Mariota completed 20/29 passes for 163 yards and three passing touchdowns. He carried the ball seven times for 60 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown.
Last season, Mariota was unavailable for the Dolphins game due to a hamstring injury. This meant backup QB Matt Cassel would be tasked with leading the offense.
The results were not great.
Cassel had Rishard Matthews, Delanie Walker and a tandem of running backs that were capable of getting the job done on the ground.
In 2016, Matthews recorded four catches for 32 yards and a score. Matthews tallied three catches for 34 yards with Cassel at the helm.
In 2016, Walker helped torch the Dolphins by adding 66 yards on five receptions, as well as a receiving touchdown. Last season, he had three catches for 25 yards against Miami.
However, the end of the first quarter was controversial.
Cassel hit Walker for a 59 yard touchdown strike near the end of the first quarter. A questionable Offensive Pass Interference call on Jonnu Smith negated the score.
Two plays later, Cassel’s forward, spiral-spinning pass was ruled a fumble resulting in a Dolphins touchdown. The 14-point swing was a huge blow that a Cassel-led Titans team couldn’t overcome.
Mariota absence resulted in a Titans loss. A loss that haunted the team down the stretch in the race for the AFC South crown.
Before we move on from discussing last season’s debacle against the Dolphins, it is important to note the egregious misuse of the Titans backs in the 2017 season - but specifically against Miami.
In Derrick Henry’s rookie season, he carried the ball seven times and ran for 54 yards. His limited carries were a by-product of DeMarco Murray’s amazing production in 2016.
Last season, it was clear early that Murray was dealing with an injury that hampered his performance. HC Mike Mularkey and OC Terry Robiskie continued to chose a less than 100% Murray over a younger, healthy Henry. Many stated that the team lacked confidence in Henry’s pass blocking skills, which contributed to Murray getting the nod despite injury.
That being said, the Titans should have leaned on the legs of Henry and Murray due to being without Mariota.
An injured Murray finished the game with triple the amount of Henry’s carries. As we’ve learned from Henry - he needs a high-number of carries to really get hot. His “workload” of four carries against the ‘Phins is unacceptable as he could have had more of an impact had he had more opportunities.
New Offense Debut
As stated by HC Mike Vrabel, OC Matt LaFleur held back some of the offensive schemes/concepts leading up to final cuts. The move was smart, considering the Dolphins picked up QB Luke Falk to probe for some information on their week one opponent.
What can we expect from the offense in Miami?
A healthy Mariota will have all of his arsenal available. WR Corey Davis was sidelined against the Dolphins last season. He has his sights set on making an impact immediately. It helps when both Walker and Matthews will be lined up with him.
Throughout the preseason, the Titans offense never had 100% of the starting personnel available due to injuries. On Sunday, they’ll be at full strength - minus RT Jack Conklin.
The tandem of Henry and RB Dion Lewis will not be mismanaged in LaFleur’s scheme. Expect to see a balanced approach with the hot hand getting the majority of the work.
Lewis is familiar with his former AFC East rival. In two meetings last season, Lewis totaled 20 carries for 129 yards. As a receiver, he racked up 51 yards on six receptions. Although Lewis didn’t find the end zone, his impact on the game as a member of a “committee” can’t go unnoticed.
Mariota showed during the preseason that he is comfortable dumping it to Lewis when a play breaks down. Lewis proved he is capable of turning a short-yard dump pass into a big chunk play that can move the chains. This will help in third down situations.
It’s important keep offensive expectations in the realm of reason.
The Titans will likely feature a run-heavy game plan that will open up the play action. Even if the Titans don’t find any success running the ball early, they must practice patience in the build-up. The Dolphins will eventually sell-out to stop the run, opening up the passing lanes for Mariota.
The Titans must also get Davis involved early. Dialing up some early bubble screens to Davis will help with his confidence, as well as Mariota’s.
LaFleur will also incorporate some bootlegs and calculated screen plays to keep the defense honest. Getting Henry and Lewis going early will help in this regard.
Setting the tempo will be key, but attempting to establish a ground game is equally important. It seems somewhat counter-intuitive - how can a team commit to establish the run, yet execute a fast-paced attack that likely features quick read passes?
It’s a calculated balance. LaFleur’s third-down calls will be imperative to establishing that delicate balance.
How will he do it?
We will find out on Sunday.