Stadium.
With the Dolphins heading to Buffalo for a big divisional matchup on Thursday night, adjustments will need to be made during a shorter week of work.
Here are my five key takeaways from the Dolphins’ 37-3 loss to Tennessee:
- Turnover Battle: Your chances of winning a game are already significantly reduced when you lose the turnover battle — they’re nearly nil when you have four turnovers. It makes matter worse, of course, when those turnovers lead directly to points. Yesterday was not a great example of what the Dolphins are capable of doing because they helped Tennessee several times along the way. Not only did the turnovers lead to points, but they helped cut the field in half, which allowed the Titans offense to dictate the action for nearly the entire game. They really only had two drives of significance — the back-breaker being the drive that opened the second half — but both led to points.
- Tannehill’s Decisions: Through his first nine games, Ryan Tannehill has forced the football in only two of them. Not even in the season opener — a game that Tannehill threw three interceptions against the now 8-1 Texans — did he press too much. Those weren’t really self-induced mistakes; they were either caused by J.J. Watt, a breakout defensive force, or were bad breaks. In the first Jets game and this week against the Titans, Tannehill made a handful of poor decisions and paid a big price. The last thing you want to do is compound an initial mistake by allowing a team to immediately score. We have a large enough sample size now to think this was just a “rookie game” for Tannehill. The body of work tells you that a majority of his decisions his physical execution have been good. Sure, the INT-TD ratio is not where you’d like it to be, but I believe Tannehill will limit his turnovers the rest of the way. That’s the only way the Dolphins will progress — they need their rookie quarterback to play turnover-free to set the tone.
- Defensive Woes: The Dolphins defense had earned a reputation for shutting down the run — and rightfully so. The unit hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 22 straight games, a streak that had extended back into last season. (Week 2, 2011, Texans RB Ben Tate) Titans RB Chris Johnson has the Dolphins’ number, though, continuing his recent run of strong play with 126 yards and a score. Each. I’m not sure if it was his play or if it was inconsistencies in the Dolphins’ run defense. At first glance, Miami needs to be more consistent at the point of attack, while also getting better backside pursuit. Much of the attention last week was Andrew Luck’s ability to keep plays alive, but the Titans attacked the Dolphins on the ground on third down, completing 47 percent of their third-down attempts. The run defense must tighten up quickly because Buffalo has a strong 1-2 punch that will do damage if the Dolphins give them enough room to get comfortable. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson each bring something a little bit different to the table, but they both are versatile; they can attack a defense multiple ways. If the Dolphins’ front seven rests on reputation, it could be a long night.
- Not So Special: A quality special teams unit is something Dolphins coaches have counted on all year, but they didn’t show up on Sunday. Multiple penalties and numerous bad decisions led to the team losing in all three phases, whether it wasn’t fielding a punt, a costly block in the back, or a shanked punt — take away Brandon Fields’ 67-yard bomb, and he had a pedestrian 44.8 yard average. Miami finally had a day to forget on special teams, putting some things on tape that will need to be corrected during the short week preceding Thursday night’s game. Conditions probably won’t be great, so the Dolphins must be efficient in the kicking game. The coverage teams will need to help flip the field, finding hidden yardage that can
- Back to Fundamentals: Joe Philbin’s philosophy hasn’t changed from the day he arrived in Miami: be able to run the ball and stop an opponent’s running game. Initially, the Dolphins were having success in both areas. But over the past several weeks, the Dolphins’ running game has been severely limited, and yesterday, they weren’t able to stop a resurgent Chris Johnson. The latter should be an anomaly, a rare bad game for typically stout run defense. For the struggling ground game to get going, though, the Dolphins offensive line needs to play consistently, especially in 3rd-and-short situations, where they’ve struggled. I’d look for this to change coming off of the short week, with the Dolphins facing the Bills defense, a unit that ranks 31st against the run. If they are able take back the line of scrimmage in Buffalo, percentages would trend towards a Dolphins win on the road.