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Slow-starting Dolphins take on Titans in home opener
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins started last season -- their first under coach Adam Gase -- with a 1-4 record. Amazingly, they won nine of their final 11 games and made the playoffs.
This year, with optimism escalating, the Dolphins lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill for the season, signed Jay Cutler out of retirement, had their first game postponed because of Hurricane Irma, traveled to Los Angeles, New York and London for their first three games, and had their starting middle linebacker go AWOL.
The result was yet another poor start -- 1-2 so far with a total of just six points scored the past two weeks against defenses (the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints) considered less than average.
"We're not doing things right," Gase said of his team's second straight loss after a season-opening road win over the Los Angeles Chargers. "We have to be more detailed in what we're doing. It's everybody."
On Sunday, the Dolphins finally will play their home opener, hosting the Tennessee Titans (2-2) at Hard Rock Stadium. Last October, the Titans came to Hard Rock and demolished the Dolphins 31-17.
This Sunday, however, the Dolphins may get a break as Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is listed as questionable due to a hamstring injury. He could be a game-time decision.
If Mariota can't go, Matt Cassel would start. Brandon Weeden was signed as the third-stringer.
Cassel, a 13-year NFL veteran, relieved Mariota after the injury last week in Tennessee's 57-14 loss to the Houston Texas. Cassel completed just 4 of 10 passes for 21 yards with two interceptions. One of the picks was returned for a touchdown, and Cassel also lost a fumble.
"It was a bad day at the office," Cassel told The Tennessean. "I've got to play better."
The Titans are obviously hoping Mariota can play Sunday. But even if he does play, he may not be his normal, athletic self, and that could take his running game out of the Tennessee playbook, making him less dangerous.
From the Titans' perspective, the injury to Mariota is a shame. After winning just two games in 2014 and three in 2015, the Titans got things rolling last year, finishing 9-7 -- one win short of the playoffs.
Mariota tossed 26 touchdown passes, the most by a Titans quarterback since the franchise moved to Tennessee 20 years ago. Mariota, 23, does a good job avoiding interceptions -- 10 as a rookie, nine last year and three this season.
However, injuries have been an issue. He finished each of the past two years prematurely, missing a total of four games, and now he is a question mark for Sunday.
Beyond Mariota, the Titans have a strong offensive line and a running game led by DeMarco Murray, who led the AFC in rushing last year with 1,287 yards and is averaging 5.1 per rush this year, and 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, who is averaging 4.6 per carry.
The Titans' passing game features tight end Delanie Walker, who has made the Pro Bowl two consecutive years. He made 65 catches last year and leads the team with 18 this season.
Walker caused a stir this week when he revealed that he received death threats since he told fans not to come to games if they felt disrespected by players protesting racial inequality in the United States.
"The racist and violent words directed at me and my son only serve as another reminder that our country remains divided and full of hateful rhetoric," Walker wrote on social media.
The Titans' top receivers are Rishard Matthews, an former Dolphin, and Eric Decker, who was claimed off waivers from the New York Jets after missing 13 games last year because of injury.
Tennessee has a veteran coaching staff. Aside from head coach Mike Mularkey, Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is in his 45th year in the NFL. Offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie is in his 36th year in the league.
Despite all that coaching experience, especially from LeBeau, the Titans' defense ranks 30th in the league in opponents' scoring, allowing 31.5 points per game.
Miami is tied for eighth in scoring defense, allowing just 19.0 points per game. Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh are dangerous pass rushers, and Lawrence Timmons -- the linebacker who went AWOL -- is back in Miami's good graces, ending that bit of drama.
The Dolphins' problems have come on offense, which is especially troubling because that is Gase's forte.
Miami seems to have all the requisite weapons with running back Jay Ajayi, tight end Julius Thomas and wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker.
Cutler is already under fire from the media and fans, although Gase supports him fully, laying blame at the feet of the offensive linemen instead.
"If we protect him and give him a second to throw, we'll be all right," Gase said.
Updated October 4, 2017