With 100-yard streak at steak, Dolphins' stout run defense braces for Chris Johnson and Titans
MIAMI – Bad against the pass, worse versus the run, giving up points at a record rate and unsettled at quarterback, the Tennessee Titans still do one thing well: They hand the ball to Chris Johnson.
And the Miami Dolphins know it.
The Dolphins are counting on their stout run defense to stymie the Titans' biggest threat when the teams meet Sunday. Miami has held opposing running backs under 100 yards for 22 consecutive games, the longest such active streak in the NFL.
"We have to make sure we do what we do — stop the run," defensive end Cameron Wake said. "That's something that's big around here, and something we've been pretty good at."
The Dolphins (4-4) rank third-best in the NFL in yards rushing allowed per game (83.9) and per carry (3.55). This season they've held Darren McFadden to 22 yards, Shonn Greene to 40 and 77, and Arian Foster to 79.
"We take pride in the 100-yard rusher thing," defensive end Jared Odrick said.
But during the streak the Dolphins haven't faced a back like Johnson, one of the few bright spots this season for the Titans (3-6). After a slow start, he has rushed for 691 yards over the past six games, second in the NFL during that stretch to only 727 yards by Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.
Johnson's total includes touchdown runs of 83 yards against Buffalo and 80 last week against Chicago. He became the first rusher in 19 games against the Bears to reach 100 yards.
He has three 100-yard games this year, increasing his career total to 31. While the Titans appear to be going nowhere, Johnson could be headed to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time.
"He's one of the few players in the league who can score from anywhere on the field," Miami linebacker Kevin Burnett said. "I'm trying not to get put on the TV highlights this week."
Johnson hopes to create a few highlights — and end the Dolphins' streak of preventing 100-yard games.
"They're doing good right now stopping the run," he said. "It's a situation where you take it as a challenge."
For the first time since Week 4, Johnson is expected to take handoffs from Jake Locker, who has missed the past five games because of a dislocated left (non-throwing) shoulder.
The Titans will likely need a big showing on offense, given their defensive deficiencies. They've given up 308 points, including last week's 51-20 loss to Chicago, which puts them on pace to allow 548 this year. The NFL record is 533 allowed by the 1981 Baltimore Colts.
"I'm sure that they had hoped they would be playing better," Miami coach Joe Philbin said.
The Titans rank 27th in passing yardage allowed and 30th against the run. Combine the defensive woes with five turnovers against the Bears — two by Johnson — and the result was a rout that prompted owner Bud Adams to angrily put the entire organization on notice.
"We're running out of opportunities to make this season what we thought we could," coach Mike Munchak said. "We're going to have to do something special to get that done."
The Dolphins are coming off a loss at Indianapolis but remain encouraged about their direction with a rookie coach and quarterback. Ryan Tannehill ranks 32nd in the league with five touchdown passes, but he has thrown 98 consecutive passes without an interception.
"I'm very pleased with his decision-making at this stage," Philbin said, "but we have high expectations from the quarterback position. If we are going to be a championship football team, which we intend to be at some point in time, sooner rather than later, you're going to have to have excellent quarterback play."
For now, the Dolphins want to win by running the ball and stopping the run. They've done the latter with a front seven anchored by Wake and the 650-pound combination of Randy Starks and Paul Soliai at tackle.
On Sunday, the entire unit will be chasing Johnson.
"If nine guys are doing it and two guys aren't, he's going to find the hole and expose it," Wake said. "So don't be the weakest link."
Despite his poor start this season, Johnson ranks fifth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage. He has rushed for 104 and 117 yards in his two previous games against Miami, most recently in November 2010.
Munchak said the Dolphins' aggressive defensive scheme will create opportunities for Johnson.
"They blitz a lot," he said. "You're going to get a lot of safety blitzes. You have an opportunity for big plays if you hit it right."
And so the Titans will let Johnson carry the ball, and them.
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.
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