Who has the edge?
Revamped defense will need to contain Titans’ multipurpose run attack
The Miami Dolphins begin the 2018 season hosting the Tennessee Titans on Sunday (1 p.m., FOX) at Hard Rock Stadium. Both teams will meet for the fourth consecutive season, with the Dolphins winning two of the past three.
When Dolphins run
Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore are listed as co-starters for the Dolphins, but could have trouble breaking loose against the Titans. Drake, heading into his third season, led all NFL running backs with 444 yards in the final five games of last year, and could be in store for a breakout season with the Dolphins. Gore, the former Coral Gables High and University of Miami standout, is entering his 14th season. He sits fifth all-time on the NFL’s rushing list and has played in 112 consecutive games. Tennessee was fourth in rushing defense last season, and has stifled opponents surrendering just 88.5 yards per game the last two seasons. Edge: Titans
When Titans run
Derrick Henry may have had just 11 carries for 63 yards in the past two matchups against the Dolphins, but he no longer has to settle for carries behind DeMarco Murray this season. Henry will lead the Titans’ two-headed rushing attack with former Patriots running back Dion Lewis able to contribute on the ground and in the passing game. Henry and Lewis could take advantage up the middle of the Dolphins defense where Akeem Spence is the most experienced defensive tackle. The Dolphins will also start two linebackers (Raekwon McMillian and rookie Jerome Baker) who did not play a snap last season. Edge: Titans
When Dolphins pass
Ryan Tannehill will play in a regular-season game the first time since December
2016, and is eager to show his growth as the Dolphins quarterback. His last two outings against the Titans could not have been more polar opposites. In 2015, Tannehill passed for
266 yards with two touchdowns and took advantage of four Tennessee turnovers for a
38-10 win. In 2016, Tannehill was sacked six times and threw two interceptions in a 30-17 loss. This season, Tannehill may have an edge against the Titans defense, which ranked 25th in the NFL despite being so stout against the run last season. Edge: Dolphins
When Titans pass
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota became the fifth quarterback in NFL history with at least 9,000 passing yards (9,476) and 900 rushing yards (913) in his first three seasons. In Tennessee’s last visit to Miami in 2016, he completed 20-of-29 passes for 163 yards with three touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown in the Titans’ only victory over the Dolphins in the last three seasons. While Mariota can escape Miami’s defensive attack led by defensive ends Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn, two of Mariota’s top targets — tight end Delanie Walker and former Dolphins receiver Rishard Matthews — are both coming off injuries heading into the opener. Edge: Dolphins
If this game comes down to experience, the Dolphins may be at a disadvantage. Rookie kicker Jason Sanders has a leg, nailing a
56-yard field goal in his final preseason game. But he missed two field goals of 53 yards during the preseason, finishing 7 of 9. Punter Matt Haack enters his second season, hoping to improve while replicating his last outing against the Titans, kicking 5 of 9 punts inside the 20-yard line. Titans kicker Ryan Succop ended a streak of 59 consecutive field goals inside the 50-yard line last season, while punter Brett Kern was a Pro Bowler with a
44.6-yard net average that sits second in NFL history. Miami may have an advantage in the return game, being eighth in kick returns and
17th in punt returns last season, compared to
10th and 22nd, respectively, for the Titans. Edge: Titans
Coach Adam Gase begins his third season as Dolphins coach, hoping to lead Miami back to the playoffs for the first time since his first season in 2016. … Mike Vrabel, a former Patriots linebacker, makes his debut as Titans coach. … Mariota hopes to lead the Titans to consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since Steve McNair did so in 2002 and
2003. … Lewis and cornerback Malcolm Butler are former Patriots familiar with the Dolphins. … The Dolphins have won 11 of their past 16 games at Hard Rock Stadium. … Frank Gore is
76 yards away from passing Curtis Martin for fourth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. … Two-time pro Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn, acquired from the Rams in the offseason, will play his first game as a Miami Dolphin. Edge: Dolphins
Dolphins starting running back Kenyan Drake will try to get the offense going against a Titans defense that ranked fourth in stopping the run last season.
Marcus Mariota scored four touchdowns in the Titans’ win over the Dolphins last season.