Cameron Wolfe, ESPN Staff Writer 356d

How Titans can beat Dolphins with Matt Cassel or a limited Marcus Mariota

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans' locker room was loose Wednesday, much more than you'd expect from a team coming off a 57-14 division loss with its starting quarterback's status uncertain due to a hamstring injury.

Marcus Mariota and his backup, Matt Cassel, couldn't be more different. One is a 23-year-old, speedy, dual-threat quarterback who is ascending into one of the NFL's best young signal-callers. The other is a 35-year-old, journeyman pocket passer who might struggle to break 5.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash these days.

Tennessee's opponent Sunday, the Dolphins (1-2), are going through struggles as well, being outscored by the Jets and Saints 40-6 in their past two games. The Titans' surprisingly confident vibe might be a sign they feel they'll adapt well to the quarterback uncertainty for one week.

"It will be a little different, but not as much as you think," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said of the plan with Cassel versus Mariota.

That concept might sound outrageous at first glance. But Mularkey's response was about the game plan, which might not shift a ton whether it's a limited Mariota or Cassel piloting the offense. One week is not long enough to put in an entirely new scheme, and it would be a disservice to the rest of the offense to do so.

"One thing I try to emphasize is sounding just like [Marcus] when it comes to the rhythm of his cadence," said Cassel, who believes he's better prepared this week after working with the first-team offense than he was Sunday, when he entered in the second half down 16 points and finished 4-of-10 for 21 yards, two interceptions and a lost fumble.

Mariota is the core of the Titans' offense, but this week, and this week alone, they can formulate a plan to be successful with him limited or with Cassel starting against Dolphins. This week is about Tennessee's playmakers stepping up, DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry in particular.

Murray has 384 total yards in his three most recent matchups against the Dolphins, dating to 2011. He and Henry are one of four NFL duos with at least 175 rushing yards each this season, and it seems they still don't get the ball enough. So a creative, yet pounding, run game should be the recipe.

The read-option and run-pass option plays in the Titans offense will be minimized, or eliminated, with Cassel or Mariota this week, but passing schemes are relatively similar.

"I asked him to put in more read-option," joked Cassel, who is 36-44 as a starter. "We're going to do what we do. ... We have to get out to a better start."

Miami has scored just 25 points in its three games. Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler has a tendency to turn the ball over, so the Titans (2-2) could opt to play field-position and time-of-possession football to grind out an ugly one on the road.

During Wednesday's practice, Mariota -- with shoulder pads and helmet on -- threw passes during individual drills. He also stretched his hamstrings during warmups with little resistance, and walked around on the field without a limp. It does appear the injury is truly minor.

But at what percentage of health will Mariota get the go-ahead to play? At 75 percent? At 90? He won't be 100 percent Sunday, but playing the quarterback position doesn't require the full health of a hamstring in the way other positions do.

Mariota could play as a pocket passer Sunday if his hamstring isn't affecting his throws. He had a good bit of velocity on 15-yard tosses Wednesday.

Cassel, who isn't a threatening option as a passer, knows the offense well enough to get the ball into his playmakers' hands. Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie will likely present a bevy of short passes, screens and misdirection plays to get their offensive skill-position players in space.

Whether it's Cassel or Mariota, the Titans quarterback can "game-manage" his way to success by leaning on his playmakers.

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