Lead analysis from Chris Kouffman (@ckparrot) of @3YardsPerCarry
Let's get right to the point, shall we? The Miami Dolphins will notch their first win of the season this Sunday as they host the Tennessee Titans at Hard Rock Stadium.
Here are the reasons why:
#1. Adam Gase's Miami Dolphins are good at home.
Since becoming head coach of the Dolphins, Gase has amassed a 10-5 record at Hard Rock Stadium. And before you ask, yes that includes a good 8.5 games with quarterbacks like Matt Moore, Jay Cutler, and David Fales at the helm. Gase only lost one game at Hard Rock with Ryan Tannehill quarterbacking his offense. Coincidentally, that loss was to the Tennessee Titans in 2016.
Miami's offense is particularly much more potent at home than on the road. Some coaches call games more aggressively at home, for a variety of reasons ranging from crowd noise to the players being more used to a particular surface, etc. Coaches that like to run the No-Huddle, including Adam Gase, will often abstain in front of a hostile crowd screaming at the top of their lungs to try and disrupt your offense's communications.
Whatever the reason, the simple fact is the Dolphins offense scored 24.8 points per game (372 total points) in 15 games at Hard Rock under Adam Gase, versus only 17.0 points per game (272 total points) in 16 games played at the opponent's stadium. That home score includes 184 points scored by Ryan Tannehill's offense over the course of about 6.5 games (Tannehill was injured mid-way through the Arizona game in 2016, with the Dolphins having gotten to a 21-7 lead), and 188 points scored in the 8.5 home games played with Matt Moore, Jay Cutler, and David Fales at the helm.
Even with backup quarterbacks in the game, Adam Gase has called offenses in his home stadium that would have ranked in the top half of the NFL in points scored per game in 2017. And with Tannehill in the game? The scoring output was good enough for Top-5 ranking.
#2. Chemistry between quarterback Marcus Mariota and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur remains untested.
If you are a Tennessee Titans fan, there is one particular aspect about the transition to offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur's offense that should leave you feeling a little bit nervous: 11-personnel.
Last year, LaFleur served as the offensive coordinator for head coach Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams. The offense, with McVay rather than LaFleur calling the plays, was dynamic. But it was also the most heavily reliant on 11-personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) in the entire National Football League. This worked for the Rams. Will it work for the Titans?
According to Sharp Football Statistics, only one team in the National Football League had fewer snaps out of 11-personnel than the Tennessee Titans in 2017. Also according to Sharp, the Titans had the single worst team passer rating of all the teams in the league, when trotting 11-personnel onto the field. Tennessee quarterbacks threw only three touchdowns out of 11-personnel in 2017, compared with 13 interceptions.
One year ago, the Titans kept a dedicated fullback Jalston Fowler on roster. This allowed for the use of 21-personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two wide receivers) a total of 82 snaps, which included 41 pass plays. Not every team in the NFL uses 21-personnel anymore. Among those teams who used it seriously, the Titans had a league-leading 113.5 passer rating out of the personnel grouping. Heading into the 2018 season, the Titans have removed fullbacks from their roster, and only carry three tailbacks. It certainly looks as if a personnel grouping that had previously been effective for Mariota has been removed from the playbook.
The question remains whether LaFleur will attempt to push his packaging tendencies onto offensive personnel that remain largely in-tact from a year ago. The early signs are not encouraging, for Titans fans. During the preseason, LaFleur called 11-personnel out onto the field nearly 70 percent of snaps.
#3. The wins have to come from somewhere, right?
We at 3YPC haven't tried to hide our optimism about the Dolphins this season. We also commonly lament how negative the national narrative is about Miami this year. Let's take our opinions aside and pretend the national narrative, that the Dolphins are going to win only six or seven games in 2018, is closer to the truth.
The flip side to Miami's having been a strong home team under head coach Adam Gase is that they have been an atrocious road team. The team is 6-11 when having to travel, and have been outscored 272 to 458, with an average score of 17-27. This means one should be very selective about picking road games that you believe the Dolphins should win.
And therein lies the problem with predicting six or seven wins: you've got to sit down with the schedule, size it up, and decide where those six or seven wins are coming from!
Below is Miami's schedule, broken up into home games and away games, and sorted by opponent's 2017 team record:
Week 06: Bears (5-11) at Dolphins
Week 09: Jets (5-11) at Dolphins
Week 03: Raiders (6-10) at Dolphins
Week 01: Titans (9-7) at Dolphins
Week 07: Lions (9-7) at Dolphins
Week 13: Bills (9-7) at Dolphins
Week 16: Jaguars (10-6) at Dolphins
Week 14: Patriots (13-3) at Dolphins
Week 12: Dolphins at Colts (4-12)
Week 08: Dolphins at Texans (4-12)
Week 02: Dolphins at Jets (5-11)
Week 10: Dolphins at Packers (7-9)
Week 05: Dolphins at Bengals (7-9)
Week 17: Dolphins at Bills (9-7)
Week 15: Dolphins at Vikings (13-3)
Week 04: Dolphins at Patriots (13-3)
The Colts get quarterback Andrew Luck back in 2018 after going 4-12 without him in 2017. The Texans get promising quarterback Deshaun Watson back in 2018, after having only gotten to play six games with him in 2017 en route to a 4-12 record. The Packers get Aaron Rodgers back in 2018, after having only played seven games with him in 2017.
Those are not going to be "easy" road games for a team that struggles on the road.
The Titans have a number of players with injuries (e.g. pass rushers Derrick Morgan and Harold Landry, right tackle Jack Conklin, rookie linebacker Rashaan Evans), as well as a number of players coming back to the field for the first time without having played any preseason snaps (e.g. tight end Delanie Walker, wide receiver Rishard Matthews, pass rusher Brian Orakpo).
The simple truth is that this home game against this team with these injuries and brand new systems on both sides of the ball stacks up as one of the five likeliest wins of the season.
Yet Miami heads into the game as a Las Vegas underdog, at home. That is a mistake.
Ethan Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick): This is a team with young players at key positions, and while that bodes well for the next couple of years, there will be issues early. The tackling in preseason was shoddy, and the Titans have the backs, bruising and slippery, to make Miami pay for that. Expect to see plenty of Mike Gesicki, and Kenyan Drake may break a run or two. But Tennessee is underrated in several areas, and they exploit Miami’s inexperience. Titans 24, Dolphins 20.
Walter Villa (@WaltVSports): There are arguments to be made for the Titans, who finished 11-7 last year, winning a playoff game on the road. They are also playing a Dolphins team that went just 6-10 last year and then let three Pro Bowl players and a highly accurate kicker walk out their doors. But the Dolphins are at home, Ryan Tannehill is back, and I see Miami riding that emotion. Dolphins 27, Titans 24.
Harvey Fialkov (@HFialkov): The only team that showed less in the preseason than the Dolphins were the toothless, injury-ravaged 0-4 Titans. Expect an amped-up Ryan Tannehill and coach Adam Gase to pull out all the tricks on offense and outthink Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota -- whose receivers are banged up -- and rookie head coach Mike Vrabel, a Bill Belichick disciple. The Titans’ strength is their secondary led by former Patriot Malcolm Butler, who was MIA in the Super Bowl, but will make his presence known to Tannehill. Look for Miami to establish its two-headed running attack of Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore, early and often against the Titans’ fourth-ranked run defense. Dolphins 16, Titans 13.
Andy Kent (@Andy_Kent): I think Miami’s defense will be up to the challenge of facing a mobile quarterback in Marcus Mariota and the pass rush, led by Cam Wake and Robert Quinn, will get to him and force at least one crucial turnover. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill will look solid in his first start in more than 20 months and will connect with Kenny Stills on a long TD pass late in the game to provide the margin of victory. Dolphins 24, Titans 21.
Josh Houtz (@houtz): I feel the Dolphins matchup with the Titans better than most give them credit. This game will ultimately come down to how well the Dolphins can stop the Titan’s ground game. Dion Lewis has killed Miami in the past and Derrick Henry is one of the more physical backs in the NFL. With that said, if the team can stop the run, the Dolphin’s secondary matches up well vs the Titans receivers. On offense, the team needs to establish the run early with Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore. This will open up things up in the passing game, and allow Ryan Tannehill to have success off playaction. I think this game will come down to the last possession, with the Dolphins squeaking things out with an interception late to deal the game. Dolphins 27, Titans 23.
Alfredo Arteaga (@UptownReport): Titans health, reliance on Kenny Vaccaro and lack of athleticism from their linebacker corp to cover Kenyan Drake out of the backfield (Titans allowed 6.2 rec. to RB's in 2017, 2nd worst in NFL*) along with the Dolphins short passing game, bodes well for offensive production against this group. Miami scores enough to build a lead, and then hold on. Dolphins 24 Titans 17.
Craig Davis (@CraigDavisRuns): The Miami offense needs a big splash in Ryan Tannehill’s return in front of a big opening-day crowd. The key will be the ability of the revamped line to providing running room for Kenyan Drake. The challenge on defense starts with Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn putting heat on Marcus Mariota, who threw more interceptions than touchdowns last season. Dolphins 20, Titans 13.
Antwan Staley (@AntwanStaley): The Dolphins’ run defense and tackling issues will likely carry over to the preseason as Derrick Henry will be a load to take down. That should give the Titans a lot of 2nd and 3rd and shorts in the game, and they should be able to move the ball down the field. The Dolphins need to give up to a fast start if they want to reach the postseason and unfortunately they will lose their season opener to the Titans. Titans 24, Dolphins 17.