Though a coaching change might provide a needed spark for the reeling Miami Dolphins, the players understand that it’s up to them to save their season.
Taking the field for the first time under Dan Campbell, the visiting Dolphins try to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat Sunday against a Tennessee Titans team that’s also dropped three in a row.
Coach Joe Philbin was fired one day after Miami’s lackluster performance in the 27-14 loss to the New York Jets in London on Oct. 4. Campbell, a former tight end who began his coaching career as an intern with the Dolphins (1-3) in 2010 and was elevated to tight ends coach a year later, brings a fiery approach that’s much the opposite of Philbin’s even-keeled demeanor.
However, all of Campbell’s passion or philosophical tweaks to the system won’t matter if his players can’t come through.
”Dan can do everything else, but if we’re not doing what we’ve got to do, it’s a lost cause,” defensive end Olivier Vernon said. ”We’ve got to stand together and band as brothers.”
Miami ranks 28th in total offense at 314.8 yards per game and second-to-last in rushing at 69.3. Ryan Tannehill’s 56.7 completion percentage and 77.1 passer rating are both among the worst in the NFL, while Lamar Miller’s averaging 3.5 yards per carry after posting a career-best 5.1 in 2014.
Defensively, the Dolphins are 29th at 399.5 yards allowed per contest and last at 160.5 given up on the ground, and they’ve recorded a league-low one sack even with Ndamukong Suh in the lineup.
But with former defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo replacing Kevin Coyle as defensive coordinator and newcomer Al Saunders on as a senior offensive assistant, Campbell believes this current group is still good enough to turn things around.
”This is my sixth season with the Miami Dolphins, and this is the most talented roster we have had in those six years,” he said. ”We have plenty of talent. I feel there’s a lot more we can get out of these guys.”
His players feel things could get better once they start taking some of the pressure off themselves.
”We just have to relax and have fun and play like we’ve been playing since we were kids,” cornerback Brice McCain said. ”We were just so uptight. If we just relax, I think we’ll make a lot more plays.”
Campbell hopes cornerback Brent Grimes (knee), defensive end Cameron Wake (hamstring) and left tackle Branden Albert (hamstring) will be able to go Sunday.
"For us, football has to remain the focus," receiver Greg Jennings told the Dolphins’ official website.
"You can’t put too much into everything that’s going on. Obviously with the changes that have been made, we still have to play football. Football is still going to be the focal point, but there definitely have to be some things that we change when it comes to wins and losses. That’s our approach."
It remains to be seen how much patience the Titans’ front office will have with second-year coach Ken Whisenhunt, who is 3-17 with Tennessee.
Although the Titans (1-3) are second in the league in time of possession at 34 minutes, 18 seconds and allow an NFL-low 166.5 passing yards per game, they haven’t won since a 42-14 season-opening rout of Tampa Bay. They’ve blown double-digit leads while losing the last two games that were decided by a combined three points.
”We need a win,” Whisenhunt said. ”That’s what we need, and we got to continue to work until we get one. I think you can’t ignore the fact that we’re close, but close and $4 will get you a cup of coffee. … We got to get over the hump. We got to win a game. And I think once we do that, that’s really going to put us on the right course.”
Marcus Mariota has shown he’s capable of doing so, ranking 10th in the league with a 99.7 passer rating. However, the rookie’s three career interceptions came in the last two games. He also didn’t throw a touchdown in last Sunday’s 14-13 loss to Buffalo after throwing eight in the first three contests.
Mariota has completed 81 percent of his passes and posted a league-high 147.6 rating to help Tennessee outscore opponents 38-7 in the third quarter. However, he’s hit on 52.6 percent of his attempts for a 56.5 rating while the Titans have been outscored 42-16 in the fourth.
The solution seems rather simple.
”Go out there and make the plays, take charge and win the game,” center Brian Schwenke said.
Tennessee picked off Tannehill three times en route to a 37-3 win at Miami in the most recent meeting Nov. 11, 2012.