Titans vs. Dolphins 2012 game preview: Jake Locker returns to Tennessee team in disarray

Thomas J. Russo-US PRESSWIRE

The Miami Dolphins host a stumbling Titans team as they attempt to get back over .500 and make a push in the second half of the season.

The Miami Dolphins will try to get back over .500 in Week 10 when they host the struggling Tennessee Titans, who are coming off a disastrous loss to the Chicago Bears. The Titans were walloped by the Bears in Week 9, giving it away on almost every possession in the first half of a game that became a laugher early. The Dolphins, on the other hand, were in a back-and-forth game with the Colts, but Andrew Luck exposed their defense to seal a three-point win.

Miami improved dramatically in the second month of the season, but the game in Indianapolis was a step back, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The home date against the Titans is a crucial game for a favored Dolphins team, and they'll need to pounce on a vulnerable Tennessee early. It's a near must-win if they want to be in the thick of the race during the second half of the season.

Meet the Dolphins

Miami entered its game with the Colts boasting one of the top defenses in the league, but Luck picked apart their secondary to set an array of rookie records. The Dolphins' pass defense is ranked 30th in the league, allowing 298.3 yards per game. Their rush defense, however, is third best in the league, allowing just 83.9 yards per game. The strength of the Titans at this point is the ground game led by Chris Johnson, who turned it on after a disastrous start to the season. If Miami's defense can bottle up CJ2K, they should be able to contain Tennessee's offense. Sending Cameron Wake off the edge against either Jake Locker or the immobile Matt Hasselbeck should also be a strong impediment to the Titans' pass game getting any traction.

The Dolphins improvement as a team has mirrored the improvement of their young rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill. The first-round pick returned from injury last week with another impressive performance in Indy. After his three-interception opener, Tannehill has settled down quite a bit and managed the offense for Joe Philbin. He has just three interceptions in the six games since that NFL debut. While he's still nursing a quad injury, he's expected to play against the Titans.

Backing up Tannehill's development has been a steady and effective rushing attack, led by Reggie Bush. The former USC star has had several highlight runs this season, and he broke off another one and found the end zone last week. Tennessee has one of the worst rush defenses in the league, so this week presents a huge opportunity for Bush and Daniel Thomas.

Meet the Titans

Tennessee's season has gone off the rails in the past two weeks with a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Colts and then a non-competitive contest against the Bears. At 3-6, there are reports that owner Bud Adams is furious with his team and the coaching staff, led by Mike Munchak. The Bears game, played at home in Nashville, quickly turned into an embarrassment early in the first half.

Tennessee had targeted last week as a return date for Jake Locker, but the young quarterback was once again held out. Veteran Matt Hasselbeck was harassed by the Bears defense, and never really had a chance. Locker is scheduled to start this week as he's recovered from a shoulder injury. It's been a mediocre pass offense under both quarterbacks, but the Titans do present an opportunity to pick up some easy yards. They'll need either Hasselbeck or Locker to at least threaten Miami through the air, as the Dolphins will surely key on Chris Johnson and the run.

Johnson was nowhere to be found in the first month of the season, but he had a solid month of October and has rushed for more than 90 yards in his last four games. He quietly finished with 141 yards against Chicago's top-ranked rush defense, breaking off a couple of the big runs that he's become famous for. He'll need to do that again this week against a Miami team that can be prone to giving up the big play.

Local Takes: Dolphins

This week, Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider spotlighted recent problems along the offensive line, particularly with Jake Long, that could inhibit Miami's playoff push in the second half:

The Dolphins have to find a way to fix the pass protection this week if they want to continue to be in the AFC payoff picture. Sitting at 4-4 on the year, Miami currently is the eighth seed in the playoff hunt, with only the top six making the postseason tournament. It is one game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts in the wild-card hunt, as well as a game behind the AFC East leading New England Patriots for the division title.

The team plays the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. They play the Buffalo Bills four days later, in Miami's only nationally televised game this season. While the pass protection is only one issue the Dolphins have to solve this week, it's one that could be a major step in the right direction for the team. And, since Long knows it starts with him, it will probably be a step that happens quickly.

Local Takes: Titans

Is Mike Munchak now coaching for his job this week? The group at Music City Miracles addressed the coach's job status recently, with most calling for his firing already and looking ahead:

Sure you can game plan during the week to your heart's content but when it's time to make adjustments in game, something doesn't click. Part of the head coach's job is to take a hands on approach (sometimes be a jerk about it as well) if a certain part of the team is failing but I don't see it with Munchak. He also shows very little emotion like a programmed robot. The team takes it cues from the head man and it's playing like they're just out to collect game checks outside of few individuals. I liken Munchak to being what Art Shell was with the Raiders during his second term. Yes, there are certain limits to what emotions to show but both guys are eerily similar in their sideline demeanors and it scares me.

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, The Phinsider and Music City Miracles, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@ThePhinsider

@TitansMCM

@BenVolinPBP - Dolphins beat reporter

@JWyattSports - Titans beat reporter

Prediction

From the Week 9 picks:

The Dolphins have to be considered one of the biggest surprises in the NFL at 4-4 through the midway point. I, along with many others, had basically handed them the No. 1 overall pick before the season started. But now, in Week 10, the Dolphins are going to beat the Titans and move above .500 on the season.

The pick: 16-13, Dolphins

Odds

The Dolphins opened as 4 1/2-point favorites, and that's shot up in most places, according to OddsShark,

Next Week

Miami will have a short week, heading to Buffalo for a Thursday night game against the Bills. The Titans will enjoy their bye week before returning to Florida in Week 12 for a divisional game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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