The Titans will look to erase the memory of last Sunday’s loss with a win in Miami. They’ll seek a better start and an improved defense.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A year ago, the Titans headed to Miami for a Week 5 game, looking to bounce back following a loss to Houston.
In 2016, Tennessee used a victory over the Dolphins as a springboard, the start of three wins in four games that turned their season in the right direction.The Titans hope to follow the same path starting Sunday when they visit Miami once again. Here are five key questions for the Titans looking ahead:
How can the Titans improve their starts? – The Titans have been held to a combined three points in the first quarters of their last three games. Tennessee was able to overcome slow offensive starts with monstrous second halves in wins over Jacksonville and Seattle, but couldn’t do the same in Sunday’s loss to Houston.
One way to better those starts, as Titans coach Mike Mularkey noted Monday, is by doing a better job of converting early third-down attempts.
In their season-opening drive against Oakland, for example, the Titans marched right down the field for a touchdown, converting a third-and-10 as well as two third-and-8s. But in the three first quarters since then, the Titans have only converted four-of-13 third-down attempts.
The Titans were the fourth-best team in the NFL at converting third downs last year (46 percent), so there’s no reason to believe they can’t improve on their recent early-game performances.
What can Matt Casselgain through practice this week? – We still don’t know whether Cassel or Marcus Mariota (hamstring) will start on Sunday, but we do know Cassel will be getting far more practice reps with the first team this week than in a regular week.Mularkey said the team will formulate game-plans for both Mariota and Cassel, and that alone should ensure Cassel sees a significant amount of time with the first unit.
In addition, Mularkey indicated Cassel will likely get the bulk of the first-team snaps Wednesday in practice while the Titans further evaluate Mariota. That can only aid Cassel in working with players like Eric Decker, as those two really didn’t get a chance to create much chemistry during the preseason. An ankle injury limited Decker to one preseason contest.
“There is a difference when you get to have a chance to do all the reps and you start the game and you get into the flow if the game. It is different,” Mularkey said. “I have never been a quarterback in the NFL, but I would think it would be a lot different when you get a whole week’s worth of work and then start the game, you’re in the flow.”
Cassel is 2-2 in his last four games as a starter, having won his most recent start – last year’s season finale against Houston.
How can the Titans shore up their pass defense? – In the second half of last Sunday’s game against Houston, the Titans used their most experienced cornerback, Logan Ryan, more often against the Texans’ talented DeAndre Hopkins. Mularkey didn’t say the Titans will definitely match corners to specific receivers like that going forward, but he did say there would be discussion about changing the cornerback rotation.Rookie corner Adoree Jackson struggled at times against the Texans, but keep in mind he was playing just the fourth game of his NFL career, so some bumps in the road are part of the process.
The Titans’ pass coverage could also benefit from a better pass rush. Tennessee has played some elusive quarterbacks the past two weeks in Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson, but Jay Cutler should provide a more stationary target Sunday in Miami. The Titans, who finished seventh in the league in sacks last year with 40, have seven through the first four games. Derrick Morgan leads the team with three.
What should the Titans expect from the Dolphins? – With Cutler taking the place of injured starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins have had all kinds of difficulty putting points on the board. Miami was shut out by the Saints last Sunday and was held to six points – scoring on the last play of the game – against the Jets the previous week.
The Dolphins (1-2) do have some talented offensive players in wide receivers Jarvis Landry (25 catches in three games) and DeVante Parker (18 catches in three games), as well as running back Jay Ajayi, so the Titans’ defense will be tested.Defensively, here’s an interesting stat on the Dolphins: They’ve yet to allow a point in the first quarter this season.
What does the Titans’ schedule ahead look like? – Three of the Titans’ first four opponents – Oakland, Seattle and Houston – made the playoffs last season. This week’s opponent, Miami, also reached the postseason in 2016, which means the Titans will have played four playoff teams in the opening five weeks.
After the contest against the Dolphins, the Titans only have two 2016 playoff teams left on their schedule – Houston (in Nashville) and Pittsburgh (on the road).
An even more promising way of looking at things: Per Football Outsiders, the Titans have the least difficult schedule in the league for Weeks 5 through 17, based on the way teams have played so far this year.
— Reach John Glennon at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.