The Tennessee Titans travel to Hard Stadium for a Week 4 NFL matchup with the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. Kickoff is at 12:00 PM CST.
Both teams have a 1-3 record and stand at the bottom of their respective divisions — Tennessee in the AFC South, three games behind the Houston Texans, and Miami in the AFC East, three games behind the New England Patriots.
The winner of this game therefore begins the process of improving their divisional standing. Let’s consider three pivotal matchups between both teams.
Brian Orakpo, Jurrell Casey versus Ryan Tannehill
On Sunday Titans’ defensive coordinator Dick LaBeau will likely take advantage of Miami’s offensive line since it ranks second in the league for quarterback hits allowed (32) and fourth in sacks allowed (11).
These metrics bode well for Tennessee’s best pass-rushers: linebacker Brian Orakpo and lineman Jurrell Casey. Through the first quarter of the season, Orakpo has four sacks, third most in the league, and Casey has five quarterback hits, three of which he tallied last week against the Texans.
If Orakpo, Casey and company can successfully pressure Dolphins’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill, LaBeau’s defense should have a strong showing. Last week versus the Cincinnati Bengals, when pressured, Tannehill was 3-of-10 for 30 yard and had a quarterback rating of zero.
Nadamakung Suh versus Ben Jones
Nadamakung Suh is arguably the most disruptive player on Miami’s team. In fact, in four games the 6’4’’, 307-pound defender has recorded four tackles-for-a-loss, and he is currently graded as the NFL’s No. 4 interior lineman per Pro Football Focus.
On Sunday Suh lines up opposite Titans’ center Ben Jones. There are several reasons to consider this matchup.
First, Jones is capable of countering Suh’s pass rush. He is coming off a strong performance against the Houston Texans last week, in which he limited Vince Wilfork to one solo tackle, and he is graded as the NFL’s No. 7 center per Pro Football Focus.
Second, the pressure Suh does or does not bring upon Marcus Mariota could impact Tennessee’s give/take ratio. Of Mariota’s seven turnovers this season (five interceptions, two lost fumbles), a number of them resulted when the second-year quarterback made a hasty decision under pressure.
Titans’ offensive line versus hype
Last year the Titans’ offensive line ranked as one of the worst in the league, and with good reason. Taylor Lewan, Quinton Spain, Joe Looney, Chance Warmack, and Byron Bell gave up a league-high 3.4 sacks per game and facilitated just 4.0 yards per rush attempt.
That narrative has taken a large turn for the better under the Titans’ 2016 front of Taylor Lewan, Quinton Spain, Ben Jones, Josh Kline, and Jack Conklin. Through Week 4 of the season they grade as the NFL’s No. 1 offensive line per Pro Football Focus.
Numbers support their standing. Lewan is the top graded left tackle; Jones is the seventh graded center; Conklin is the second graded right tackle; and through four weeks the unit has averaged just 1.75 sacks per game and has facilitated 4.7 yards per carry.
All this being said — there are still three quarters of the season remaining, so it will be interesting to see if the Titans’ offensive line can uphold their early-season hype and prove that they are indeed better than their 2015 selves.
After a frustrating loss to the Texans in Week 3, the Titans play aggressive in order to gain standings in the AFC South. Dick LeBeau brings heavy pressure against Miami’s vulnerable offensive line, and on the opposite side of play, the Titans’ front five continue to find success protecting Mariota and opening holes for DeMarco Murray.
Titans win 20-17.