Who has the edge?

Re­vamped de­fense will need to con­tain Ti­tans’ mul­ti­pur­pose run at­tack

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Gameday -

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

Spe­cial teams

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

In­tan­gi­bles

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

AP FILE

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.

AP FILE

Mar­cus Mar­i­ota scored four touch­downs in the Ti­tans’ win over the Dol­phins last sea­son.

Safid Deen

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