The Miami Dolphins' long-awaited home opener – Sunday against the Tennessee Titans – comes at a time when it's badly-needed. Coach Adam Gase's ship is listing a bit, especially offensively, where they've managed only two touchdowns in three games.
While mood around the locker room is far from panic-stricken, it's ...
"Urgent, I guess. Is that a good word?" defensive end Cameron Wake said.
"I think everybody realizes that we only get so many swings at the bat. You can't just let any of these slip through your fingers."
Fortunately for the Dolphins (1-2), who are last in the NFL in scoring (8.3 points per game) and yards per game (249), they've had some magic at Hard Rock Stadium, where they were 6-2 last season and had some memorable moments in each victory.
Get a win against the Titans (2-2), whose agile quarterback, Marcus Mariota, is a game-time decision due to a hamstring injury, and it's a .500 record, and a brand new start for the Dolphins, who have lost back-to-back games in humbling fashion.
Perhaps some home cooking, so to speak, will cure what ails an offensive line that's been the focus of Gase's ire for the offensive shortcomings. They've allowed nine sacks and haven't been able to open holes for running back Jay Ajayi the past two weeks.
Or, maybe the offensive line's cure comes from within, specifically Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, as Gase suggested.
"I think you look at the guy that leads the room," Gase said. "It's going to start with him, and he takes everything personal."
Of course, Miami quarterback Jay Cutler (2 TDs, 2 INTs, 80.4 passer rating, 25th in NFL) must also show lots of improvement. Although Gase places most of the blame for the passing game's lack of success on pass protection, he acknowledged that Cutler must stop with the off-balance throws.
Defensively, Miami has been good against the run (fourth in the NFL, allowing 77.7 ypg) and not-so-good against the pass (27th, allowing 272.3 ypg).
The run defense will likely get a boost from veteran middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, who makes his debut after being sidelined by a hamstring injury. That's good because the Titans have a tough 1-2 punch at running back between DeMarco Murray (215 yards, 5.1 yards per carry) and Derrick Henry (178 yards, 4.6 yards per carry).
But the pass defense could be challenged again, even if Mariota is sidelined and backup Matt Cassel starts. Miami features youngsters at cornerback – second-year player Xavien Howard on the right side and rookie Cordrea Tankersley on the left side. The return of strongside linebacker Lawrence Timmons helps the pass defense in the middle of the field, but expect the cornerbacks to be tested.
The saving grace could be a pass rush led by Wake and fellow defensive end Andre Branch. But they'll face perhaps the best offensive tackles they'll see all year in right tackle Jack Conklin, an All-Pro, and left tackle Taylor Lewan, a Pro Bowl selection.
Gase isn't too concerned about his defense. But, on the other hand, he is very concerned about his offense.
Gase, the architect of the offense as well as its play-caller, puts much of the blame for the sluggish offense on the offensive line.
Miami's dynamic wide receiver trio of Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills hasn't been a factor at all. Gase maintains that's largely because Cutler hasn't had time to settle in the pocket.
Ajayi (184 yards, 3.6 yards per carry) hasn't been a factor the past two weeks. Gase maintains that's because he hasn't had holes to run through.
Gase, whose team lost, 20-0, to New Orleans last Sunday, isn't buoyed by the notion Tennessee allowed 57 points last week in its 57-14 loss to Houston. Apparently, Gase also isn't overly discouraged his team was shutout.
"Every game has a different story," he said, "and that's why us scoring zero points, you never know what's going to happen in the next week."