Monday, November 11, 2013

Four Point Stance: Dolphins at Buccaneers


The 4-4 Miami Dolphins figuratively enter the tranquil eye of the hurricane when they step back on the football field for a Monday night showdown with the 0-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

For many on the team, the football game will serve a brief reprieve as the franchise is currently top-to-bottom embroiled in a locker room bullying controversy that's exploded into a national social issue. The mettle of these Dolphins players will be tested to prepare and execute in the face of tremendous distraction, as they look to move one step towards an attainable playoff berth by defeating a winless Tampa Bay team.

No stranger to controversy or distraction themselves, the Buccaneers looked a team ready to turn a corner after a narrow overtime loss to NFC powerhouse Seattle last week. Third round rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has steadily improved since taking over the starting duties mid-season and Tampa Bay's underachieving but uber-talented defense has made some overdue adjustments and played well.

When the Dolphins have the ball:
The pedestrian numbers the Tampa Bay defense has put on the stat sheet are not indicative of the talent it puts on the field. All Pro-caliber defensive tackle Gerald McCoy will dominate Miami's backup-caliber guards, Nate Garner and John Jerry. Behind him, blossoming superstar linebacker Lavonte David brings a package of elite coverage, pass rush and pursuit abilities. The Dolphins have been productive when they've run the ball consistently, and as such, will need to find a way to neutralize those two players as much as they can. Tampa Bay fields a talented secondary led by cornerback Darrelle Revis, but scheme choices usually leave open deep ball opportunities for opponents. Miami will need to connect on a couple of these to put the numbers it will need on the scoreboard.

When the Buccaneers have the ball:
Last week, Tampa Bay tailback Mike James' 158-yard performance hinted that the former Miami Hurricane may not be a drastic drop-off from Doug Martin, who was lost to injured reserve last week. In the passing game, Tampa Bay will often try to set up and exploit one-on-one matchups with its wide receivers. This strategy is both low percentage and requires a not-yet-present degree of chemistry between quarterback and receiver, but the talent of wideouts Vincent Jackson and Tim Wright and the continued development of Glennon will require Miami's secondary to play with solid, disciplined technique.

Mike Wallace. Tampa Bay's pass rush is largely a one-man show and while instinctive and hard-hitting, the safety corps of Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson is a liability in deep coverage. It's a recipe for Wallace to have a long-awaited monster game. He'll need to break Revis' tracking to do it, but the stage is set for Wallace to showcase his game-breaking ability.

Miami is 5-4 all-time against its closest NFL neighbor. The Dolphins won the last matchup in 2009 on a Dan Carpenter field goal in the final seconds, in a game that featured seven total field goals. Oddly enough, included in the place-kicking bonanza was the only missed extra point in the Dolphins' last 10 regular seasons. The Buccaneers took the previous matchup in Tampa Bay 27-13, which was former Dolphins tailback Ricky Williams' first game back in 2005 from a sudden retirement and year long ban for substance abuse.

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