|The Titans will look to keep up with Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins' high-tempo, no-huddle offense in Sunday's matchup. (US Presswire)|
In Week 2, the Miami Dolphins led the Oakland Raiders 21-13 early in the fourth quarter when coach Joe Philbin implored his offense to speed up its tempo by returning to the line without wasting a precious second.
After Dolphins RB Reggie Bush ran seven yards up the middle, an animated Philbin clapped his hands, pointed a finger at the offense and shouted, “Let's go, let's go!” Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill responded by leading his team on an 8-play, 62-yard drive that culminated with a 14-yard touchdown by TE Anthony Fasano. The drive lasted just over three minutes.
More than almost any team in the league besides the Patriots, the Dolphins prefer a no-huddle offense run at a breakneck speed. Tannehill has flourished in offensive coordinator Mike Sherman's West Coast offense -- the same scheme he operated in under Sherman at Texas A&M. As a result, Titans' defensive coordinator Jerry Gray says Tannehill looks more like a fourth- or fifth-year quarterback than one who just entered the league.
“I think his ability to check in and out of plays has really been second to none,” Dolphins WR Brian Hartline said. “Most of the time I would say the odds are in your favor that he's getting you into a better play.”
The Titans have faced the look a number of times this season. In the opening week, the Patriots scored on three drives of 67 yards or more. None took longer than 5:17. New England ran a dozen plays on two of the three series. Tennessee also faced a high-tempo, no-huddle offense against the Colts, and to a lesser extent against the Lions.
Since the Titans run a number of the same concepts as the Patriots on offense, coach Mike Munchak spent an inordinate amount of time in training camp running no-huddle periods. The defense became accustomed to facing the no-huddle in both two- and four-minute situations. The Titans could also be prepared for the unseasonable November temperatures in Miami after practicing in high heat and humidity over the summer. The temperature at gametime is expected be in the high 70s.
“At some times it got pretty intense, especially when you have pads on and the coaches want to see how you react when they keep on driving,” DT Sen'Derrick Marks said. “You can still have a couple seconds in between plays to catch a breath. I guess it's just a mindset in how you look at it.”
Cornerback Alterraun Verner acknowledged that the Titans struggled a little when defending the no-huddle early in the season. The blinding speed impacted the Titans' substitution pattern and allowed opponents to capitalize on individual mismatches. With little time to make adjustments, the defense also had trouble with its play-calling at times.
“We definitely got better the more we saw it and I think that's why teams started to go away from it,” Verner said. “We started to respond to each other and communicate better so we're able to get into our spots and make plays.”
The Dolphins, meanwhile, have seen their offensive efficiency decline in recent weeks. Miami's inability to convert on third down has left defenses less fatigued in the latter stages of games. In the Dolphins' first four games, Philbin's team converted on 27 of 62 (43.5 percent) of their third-down attempts. The figure has dropped to 32.6 percent (16 of 49) over their last four. Tannehill's offense averaged 71.25 plays per game to open the season; in Miami's last four games they have averaged 57.25.
When running the no-huddle Philbin strives for his offense to hike the ball with 20 seconds left on the play clock on early downs. At the very least, Philbin hopes Tannehill can get off a play with 16 seconds remaining. In the last several games, the Dolphins' tempo hasn't been quick enough.
“On third downs, we kind of give an exemption with the disguise of (the defense),” Philbin said. “In normal down and distance we're not quite where we need to be.”
Locker likely to start: Jake Locker didn't experience any setbacks in Thursday's practice and will probably start against the Dolphins, according to Munchak.
“That was our thinking all along,” Munchak said. “If things go well today and tomorrow (Friday), we feel good about giving him a chance to take it over.”
Locker was unintentionally bumped by DE Kamerion Wimbley on a dropback in practice. The Titans' second-year quarterback bounced up immediately from the hit. Munchak indicated the play could help Locker's confidence heading into the game.
“We told Wimbley it would be smart just to shove him once or twice to see if we could knock him to the ground respectfully,” Munchak jokingly said. “We didn't really want that, but we got that. It was live around the pocket, which is what it's going to be like for him on Sunday.”
Locker has been out since reinjuring his left, non-throwing shoulder in Week 4 at Houston. In four games, Locker has four TDs and two INTs, while completing 63.2 percent of his attempts.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis on the Tennessee Titans, follow Matt Rybaltowski @CBSTitans.