Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Miami Dolphins in an intra-state tilt at Landshark Stadium in Miami Gardens. The Bucs come in on the heels of a season-salvaging victory over the Packers Sunday, while the Dolphins come in off a close loss to the Patriots in Foxboro. The Dolphins sit at 3-5 and their season hangs in the balance. A win would put them back in the race for a playoff spot. For the Bucs, they look to build some momentum in the second part of the season and a win would kickstart that run and grow confidence for both the Buccaneer players and fans.
3 Keys to a Buccaneer Victory:
1. Avoid too many deep gouges from the Wildcat. Miami is going to get their big plays. If you think they won't, you're only fooling yourself. They've run on everybody. The key to stopping it is pretty simple, yet difficult: tackle. Get off a block and make a play. As to be described later, the key to stopping, or slowing down, the wildcat is for the defensive lineman to get initial penetration, not a forte of this defense.
2. Contain Ted Ginn, Jr. He's their weapon X. Although a near-worthless NFL wide receiver with the hands of a statue, the cat can make big plays in the return game. Against the Jets 2 weeks ago, he had 2 KO returns for TDs in a game the Dolphins struggled to score points, yet won. The Buccaneer KO coverage team must maintain their coverage assignments and stay in their lanes to keep Ginn from busting free. Fortunately, the Bucs have had Clifton Smith to chase around this week as good practice for Ginn.
3. Continue to burn the Dolphin secondary. With DB Will Allen out for the season, CB Vontae Davis still learning on the job, FS Gibril Wilson struggling, and SS Yeremiah Bell a relative liability in coverage, big, big plays are out there for the Buccaneer passing attack. Kellen Winslow should be in line for another big day, as the Dolphins have been fodder for opposing tight ends this season. If Bryant is active for this one, the Bucs will have multiple deep threats and should be able to hit some big plays as long as Freeman remains upright.
3 keys to a Dolphin victory:
1. Simply execute on offense. You run well. Very well. The Bucs don't stop the run well. Not well at all. Know your assignments. Hit your blocks, Hold onto the football. Just execute and good things will come, which means they can...
2. Avoid putting the pressure on Chad Henne to make big plays. His starting WRs are Davone Bess and Brian Hartline. Neither will be confused as a playmaker anytime soon. Their only wideout "playmaker", Ginn, couldn't catch a cold lately.
3. Mask that secondary...pressure Josh Freeman. Many people were surprised at the Packers' inability to get to Freeman last week... believing the Packers didn't blitz enough. Well, they did bring blitzes upon my review... the Bucs just managed to pick them up pretty well. If the Bucs pass protect like they did last week, they will be in great shape to move the football effectively. I'm sure we'll see some aggressive blitz packages to try to force Freeman to release the ball sooner and force some bad throws or limit his ability to hit deep passes.
Dolphin offense vs. Buccaneer defense
As everybody knows, the Dolphins employ the Wildcat formation, like many teams are trying to toy around with these days. However, the reason the Dolphins execute the Wildcat package better than other teams is that their personnel is geared for the system. They have excellent, athletic blockers at almost every position on the offense. FB Lousaka Polite is a 6-0 245 lb downhill-running brickhouse in front of Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. Big, physical bookend tackles...Vernon Carey, who hasn't missed a start since '05, is a mover and OT Jake Long has lived up to his lofty '08 draft position. Big, strong, quick OGs who can pull and get in front of a fast-developing interior run... OG Justin Smiley is mountain at 310 pounds, yet quick enough to pull from his left guard spot into the opposite gap ahead of the running backs. Physical Tight Ends to seal off outside lanes on stretch runs and take on OLBs on interior runs... Anthony Fasano and Joey Haynos are both block-first TEs who can handle their duties in the run game. Run-blocking WRs to keep CBs from hitting Ricky Williams on the end around runs... Brian Hartline and Greg Camarillo aren't particularly big threats in the passing game, so it's good that they can channel their inner Ed McCaffrey and blow up blockers in the running game.
As many of you probably know, the wildcat basically works by making the quarterback the ball carrier, which makes the running back an extra blocker. Basically, it's just an issue of having an extra "X" or two to the opponents "O" in the blocking scheme. The Dolphins throw in a few kinks and quirks out of the wildcat, but typically RB Ronnie Brown serves as the "quarterback" and takes the snap, with RB Ricky Williams coming in motion before the snap. Either Williams takes the handoff from Brown on an end around, or Brown will fake the handoff and take the ball up the gut off-guard, with the opposing guard pulling into the gap to create a seal block on the inside linebacker. The benefit (and necessity) of having Williams come in motion is to keep the linebackers honest and off-balance, allowing the blockers to stay a step ahead of the front 7.
The tricky thing about this formation, especially in the red zone, is when you start to commit the safety as an extra blocker, the backside TE will release and drag across the field and the WR break down field, allowing the decent-armed Ronnie Brown to lob one up over the snookered secondary for a big play.
Yes, they can and will split out in a regular pro-style formation and put Chad Henne under center, but Henne throwing to stone-handed Ted Ginn, Jr. and the pedestrian Camarillo, Hartline, and Davone Bess doesn't really strike fear in your average NFL secondary.
The key for the Buccaneer defense wiill be to timely execute some run blitzes on early downs and put the Dolphin offfense in 2nd/3rd down and long situations, forcing them to go with a pro-style set and throw the ball. I love Talib matched up against Davone Bess. He should be able to lock him down. Against the wildcat formation, Hayes, Black, and Ruud are going to have to be able to get off blocks and make stops on Brown and Williams, or its going to be a long day for the Bucaneer defense.
Buccaneer offense vs. Dolphin defense
Although the normal mantra is "everything starts up front", everything for the Bucs starts in back... namely in the Dolphin secondary. The Dolphins defense, which employs a 3-4 set, ranks 28th in the NFL in passing yards per game allowed and has given up big yards and plays to opposing offenses the past several weeks. The Dolphin linebackers and safeties have struggled against the pass this year. (For purposes of fantasy football, the Fins have allowed the 5th most fantasy points in NFL to opposing TEs, so get Kellen Winslow active in your fantasy lineup!!!) The Dolphins start 2 rookie CBs, Sean Smith and Vontae Davis. Davis was cooked on a long catch and run TD by Randy Moss last week for the go-ahead score. Sean Smith might be a tad better in man coverage, but has failed to record an INT this season, while Davis has only recorded 2 INTs. SS Yeremiah Bell reminds me of SS Roy Williams... a tackler that has been abused in coverage. FS Gibril Wilson, who cashed in this offseason after solid play in Oakland, has failed to provide adequate help to the corners in Cover 2 formations. Jason Taylor and Joey Porter are run-stopping, pass-rushing 3-4 OLBs, but neither are adept at coverage. Fortunately for the Buccaneers, Joey Porter has been ruled OUT for Sunday's game as a coach's decision.
The key matchup for the Bucs to exploit will be Kellen Winslow against the Dolphin safeties. Most likely Winslow will be lined up against strong safety Yeremiah Bell. Last week, Olson ran bunch formation sets and ran diverging routes, clearing space and creating one-on-one matchups. Look for more of the same, with Winslow getting alot of looks for Freeman.
What the Dolphins can do is rush the passer, which helps mask some of those problems in the secondary. With the ample time he had last week in the pocket, Josh Freeman showed he could progress through his reads and do some damage. As such, look for the Dolphins to bring consistent pressure with Taylor, Bell, and ILB Channing Crowder. In response, it will be important for Olson to do much of what he did last week... employ shotgun formations and 2-back protections. Roll Josh out from time to time. Keep a hot route for Josh to dump off to, be it a short WR drag route, RB swing route, etc.
On the defensive front, the Dolphins have a big set of run-stopping defensive lineman. NT Jason Ferguson rejuvinated his career in Dallas and does the job of stepping up and gumming up the inside running lanes. Backup DT Paul Soliali is listed as doubtful and not expected to play, which will likely move DE Randy Starks over to spell Ferguson at NT. Starks has been effective at DE, tallying 28 tackles and 4.5 sacks. With Porter out and Starks likely to spell Ferguson, there may be some opportunities to successfully run outside and off tackle to the left side of the Buccaneer O-line.
What will happen: in a relative shootout, both teams will move the football effectively. The Dolphins will run the ball effectively and control the tempo, but the Bucs will take advantage of some offensive mismatches to put up some points as well. Josh Freeman will continue to develop chemistry with Kellen Winslow and Sammie Stroughter as the Bucs become the next team to cash in on the Fins' inexperienced and underachieving secondary, driving the field late and winning a close game.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 27, Miami 24.