When the Dolphins pass the football
It’s a new offensive line that will be protecting Ryan Tannehill. Left guard Richie Incognito and right tackle Jonathan Martin are gone (have you been living under a rock?) so that means Nate Garner is the new starting left guard and Tyson Clabo gets his old job back. The Dolphins continue to integrate third WR Rishard Matthews in place of Brandon Gibson, so look for his production to increase in the coming weeks. Obviously the 0-8 Buccaneers don’t do a lot of things well, and that includes pass defense despite having mortgaged themselves in order to add cornerback Darrelle Revis in the offseason. Revis, still recovering from reconstructive surgery, has been mostly used in zone coverage instead of his accustomed man. But that is expected to change eventually and perhaps against the Dolphins as he gains strength and confidence in the repaired knee. Advantage: Miami.
When the Dolphins run the football
It seems a long time ago, but Lamar Miller had his best career game against the Cincinnati Bengals last game. He gashed the Bengals with a 6.6 yards per carry average. Miller is averaging 5.4 yards per carry the past three games, and there seems to be no reason he cannot continue to thrive because Tampa Bay is middle of the pack (14th) in the NFL in rush yards per carries allowed. Interestingly, the Dolphins offensive line has grown in recent weeks. With the integration of Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, Garner at left guard and Clabo back at right tackle, the Dolphins added bigger players to replace smaller players who previously started at the positions. DT Gerald McCoy is a talented player for the Bucs, but rather than move him around, Tampa coaches have so far lined him up at the same position throughout the season, making assignment matchups against him easier to anticipate. Advantage: Miami.
When the Buccaneers run the football
Well, Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin is gone because he was placed on injured reserve last week. That means former University of Miami RB Mike James is now the primary ballcarrier. And while James is solid, he’s not dynamic like Martin. The Dolphins have lately played teams that didn’t necessarily have a lot of success running the ball, but didn’t give up on the idea anyway. That explains why Miami is 13th in rush average on defense but 21st in rush yards allowed per game. Advantage: Miami.
When the Buccaneers pass the football
Veteran Josh Freeman was traded and rookie Mike Glennon was installed as the starter and guess what? The offense got better. While Freeman completed only 45.7 percent of his throws and had two touchdowns and three interceptions, Glennon is completing 60.3 percent of his throws and has eight touchdowns and three interceptions. The rookie’s quarterback rating is 24 points higher than Freeman’s was. And the target Glennon smartly seeks out is Vincent Jackson who is a rare combination of size (6-5, 240 pounds) and speed (4.4). Jackson was a Dolphins killer during his San Diego days. With Dimitri Patterson (groin) doubtful for this game, the Dolphins may have to turn back to Nolan Carroll as a starter or rely on rookie Jamar Taylor. Advantage: Even.
That winless Bucs obviously don’t do a lot of things well, but they win on kick returns. They are seventh in the NFL in kick return average and sixth in the NFL in limiting kickoff return yards. Kicker Rian Lindell is hot, having connected on 10 consecutive kicks. The Dolphins need a spark from Marcus Thigpen. His punt returns have been lackluster and he has yet to get a great opportunity on kickoffs. Advantage: Even.
There are “Fire Schiano” billboards in the Bay area. And no, Joe Philbin has not exactly shined in the Incognito-Martin-NFL investigation, but he has won four more games than his counterpart this season. Advantage: Miami.