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OPPONENT: Miami Dolphins
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium
WHERE THE DOLPHINS STAND: The Dolphins are 2-2 and in second place in the AFC East division.
DOLPHINS HEAD COACH: Nick Saban
DOLPHINS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Scott Linehan
DOLPHINS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Richard Smith
DOLPHINS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Keith Armstrong
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE: OVERALL: 19th (318.8 ypg) RUSHING: 8th (130.2 ypg) PASSING: 24th (188.6 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 1st (218.6 ypg) RUSHING: 1st (61.6 ypg) PASSING: 3rd (157.0 ypg)
MIAMI DOLPHINS OFFENSE: OVERALL: 17th (324.8 ypg) RUSHING: 13th (118.5 ypg) PASSING: 21st (206.3 ypg)
MIAMI DOLPHINS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 4th (279.5 ypg) RUSHING: 2nd (82.0 ypg) PASSING: 13th (197.5 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW… …the Dolphins are just 1-9 in their past 10 regular season road games?
SCOUTING THE DOLPHINS
Quarterbacks This position isn’t a strength for Miami, but it’s not a weakness either. Although this is his first year in Miami, QB Gus Frerotte is very familiar with Scott Linehan’s offense after spending 2004 together in Minnesota.
Frerotte has completed just 54.5 percent of his passes for 849 yards and tossed seven touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s not regarded as a scrambler, but Frerotte is mobile enough to buy himself time to throw in an uncomfortable pocket. If Frerotte is given time to throw, which has been the case most of the season evidenced by the team’s four sacks allowed through four games, he is capable of moving the chains in what is considered a potentially explosive offense.
Tampa Bay’s defense will aim to stop the run and dare Frerotte to beat them on Sunday. While the Bucs should limit his production, that same dare didn’t pay off last week when Jets QB Vinny Testaverde completed some key passes and did just enough to down Tampa Bay. If the Bucs can’t sustain a consistent pass rush on Frerotte, they’ll be in trouble.
Running Backs Miami’s ground game is the strength of its offense. It’s led by two former first-round picks — Ronnie Brown, the second overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, and veteran Ricky Williams, who will see action for the first time since serving a four-game suspension for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.
Brown is a power runner, but has the speed and elusiveness to make defenders miss, too. He’s rushed 74 times for 321 yards (4.3 avg.) and one touchdown through four games. Brown is also a receiving threat. He’s caught eight passes for 43 yards. The former Auburn Tiger has plenty of motivation going up against the Bucs, who drafted his former college teammate, Cadillac Williams, three picks after him. Brown’s ability to give Miami a potent ground game is one of the main reasons why the Dolphins have been able to convert 41.2 percent of their third down attempts this season.
Ricky Williams is about 15 pounds lighter than he was the last time Tampa Bay’s defense faced him in a regular season game. But Williams had plenty of success vs. the Bucs in preseason, where he rushed for 59 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts (5.9 avg.). With Williams making his return, he’ll likely receive a limited amount of touches, but the Bucs must account for him as he’s still one of the best running backs in the NFL.
Tampa Bay’s defense, which currently ranks No. 1 overall and against the run, must do a better job of tackling than it did last Sunday vs. the Jets. The Bucs have yet allow a team to rush for over 100 yards this season, and they can’t afford to let Brown and Williams reach that feat on Sunday.
Wide Receivers Miami has a talented trio of receivers in Chris Chambers, Marty Booker and tight end Randy McMichael, but Tampa Bay’s defense is ranked No. 3 against the pass and will make it difficult for these players to get open on Sunday.
Chambers leads the Dolphins in receptions with 18 for 214 yards and one touchdown. He has excellent leaping ability and is a natural playmaker. Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly, who has notched a team-high three interceptions this season, will line up against Chambers on Sunday. Teams are throwing less to Kelly’s side since he’s made them pay lately, but the Dolphins could elect to test him deep since Chambers has a knack for hauling in deep balls.
Booker is a player who used to give Tampa Bay’s secondary fits during his playing days with the Chicago Bears. Although he’s considered more of a possession receiver, Booker has caught 11 passes for 212 yards, which averages out to a whopping 19.3 yards per catch. Tampa Bay CB Ronde Barber will be charged with the difficult task of containing Booker on Sunday.
Miami doesn’t feature a lot of two-tight end sets, but its No. 3 wideout, David Boston, may not play Sunday due to injury. That means second-year WR Wes Welker could take his place. He doesn’t have good size, but Welker is a speed threat. He’s caught eight passes for 105 yards this season. When Welker comes on the field, Barber will likely cover him in the slot while Bucs nickel CB Juran Bolden slides over to cover Booker, who appears to have a decisive advantage vs. Bolden.
Tampa Bay’s defense struggled a bit vs. New York Jets TE Doug Jolley, who caught four passes last Sunday. Things won’t get any easier for Bucs outside linebackers Ryan Nece and Derrick Brooks, both of whom must contain Dolphins TE Randy McMichael. McMichael, who has hauled in 16 passes for 180 yards and become Frerotte’s favorite target in the red zone, evidenced by his team-leading four touchdowns this season. The Bucs might be without strong safety Jermaine Phillips (thumb) for the second straight week, which won’t bode well for them in terms of their ability to contain McMichael down field.
Offensive Line This might be Miami’s most improved unit. Last season, Miami’s running game was grounded without Williams, and pass protection was a major issue, evidenced by the 52 sacks the Dolphins surrendered.
This season, however, is a different story. Right tackle Vernon Carey, right guard Rex Hadnot, center Seth McKinney, LG Jeno James and LT Damion McIntosh have only allowed four sacks through four games and are helping to open holes for Brown and Miami’s 13th-ranked rushing offense.
The Dolphins will likely come out running the ball vs. the Bucs. Under tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland has got to bring his game to a higher level, especially in his effort to rush the passer. He’ll face Hadnot, a second-year offensive lineman who struggled in 2004.
McIntosh will make it difficult for Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice to penetrate the backfield. Rice has notched a team-leading four sacks, but he’s been most impressive vs. the run. That trend needs to continue vs. Brown and Williams.
McKinney and James, a former Carolina Panther, will likely double team Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan, who notched just one tackle last week. Hovan is explosive off the ball, and if he does draw double teams, McFarland must take advantage.
Carey, a 2004 first-round pick, will be lined up against Bucs DE Greg Spires, who is a solid anchor vs. the run but could have some trouble slowing down Miami’s ground game if the Dolphins leave McMichael in to block on the perimeter.
Defensive Line Miami has a talented front four, which features two of the league’s most dangerous defensive ends in Kevin Carter and Jason Taylor.
Defensive coordinator Richard Smith’s scheme features both four-man and three-man alignments up front, and the Dolphins have the personnel to pull this off effectively.
Taylor is the player that poses the biggest threat to Tampa Bay QB Brian Griese, who has been sacked 11 times this season. He’s recorded 23 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed through four games. Taylor is a great athlete, which at times allows the Dolphins to keep him on the field as a linebacker when they switch to a 3-4 alignment. Taylor will go up against Bucs LT Anthony Davis, who has struggled over the past two games but does have some familiarity with Taylor from playing against him in two preseason games. Tampa Bay could turn to veteran T Todd Steussie if Davis struggles early.
Carter, who will face Bucs RT Kenyatta Walker, has recorded two sacks and 12 tackles. A few years ago, this matchup would be a huge concern for the Bucs, but Walker has been arguably the most consistent offensive lineman Tampa Bay has had in its starting lineup this season.
Dolphins under tackle Keith Traylor is a load in the middle. His 6-foot-2, 340-pound frame has allowed Miami to shut down opposing offense’s ground games. The Dolphins currently rank No. 4 in total defense and No. 2 vs. the run. Sean Mahan, a first-year starter at right guard for the Bucs, must hold his ground vs. Traylor, who will likely make it extremely difficult for Tampa Bay rookie RB Cadillac Williams (447 yards, 4.5 avg.) to find running lanes. The presence of Traylor and NT Vonnie Holliday may prompt Gruden to call for most of Cadillac’s carries to come on the perimeter. If Cadillac (questionable with a foot injury) can’t play, RB Michael Pittman will once again carry the load.
Linebackers Griese has thrown seven interceptions this season, four of which have come over Tampa Bay’s past two games. He’ll have to do a better job of reading the defense on Sunday. The Dolphins feature a 4-3 and a 3-4 scheme, and Griese should expect to see a variety of blitzes come out of those packages.
Dolphins MLB Zach Thomas and WLB Junior Seau have each recorded a sack this season, and Thomas leads the defense in tackles with 58, four of which have gone for a loss. Thomas has also forced two fumbles this season.
Seau and SLB Channing Crowder have recorded 28 and 14 tackles, respectively. While Thomas and Seau are seasoned veterans, Crowder is a rookie, which means the Bucs could try to exploit his inexperience by running to his side and throwing to tight ends Alex Smith and Anthony Becht often.
Even if he can play, Cadillac may not be on the field as often as Tampa Bay would like, especially if the Bucs are forced into obvious passing situations. This type of down-and-distance scenario would prompt Gruden to leave Pittman in to pick up blitzes. Williams isn’t as polished as Pittman is as a receiver or blocker, and that could leave the rookie off the field in some situations.
Secondary Dolphins safeties Tebucky Jones and Lance Schulters are best suited in run support. They’ve notched 25 and 24 tackles, respectively. Both players play close to the line of scrimmage and are a threat to blitz, evidenced by the sack they’ve each recorded this season. If Griese’s given the time to throw, he could have some success throwing to his receivers in one-on-one situations since Miami plays its safeties so close to the line of scrimmage.
Dolphins cornerbacks Travis Daniels and Sam Madison sometimes find themselves covering opposing receivers on their own, which is part of the reason why the Dolphins rank 13th against the pass.
Gruden went out of his way to say he would find a way to feature WR Michael Clayton more in the passing game this Sunday. Clayton has caught two passes in Tampa Bay’s past two games, and he was held without a catch last Sunday vs. the New York Jets. Daniels, who has recorded one of Miami’s three interceptions this season, will cover Clayton. Clayton should have an advantage vs. Daniels, who is a rookie, but they are extremely familiar with each other from their playing days at LSU.
Bucs WR Joey Galloway is Griese’s go-to guy right now. He’s caught a team-leading 22 passes for 403 (18.3 avg.) and three touchdowns this season. Galloway will go up against Madison, who is a solid veteran but has gone nearly a season and a half without notching an interception. Galloway’s ability to stretch the field may prompt the Dolphins to leave Jones back at safety more often than not, which could open things up for the Bucs running game.
The Bucs must find a way to keep the chains moving vs. the Dolphins, who are allowing opposing offenses to convert just 35.2 percent of their third down tries. Last Sunday, Tampa Bay was just 2-of-14 (14 percent) on third down attempts. If and when his receivers get open vs. Miami’s secondary, Griese has got to do a better job of taking care of the football and hitting the plays that are there. If he doesn’t, the Bucs offense will be in for a long day.
Special Teams Miami has one of the more steady kickers in the NFL in Olindo Mare, who has drilled 4-of-5 (80 percent) of his field goal attempts this season. Bucs K Matt Bryant has been even better, making 8-of-9 (89 percent) of his field goal attempts. With Sunday’s game featuring two of the best defenses in the NFL, a field goal could be the difference.
Dolphins punter Donnie Jones is averaging 42.9 yards per attempt. He’s pinned seven of his 19 punts inside the 20-yard line. Bucs P Josh Bidwell is averaging 47.7 yards per attempt. Field position will play a huge role in determining the outcome of this contest.
Welker returns punts and kickoffs for the Dolphins. He’s averaging 21 yards per kickoff return and 8.5 yards per punt return. He has the ability and speed to break off a big return at any given time. Welker is also solid as a special teams cover man.
Tampa Bay’s kickoff return game has been terrible. So much so that head coach Jon Gruden has considered benching Torrie Cox (16.7 avg.) in favor of Mark Jones, who has been solid as a punt returner, averaging 8.9 yards per attempt. However, the Bucs are committing too many penalties on special teams, and those types of mistakes will prove to be costly against the Dolphins, who committed 18 penalties of their own last Sunday vs. Buffalo.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Dolphins 17 Buccaneers 13
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