What a redemption one year later.
In Week 6 of the 2015 season, the Tennessee Titans lost to the Miami Dolphins in a 38-10 blowout. To add insult to injury, a late hit from defensive end Olivier Vernon sidelined Marcus Mariota for two weeks of his rookie season.
The Titans avenged this loss 357 days later in Week 5 of the 2016 season. On Sunday, Mariota was virtually untouched as he and Tennessee routed Miami, 30-17, at Hard Rock Stadium.
Tennessee shined on both sides of the football.
Brian Orakpo, Jurrell Casey and Derek Morgan took advantage of a depleted Dolphins’ offensive line — left guard Brandon Albert, left tackle Laremy Tunsil were inactive — as each player recorded two sacks on quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
This defensive pressure stemmed, in large part, from the performance of the Titans’ secondary. In fact, on ‘The Wake Up Zone,’ Casey acknowledged that defensive backs Jason McCourty and Perrish Cox locked down Miami’s receivers, which gave Tennessee’s pass-rushers time to pressure Tannehill.
The numbers certainly support Casey’s argument: Tannehill took all six of his sacks and threw both of his interceptions — the first to McCourty and second to Daimion Stafford — when Dick LeBeau sent four or fewer rushers against the Dolphins’ O-line.
Additional defensive stats worth attention include the following: the Dolphins had just eight first downs during the game; Tennessee limited Miami to 200 yards of total offense; and wide receiver Jarvis Landry, the Dolphins’ most-threatening offensive weapon, had three receptions for 28 yards.
For five straight weeks now Tennessee’s defense has successfully limited the opposing team’s best offense player: Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson in Week 1, Lions’ receiver Golden Tate in Week 2, Raiders’ receiver Amari Cooper in Week 3, Texans’ receiver DeAndre Hopkins in Week 4, and now Landry.
Tennessee’s offense was as impressive as their defense.
DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry and Mariota rushed for 235 yards on 41 carries for an average of 5.7 yards per attempt; Mariota had a 117.5 QBR as he completed 69 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and zero interceptions; and four different Titans’ players — Mariota, Delanie Walker, Rishard Matthews, and Andre Johnson — scored a touchdown.
Coach Mike Mularkey’s ‘smash mouth offense’ was on true display versus Miami. During the game Tennessee had 41 rush attempts compared to 29 pass attempts. And that ratio more strongly favored the rush during Tennessee’s four scoring drives: 21 rush attempts versus 12 pass attempts.
When one considers Tennessee’s offensive and defensive performance versus Miami, the final score (31-17) does not accurately show how one-sided the matchup was. Two mistakes by Tennessee’s defense and special teams resulted in 14 of Miami’s 17 points.
With 12:23 remaining in the second quarter, Jakeem Grant returned a 74-yard punt for the Dolphins’ first score. This gaffe came six weeks after Mularkey and Jon Robinson fired special-teams coach Bobby April.
On the Dolphins’ next offensive drive, Brice McCain and Sean Spence miss tackled running back Damien Williams, who then ran 58-yards along the sideline before being brought down by David Bass. Miami scored their second touchdown four plays later.
Take back these mistakes, and the Titans may have beaten the Dolphins 31-3.
The win was impressive nonetheless, and the next three weeks are very promising for Tennessee as they look to climb the AFC South.
Although the Titans (2-3) are currently tied with the Colts (2-3), one game behind the Division-leading Texans (3-2), they have three straight home games versus Cleveland, Indianapolis and Jacksonville — teams with a cumulative record of 3-11. What an opportunity to make a statement in the Division.
Mularkey commented on the significance of Tennessee’s homestand after Sunday’s game: “It’s important. We haven’t won two games in a row since I’ve been here… It has to start at some point.”