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NFL Preview - Tennessee (5-3) at Miami (4-4)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Welcome to the land of interchangeable Chad's.
Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano stunned the weekly media contingent, his team and much of the league on Wednesday afternoon, when he announced veteran Chad Pennington would be replacing third-year man Chad Henne as the team's starting quarterback for this weekend's game with the Tennessee Titans.
The Marshall product was the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year in 2008, but sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 3 of 2009 and hasn't taken a regular-season snap since while Henne had seemingly established himself as the leader of what was presumed to be a powerful offense heading into the season.
Henne has slumped recently, however, throwing six interceptions against just three touchdowns in his last four contests. Miami recently went through consecutive games where kicker Dan Carpenter was called on for five field goals, then scored just one touchdown again in a 26-10 loss at Baltimore last week.
Miami enters Sunday's matchup at Sun Life Stadium with a 4-4 record and is two games behind the two-headed first-place monster of the New York Jets and New England Patriots in the AFC East. The Dolphins lost to both teams at home in the first half of the season and are just 2-4 in the conference.
Put it all together, and the door opens for an old but new passer.
"Chad [Henne] and I talked for about an hour, you know, got teary-eyed because we have a really good relationship and we're good friends," Pennington said. "It's a situation that's not fair, and I've been there before. I've been benched before when it wasn't really my fault. And so I understand every emotion that he has, and I understand everything that he's going through, and he has every right to feel the emotions that he has."
Also on the Miami chopping block this week was veteran cornerback Jason Allen, the team�s interception leader this season who was released on Wednesday. The Dolphins replaced him with ex-Green Bay defensive back Al Harris, who hasn't played since injuring his knee with six weeks to go in the 2009 season.
The Titans come in with some transition of their own with the import of wide receiver Randy Moss, who's already on his third team of the season after beginning the year with New England and later playing with Minnesota after a trade.
He was waived by the Vikings on November 2 and subsequently picked up by the Titans, who assumed the remainder of his 2010 contract.
"I didn't want to go to Minnesota and mess anything up," Moss said of his tumultuous tenure with the Vikings. "I guess everybody blamed me for [the team's problems]. I'm going to say it again. I'm not coming here to start no trouble."
The Dolphins hold a 17-14 edge in the all-time series with the Tennessee franchise, but will be out to avenge a 27-24 overtime loss to the Titans in Nashville during Week 15 of last season, a game in which Miami scored 18 straight second-half points to force an extra session. The Dolphins had won two straight over the Titans prior to that result, with both matchups having taken place in Miami. Tennessee's most recent win at Sun Life Stadium was a 17-7 triumph in the 2004 season opener.
Miami lost a 17-9 tilt to the Houston Oilers in a 1978 AFC First-Round Playoff, which ranks as the only postseason meeting in the history of the clubs.
Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher is 3-6 against Miami in his career, while Sparano is 0-1 versus both Fisher and the Titans as a head man.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
Pre-holiday time is Titans time, a fact proven out by seven consecutive wins in November for Tennessee. Also, Fisher's teams are 13-8 coming off a bye week. On the field, quarterback Vince Young leads the AFC and is second in the league with a 103.1 passer rating and is 6-2 in his last eight road games, with a 55.9 completion percentage, 1,305 passing yards, nine touchdowns, two interceptions and a 91.1 rating. He threw for a career-best three touchdowns in his last game with the Dolphins. Turning to the backfield, running back Chris Johnson is 45 yards short of 4,000 for his career and had 104 yards in his lone career matchup with Miami. On the outside, it's game No. 1 as a Titan Moss, who's four catches behind Andre Reed for eighth in league history and has scored 10 times in 10 lifetime contests with the Dolphins. Also outside, wide receiver Nate Washington went for 100-plus yards for the first time in 2010 in the Titans' 33-25 loss at San Diego in Week 7, with the majority of his total coming on a 71-yard touchdown catch. Tight end Bo Scaife had a touchdown grab in his last game against Miami as well.
Miami's leading havoc-causer is starting linebacker Cameron Wake, who leads the AFC and is second in the league with 8 1/2 sacks. Cornerback Vontae Davis had an interception in his only game against Tennessee and linebacker Karlos Dansby leads the team with 61 tackles in 2010. Defensive lineman Randy Starks was selected in the third round of the 2004 draft by Tennessee and spent four seasons with the Titans (2004-07) before joining Miami. Numerically speaking, the Dolphins allow 107.1 yards per game on the ground and a stingy 3.82 yards per carry, while a perceived shoddy pass defense has given up 213.9 yards per week with five interceptions and 21 sacks. Opposing quarterbacks have connected on 60.1 percent of attempts. Wake is the team's top sacker, while the deposed Allen's three interceptions were a team best before he was let go this week. Safety Yeremiah Bell has compiled 60 tackles, including 44 solo stops.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
It'll be a welcome back to the big time for quarterback Pennington, who hasn't taken a snap since Week 3 of 2009. He'll hope to improve on a 10-6 all-time record against Tennessee. Running back Ronnie Brown is one rushing touchdown shy of Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar for third-most in team history, also trailing Larry Csonka and current teammate Ricky Williams. Speaking of Williams, he's averaged 126 yards per game in his last two matchups against Tennessee. On the outside, first-year Dolphin Brandon Marshall had a 41-yard touchdown catch in his only game against the Titans, which took place while with Denver in November of 2007. Fellow wideouts Davone Bess and Brian Hartline have also succeeded lately, with Bess catching five or more balls in seven of eight games this season and Hartline going for a season-best 85 yards last week against Baltimore. Lastly, tight end Anthony Fasano had a touchdown catch in his last game against the Titans.
Opportunism has been the name of the game for the Titans, who are first in the AFC and tied for third in the league with 13 interceptions through eight games. Safety Michael Griffin has four of those picks, all coming over his last five games, and had both an interception and a fumble recovery in his last encounter with the Dolphins. End Dave Ball has six sacks in his last seven games and cornerback Jason McCourty posted his second interception of the season in the Week 7 loss to the Chargers. Also, end Jason Babin has five sacks in his last five games. Numbers-wise, Tennessee allows 105 yards per game on the ground and 239.1 through the air, with 26 sacks to go along with its 13 interceptions. The opponents' run game has generated 4.05 yards per play and an overall offensive clip of five yards per snap. Griffin's aforementioned four interceptions are tops on the team, as are Babin's seven sacks. Leading the tacklers is linebacker Stephen Tulloch and of his 79 stops, 53 are solos.
Young's recent outings might warrant a start on his behalf, but surer plays are Johnson against a Dolphins unit that struggled against Ravens running back Ray Rice last week. Also, Moss' past performance provides a nod in his direction, so he's worth a shot as well. Titans kicker Rob Bironas is among the most consistent, if not spectacular, options in the league. Defensively, a collision with Henne might have been more prolific than Pennington, but the Titans are still a wise play. For Miami, Brown was seemingly on the way to a big game before disappearing in the second half of last Sunday's loss, so it's worth another try this week. Marshall is a weekly play regardless of his passer, and Bess is emerging as a solid option on his own. Coming off back-to- back games with five field goals before last week, the Dolphins' Carpenter is a starter as well.
Upheaval could provide an emotional tipping point in an otherwise close call between the Titans and Dolphins, though Miami's early-season inability to win at Sun Life Stadium remains tough to predict around. Tennessee's Johnson and Moss will get their touches and make their plays, but expect Pennington's return to create enough buzz and perhaps change a dynamic for an offense that was expected to be potent, but instead has proven puzzling.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Dolphins 24, Titans 21
11/11 12:39:07 ET