Bucs vs. Dolphins: Big Dang Preview

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quest for their first victory of 2013 in front of a National Television Audience.

Like Sander, had you told me that going into tonight's Monday Night Football game that our Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be the Last the Mohicans - the only team in the NFL without a victory - I would have laughed in your face and called you an idiot.

In the end, I guess I'm the idiot in thinking this team had a Pro-Bowl laden roster that had significantly addressed its deficiencies and was ready to contend in the NFC South. In other words, I expected the Bucs to be where the seemingly less talented Carolina Panthers are today.

Instead, here we are with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sitting at 0-8.

I'm happy the players are (according to some reports) warming up to Schianolini. I'm glad Coach Ahab has apparently pulled a Tom Coughlin and is easing off the gas pedal. That's great. What I don't like is watching this football lead blow lead after lead. I don't like seeing this team be the last ones without a seat.

This is ridiculous and embarrassing - the fanbase deserves better than this.

If there ever was a night to break out of this malaise - it's tonight.  Tampa Bay's Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden is in the house with the Monday Night Football crew. It will be a sold out crowd and the Bucs' newly minted Hall of Famer Warren Sapp will be inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime.

Plus, the Dolphins are as dysfunctional now as the Bucs were in the first half of the season.

Can Tampa Bay put it together and remove the stigma of being the league's only winless team?

Series: Dolphins lead 5-4

Last Meeting: November 15th, 2009 - Dolphins won 25-23

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Game vs. Miami Dolphins Pass Defense

Like the Bucs, the Dolphins re-worked a porous pass defense in the off-season, throwing a boatload of money at their defense. It hasn't worked to perfection as Miami finds themselves ranked 22nd against the pass and 23rd overall.

Unheralded veteran corner Dimitri Patterson leads the team with 4 interceptions. Cameron Wake remains one of the league's premier pass rushers, already at 5.5 sacks on the season. Big free agent acquisition Brent Grimes has played well for the Dolphins, including an interception return for a touchdown.

Tampa Bay's passing game ranks 31st in the NFL and has lost a key weapon in Mike Williams for the season. Under rookie Mike Glennon, the Bucs have seen their average go up. Glennon is averaging 233 yds a game, with 8 touchdowns and 3 interceptions (2 of those coming in the 4th quarter against the Arizona Cardinals).

He's been an excellent game manager - Alex Smith type. He's yet to take that next step to prove he can be more than that.

Advantage: Miami

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rushing Attack vs. Miami Dolphins Run Defense

The Bucs did the right thing by shutting down Doug Martin. Martin may have been able to try to play with the torn labrum but why? This team is headed to the top pick in the NFL draft - there's absolutely no reason to waste Martin's shelf life on a lost season unless Schiano is trying to save his own backside (which he is).

Rookie Mike James, who played his college ball at the U, has shown he can handle the load, pounding out an impressive 158 yds against the Seattle Seahawks last week. The shifty back has shown he has vision, decisiveness, can block out of the backfield and catch passes. He may not be the home run hitter Martin is but he can definitely churn out the tough yards and keep Glennon from having to throw too many passes.

Miami is pedestrian against the run, ranking just 21st but you can certainly expect them to load the box against Tampa Bay. Until Glennon proves he can consistently hurt teams down the field - it's going to be this way.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Miami Dolphins Passing Attack vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense

While the Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito controversy is certainly a distraction off the field, it's hurt Miami on the field as well. The Dolphins weren't exactly the strongest offensive line in the NFL before losing two key members of that line. Miami led the league in sacks surrendered with 35 coming into this weekend's action.

Ryan Tannehill has done the best he could with the pressure he's been getting, He's managed to complete 60% of his passes and has 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The huge free agent acquisition of the off-season, Mike Wallace, has been solid but not spectacular and the workhorse of the receiving core continues to be Brian Hartline. The Dolphins are ranked 21st in the league in passing.

Tampa Bay comes into the game ranked 15th in the league against the pass. That's all well and good but Tampa Bay simply cannot protect leads. Its been a tough pill to swallow for a defense that spent a lot of money on Darrelle Revis and second round pick Johnthan Banks.

For Revis, it's been more "The Revis Zone" than Revis Island as he's rounded himself back into shape. Revis has played more man each week and could be close to putting opponents number one receivers on Revis Island. When Revis can be Revis - it's difficult to throw on the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay has a pedestrian pass rush but does some exotic stunting and blitzing. With the Dolphins makeshift offensive line - this could be the one week the weird way the Bucs rush the passer may actually work.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Miami Dolphins Running Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense

Miami's one-two punch of Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas has been effective but not deadly. The Dolphins find themselves 22nd in the league in rushing. Still, Miller is capable of slicing and dicing a defense if they aren't ready to play with their big boy pads. Truth be told, the Dolphins want to impose the running game on their opponents similarly to the way Tampa Bay does.

The Bucs defense comes in ranked 13th against the run. Tampa Bay is coming off a horrible performance in Seattle against the Seahawks' top back Beatmode and need to rebound this week if the Bucs hope to win.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Special Teams

Caleb Sturgis is Miami's kicker and to say he's struggled would be a bit of an understatement. Sturgis may have saved his job last week by nailing his last two field goals. For the season, he's 13 of 18 with a long of 54.

Brandon Fields is Miami's punter. He's averaging a very solid 48.8 yds a punt. Strangely, the Dolphins don't use Mike Wallace on kick or punt returns. Both are handled by 2nd year running back Marcus Thigpen. Thigpen is averaging 5.2 yds a punt return and 25.1 yds a kick return.

Tampa Bay field goal kicker Rian Lindell rebounded after a horrible start to the season. He's now 11 of 13 with a long of 50 yds. Michael Koenen handles the punting duties for Tampa Bay. He averages 43.1 yds a punt.

Eric Page has handled the punt and kick return duties the majority of the season for Tampa Bay. Page is averaging 9.2 a return on punts and 25.4 yds a kick. Tampa Bay is apparently dissatisfied with those numbers (and Page's penchant to put the ball on the ground) as they have been looking at returners to possibly replace page, including Skye Dawson who returned a kickoff and punt against Seattle.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

By the Numbers

  • Tampa Bay has lost four games in the last 58 seconds or overtime.
  • Tampa Bay has won three of the last four meetings in the series
  • Tampa Bay is 3-2 at home against Miami
  • Miami's last victory in Tampa was in 1988
  • The Bucs were the first team to go winless in the modern NFL during their expansion season of 1976. Their closest opportunity for victory came against the Miami Dolphins, who edged out Tampa Bay 23-20.
  • Miami lost 4 straight games before beating the Bengals in overtime last Thursday night.
  • Since the 1976-77 season, when Tampa Bay went 0-26, the worst start in Tampa Bay history was 0-9, in 1983 under John McKay and 1985 under Leeman Bennett.
  • Tampa Bay is 3-9 under Schiano in games decided by a touchdown or less.

Outlook

Okay, enough of this foolishness. The Jaguars got a win for crying out loud. The Bucs have flirted with victory all season but haven't sealed the deal. Tonight's the night. It has to be. The stars have aligned for Tampa Bay. The two teams closest to the Bucs for the first overall draft pick - Minnesota and Jacksonville - both took victories this week so winning won't hurt Tampa Bay all that much.

The word out of the locker room according to at least one publication - the Pewter Report - is that the team is starting to believe in Schiano and want to rally around their embattled coach. Well, that's swell. We can debate the semantics of too little too late later, but the bottom line is no coach should survive a 2-14 type season. Right now, the Bucs will take 1-15.

The Bucs need to establish the run, play the same mistake-free football they did in Seattle but this time, the three S's (Sheridan, Sullivan and Schiano) must not snatch defeat from the open arms of victory.

And for crying out loud - can we score some points after halftime for once? Is that so hard to do?

Tonight's the night.

Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Dolphins 13

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