This is all getting very real, isn’t it? Not only are we in the hunt now, but we are ACTUALLY occupying a playoff spot as I write this. Not only that but if we can win the next two games, we are 100% assured post-season football. Madness considering we were 1-7 and willing to blow the whole thing up just a few weeks ago.
And why can’t we win the next two games? We won the last two… and the two before that… and the three before that! We have handed Lemar Jackson, Sean Peyton and Cam Newton the worst games of their careers in the process. We have closed down Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara in the process. There are people out there who will downplay our achievements but what we have put together is something we can be proud of in terms of how our team has turned this around.
So the final two games, starting with the Titans and then finishing with the Patriots in Miami. Ryan Tannehill first and Bill Belichick second, two very familiar faces in recent Dolphins history. We are going to have to best both of these men if we want to take full advantage of the opportunity we have given ourselves. Starting this weekend against the Titans.
In the lead-up, I have gone in and amongst the opposition fanbase once again, speaking with Titans fan and host of the Turnpike Titans podcast Sal Manfredi to get a sense of how the Titans are feeling ahead of this match up…
Hi Sal, I appreciate the time and opportunity to speak with you about this weekend’s game. You’re well known on Titans social media, have a good following, and I believe the Titans owner herself even recognized you, such is your fandom. But for the Dolphins fans out there who are less familiar with you, introduce yourself and your Titans history.
|Hi JMR, thanks for the opportunity, I just love talking sports and especially the Titans. For those who don’t know me, my name is Sal. I’m from the northern part of New Jersey and I am a huge, huge Titans fan, the greatest team around. I became a Titans fan through my dad. He grew up a Houston Oilers fan in the mid 70’s. Once they moved to Tennessee, he followed and the rest is history, I’m proud to be a Titans fan and share that connection with my dad.
That is superb man. My dad and I support different teams and enjoy friendly rivalry across the Sunday dinner table from time to time. But my daughter is growing up a Dolphins fan, she already asks me week on week if “Tua won this time,” so I hope she maintains this, and we can grow something like you have with your pop.
But to the article for a bit if I may, the Titans, you guys find yourself at 10-5, that seems pretty damn good from where I am sitting. Have you been as strong as your record suggests and how are you feeling heading into the playoff season?
|Technically no, I don’t feel we are as strong as our record suggests. The reason being, we lost 2 games to really awful teams due to injuries. If we were healthier, I believe our record would be much better than it is. Obviously, losing the best running back in the league for half the season had a tremendous strain on our offense.
My feelings on the Titans playoff hopes heavily depend on the readiness of Derrick Henry, the health of Julio Jones, and the proper play-calling of our offensive coordinator Todd Downing.
I get you. We paid Will Fuller $10m, and he’d made four total receptions after suspension and before the injury. Plus, a chunk of our losses happened while Tua was out with broken ribs. Affected by injuries is something we can relate to. But I need to get into the player all Dolphins fans want to speak about.
Ryan Tannehill is a man we all respect, whilst all agreeing the parting of ways was necessary for both parties. We all like to see him doing well and you are obviously seeing the best of him getting 10 wins already this year. We were never able to get that from him on a consistent level, so just how good has he been in Tennessee?
|To be honest, I believe Ryan Tannehill has had a fairly poor season regardless of the injuries he has faced with his skill players. His pocket presence and ability to go through progressions has been lacking from what I’ve seen from him during his previous years in Tennessee. I do believe if our offense returns to full strength, those areas will greatly improve.
Oh wow really? I wish our below-par Tannehill experience could have yielded 10 wins in a bad year! Haha! Although what you are saying is music to my ears in terms of this weekends match up. With our pass rush starting to look really mean in recent weeks and our defensive backs playing at a top-level, it feels like the weaknesses you have named are areas we can exploit.
So with that in mind, talk to me about the wider offense. There are some wonderful options there with AJ Brown back and looking incredible in his last appearance, just how good is he? Then of course there is your main man, Derrick Henry, where is he at right now? Obviously, he’s a monster, best in the league, so how much have you missed that presence?
In my opinion, AJ Brown has one of the best skillsets of any wide receiver in the NFL. He has incredible size, speed, and route running abilities. His worst trait so far in his young career has been his availability. If he can continue to stay healthy, I see him as being the greatest wide receiver to ever put on a Titans uniform.
As far as Derrick Henry, I’m optimistic about his return due to the fact that this year, he started out so hot. Usually, we would see him struggle during the first few weeks of the season. With that being said, I believe whenever he comes back, he will be very close to at his best.
AJ Bron certainly is starting to create a perception of high standards, obviously like all players, staying fit is a priority, but when he plays he is dangerous and there has been discussions amongst the Dolphins fan base as to who we believe is the best out of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones to cover Brown this weekend.
As for Derrick Henry, I can only hope we don’t see an early return in time for Sunday. It is looking ever more unlikely, but facing him is one hell of a task for any defense. That said, I don’t think we could be better placed, we have controlled Barkley, Kamara and McCaffrey in recent weeks, and while I believe Henry is the best of all of them, we are much better now than we were earlier in the season.
But what are your views on us? What’s the Titans perspective of Miami football right now? Did you expect us to be in the playoff hunt at the beginning of the season? How has the Titan opinion changes comparing the 8-7 Dolphins you will face to the 1-7 Dolphins of earlier in the year?
I give Miami a lot of credit, to find the motivation to play at the level they played after starting 1-7. I believe it’s a testament to the ability of Brian Flores as a head coach. I will say, I believe their schedule has been very favourable to them over these past 7 games, but this is the NFL, and winning is always difficult. I’m personally rooting for them, outside of this weekend of course, I love a good underdog story, and they certainly fit the bill.
Haha, well if you want to root for us this weekend too then we wouldn’t complain. Seriously though, I see the schedule argument bandied around many places when people talk about us, and there are two sides to every story I feel, and it’s the fairness of how it is reported and discussed that I struggle with.
Looking at the manner of this win run, we have dismantled the Ravens, the Saints and put a significant roadblock in Cam Newton’s return party. We have looked comfortable, and not only have we won, but our QB has developed the best pass completion percentage in the league over that time, and our defense is ranking first and second in the majority of categories over that time.
OK, so we have played teams with losing schedules, but so have the Patriots for the most part and their resurgence is not held in the same low regard. Plus, we haven’t just beaten these teams, but we have schematically dismantled them, silenced top players, and won those games consecutively. So I understand that the schedule looks easier than most, but when you look at the games and performances themselves, I believe we do deserve more credit than some are giving us.
But I shall get off my soapbox for now, what do you guys think of us moving forward? Plenty of cap space ahead of us and a strong core of young players, is the future as bright as we think it is? Or are us fans missing a bigger picture that us realistically held in the same old zone of mediocrity?
I actually had the Dolphins competing for the AFC East at the start of the season. I’m a big fan of Tua, especially his work ethic and personality on and off the field. I think Waddle is a rising superstar in the league and will get better over time. I think Miami’s struggles are due to inexperience with a lot of young players on the roster and with some of their coaches behind the scenes. Miami’s time is coming soon in my opinion.
Well, our fans will like you! That is how we feel too and to hear some Tua love is a refreshing position to be in. What about our roster? What areas worry you or concern you from either side of the ball? Are there any players who you worry could cause you problems this weekend?
I’m certainly worried about Jaylen Waddle. I think Fulton is going to have his hands full with him throughout the day. As far as defense goes, some names I’ve been impressed with are Ogbah, Christian Wilkins, and basically Miami’s entire secondary. I definitely believe their defense has been the focal point of this winning streak they’ve had.
Yeah, I can’t argue with you there; our sound defense has absolutely been a key part of our development. We seem to have got more and more aggressive and we are picking up sacks from all areas of our defensive group. You mention Ogbah and he seems to be able to block passes within a split second of them coming out of the QBs hand, and he seems to bat down these passes on a weekly basis. There is a lot to like there I would agree.
What about your roster? Some names are obvious, but who should we be looking out for and who should be concerning us?
The obvious answer would be AJ Brown. After the performance he put up last week, it would be safe to say we will try to get him heavily involved on Sunday. As far as an ‘under the radar player’ to keep an eye on? I would take a look at Kristian Fulton. He is our best cover corner and continues to get better each week. I think him and Waddle will be a fun matchup to watch.
Everyone Jaylon Waddle seems to match up with leads to a fun viewing experience. He seems to find someone to battle with every single week, and clearly Tua likes getting the ball to him, especially in the first half of games, so it will be an interesting one for sure.
How about your play style? There are some great strengths to your team, but what areas generally should Miami be looking to exploit if we are to extend our unbeaten run?
One thing we do that aggravates me a lot, is we run on almost every 1st down. Unfortunately, I don’t believe we have found our answer at offensive coordinator, despite our record. He’s very predictable and lacks creativity. If you’re looking to exploit our weaknesses, it would be our pass protection. It has been abysmal since the start of the season. If I were you, I would blitz often.
Well, that plays into our hands in a big way. Our defensive improvements have come almost exclusively from an increased aggression and unpredictability. So if we know we can predict your plays easily enough and have an OLine that can be got at, then maybe our defense can give us another strong platform to start from.
But to one last change of subject, I ask every fan about the most talked about player on our team. How does the Titan fanbase view Tua Tagovailoa? Is he our answer at QB, both now and in the long term?
Tua reminds me a lot of one of my favorite players who is unfortunately no longer on the team, Marcus Mariota. I think he’s still in the learning phase of his career. When I watch him, I think he sometimes tries to do too much, instead of taking what the defense gives him. I still really like his skill set and believe the way he is ending this season will catapult him to a better season next year.
That’s all that should be asked of him at this time, growth. A lot of people want him to be elite immediately, and watching other QBs from his draft class throw fireworks week on week gives him a difficult comparable. But he looks like a safe pair of hands, dependable, and he seems to be growing week on week and getting better and better. I like our QB1 and hope he is the guy in Miami for a long time.
But to Sunday, prediction time, how do you see this game going?
I think this game is going to be won in the trenches. Low scoring, highlighted by both defenses controlling the game. I definitely see this game going down to the 4th quarter. Due to the fact that this game is being played in Nashville, I give the Titans the edge. My score prediction is 13-17 Tennessee.
OK, OK, that’s an interesting viewpoint there. I’m with you for the most part too. But given our current run of form and the importance of this game for us, I have to let the excited fan in me favor the Dolphins, even though I do feel this is going to be the hardest game in our run-in.
I will agree with you that this will be quite low scoring and be settled in the 4th Quarter after a game dominated by the defenses. But in saying that, we have the NFL’s best-ranked 4th Quarter QB in Tua, and its not particularly close either. Tua has come alive in fourth quarters all year. We play in a way that has us bending but not breaking so that in Q4 we are still in the game, and at that point, Tua starts to let loose. The defense provides the main contribution, and then Tua goes out and wins it in the final 15 minutes.
So I will follow your prediction, but suggest that when we get to the 4th Quarter, Tua does the business and gets Miami that all-important win to take us to a final shootout against the Patriots in week 18. So with that in mind, I am going 20 – 14 in favor of Miami.
Thanks again for being a part of this, when I link up with people like yourself, it makes me wish this was a podcast so we could properly get into it. But for now, it has been a pleasure and I hope we can connect again soon.
So that prediction question has got me fired up! I really think we can do this now!
However, I meant when I said that I believe this will be our banana skin if there is to be one. This is a game we can’t take lightly. RT17 will have the biggest chip on his shoulder and will be slinging it in his new home, in front of fans that want him there long-term and a coach who believes in him. He has Julio Jones and AJ Brown back fit and ready for a playoff push. This is going to be far from easy.
But if we can defend to the levels we have shown recently, and our DBs can cover those two obvious threats, then that offensive line is there to be shot at and our pass rush right now are expert marksmen.
There are things in this matchup that can hurt us, there are things in this matchup that we can exploit. This is going to be a tension-filled minefield of a viewing experience for DolFans everywhere, but I believe that this new look Miami team can come out of Nashville with another W and one step closer to those playoffs.