Interim Dolphins coach Dan Campbell promised that his team would be tougher and more physical than it had been under Joe Philbin.
"I don't care if it's [Ndamukong] Suh, I don't care if it's Koa Misi, I don't care if it's Jarvis Landry, they have to be pushed and they have to be worked," Campbell said at his introductory press conference. "They have to be challenged and that's the first thing that I'm changing. I'm going to challenge these guys. I want them to have to compete."
So far, he has delivered.
The Dolphins steamrolled Tennessee on Sunday, in Campbell's head coaching debut, 38–10. Here's three thoughts on the win:
1. There's no need to make this game harder than it is: Get the football into the hands of your best players. Let your defenders do whatever it is they do best. The Dolphins' game plan no doubt was more complex than those two sentences, but that's what everything boiled down to on Sunday.
The change in approach from Philbin to Campbell was especially noticeable when it came to running back Lamar Miller. For what was really the first time all season, the Dolphins made a heavy commitment to getting Miller involved early—an approach that paid dividends both for their run game and for what Ryan Tannehill could do elsewhere.
During the Dolphins' first four games of the season, all Philbin at the helm, Miller carried the football a grand total of 37 times, for 131 yards and zero touchdowns. Against Tennessee, he turned 19 carries into 113 yards and a score.
The early success on the ground also helped set up a Jarvis Landry touchdown run, on a well-designed end around. That again was an example of simply calling plays for your playmakers. Landry is a dynamic weapon with the football in his hands, so why wait until he comes open on a pass route? Draw something up for him. Turn him loose.
The simplified approach worked on the other side of the ball, too, mainly because ...
2. The pass rush woke up: Despite adding Suh to a defensive stockpile that already included Cameron Wake and others, the Dolphins generated just one measly sack during their first four games. Wake notched four sacks by himself in the first half Sunday, part of a five-sack showing overall.
A banged-up Tennessee offensive line aided the cause. To a lesser extent, so did a a cheap shot on QB Marcus Mariota by Olivier Vernon, which left Mariota hobbling for a long while—Vernon was given a 15-yard penalty for diving into Mariota's planted left leg as the rookie QB delivered a throw.
Still, the Dolphins were far more aggressive Sunday than they had been in their previous four outings, with Wake able to pin his ears back off the edge. Wake's huge day is part of the Suh payoff, as well, though Suh himself did not nail down a sack. When he is engaged in the game, Suh creates trouble up front simply by forcing offenses to account for him.
The Miami defense needed a showing like this if it was to get back on track in 2015. A bye week plus a coaching change and a shaky opponent made it possible.
3. Let's not declare Miami back just yet: The Titans are improved over what they were a year ago, but there are more than two dozen teams in the league that would have made Campbell's opening draw tougher. Tennessee has struggled all year to stop the run, and often has faced similar woes protecting Mariota.
For a team like Miami that wanted to reestablish its presence in the trenches, this was a prime matchup.
How will Campbell and co. maintain the momentum next against Houston? Or, better yet, will the Dolphins rise to the occasion during an upcoming three-game road swing through New England, Buffalo and Philadelphia?
The benefit of Miami canning Philbin when it did was that 12 games remained on the schedule—a rally back from 1–3 into meaningful games later this season was possible before Sunday, and certainly is possible after it. Beating the Titans, though, is just a baby step, even if it serves as a cathartic one for Miami.