First Impressions – Dolphins @ Buccaneers

| August 29, 2011

In terms of overall ability these two teams are similar; the Buccaneers more set to overcome weaknesses on their offensive line because of their strength at quarterback and halfback while the Dolphins look more solid on defense with very few positions of concern. And so it turned out with the score 10–10 when I gave up grading at the half.
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That said, these things are relative and I don’t see either team doing much better than 8-8 when the real action starts.


The caveat to that statement is Josh Freeman getting on the sort of tear he did last year (although he looked a long way from it here) and the new players on the Tampa Bay defense maturing faster than expected.
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For the Dolphins, with this sort of protection in front of the notoriously inconsistent Chad Henne, it looks like they will do well to get even close to the Jets and patriots.
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Miami – Three Things of Note
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● The offensive line which had been a real strength in recent seasons began to deteriorate last year. Now it looks completely shot. The idea of picking up one of the worst pass protectors in the NFL last year in Marc Colombo (we had him ranked third last) without even the bonus of being a good run blocker, plugging him in at right tackle and expecting anything other than what we got here is bizarre. He gave up two sacks in only 14 drop backs and also couldn’t hold ground when the Dolphins ran.

However, the problems didn’t end there. Vernon Carey was a shadow of the player we saw two years ago as he seemed completely miscast as a right guard. He gave up a pressure and false started but it was his work run blocking which was a bigger concern as he allowed both penetration and a tackle for loss. In addition, Jake Long better be back soon as replacement Lydon Murtha gave up as much pressure in a half (three hurries) as the All-Pro would in four games.
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● There was a quote from Tony Sparano the commentators mentioned regarding getting Reggie Bush in free agency. Apparently it was a statement of intent that the Dolphins can’t just dink and dunk their way down the field and need to be more of a “quick strike” offense. I’m assuming they meant as a receiver because five carries for -1 yards as a runner isn’t going to set any records. That said, one drop aside, Bush didn’t do much wrong; it was the guys in front of him that struggled.

Overall though, there were signs of a desire to test the defense. Four times Henne threw deeper than 15 yards (one drew a pass interference penalty) and on the small number of passes attempted, this is a significant percentage.
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● On defense, as expected, things looked better. The defensive line allowed runners only 15 yards on eight carries (although one was for a TD) and the secondary looked to have the receivers under control. It was on dump-offs, screens and broken plays were they gave up yardage. It would be unfair to pin all of this on Kevin Burnett but he was involved in a lot of things that went wrong. To start with the case for the defense he did get a couple of hits on blitzes and also made a solo tackle to bring on the Tampa Bay punter but he was far from consistent. He looked out of his depth covering Kellen Winslow, over-pursued on another first down pass and got completely lost on the touchdown run. All things considered, we like him (he did a great job for the Chargers last year) but coverage is not his forte and the Dolphins may be better in dime on third down than using him as an every-down ‘backer.
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Buccaneers – Three Things of Note
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● You have to start with Josh Freeman. Despite the late scoring drive before the half he looked very poor. He could have been intercepted twice with incredibly ill-advised throws and also missed high and or wide with at least four other passes. John Lynch kept on making excuses about him being “a little off” but this was a lot more than that – this is the type of performance that loses regular season games – going away. Josh Freeman is a far better player than this and fans in the west of Florida need to hope it was just the preseason’s inability to spark any of his competitive instincts.
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● Much like the Dolphins, the Buccaneers’ O-line was incredibly poor with the worst of it coming from right tackle. Last year, after a string of awful performances, Jeremy Trueblood was benched and as a free agent no one expected to see him playing for Tampa Bay again. However there were a number of things people didn’t bargain on:
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  • The Buccaneers failure to seduce Doug Free away from the Cowboys
  • The fact his replacement, James Lee, was just as poor
  • A belief somewhere in the organization that he is the best they can do.
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    Just like Columbo for the Dolphins, the results were stark – four hurries in 23 drop backs and another penalty for not being on the line of scrimmage. Cameron Wake went around him at will and if it wasn’t for Freeman’s escapability many of these would have ended in sacks. Ted Larsen was also a problem at left guard, giving up a couple of pressures and our view is the team would be far better served with Jeremy Zuttah in there as was indicated both by his performances in 2010 (above average pass protector) and his excellent pull block on Ernest Graham’s TD.
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    ● Although it’s difficult to be definitive because the Dolphins’ O-line had such a rough night, Tampa Bay’s defensive line looks to be going in a positive direction. At DLE Michael Bennett is playing so well he is keeping Da’Quan Bowers on the bench; a sack, hurry, penetration in the running game and a tackle for loss all standing out in the first quarter. Gerald McCoy is always likely to be negatively compared with Ndamakong Suh but unlike the Lions phenom he’s always in position and a far more consistent overall player. Time and again he got into the backfield, squeezed the hole and generally did the hard graft for his team. If this wasn’t enough Frank Okam started for the injured Roy Miller and stacked the middle effectively while first round pick Adrian Clayborn started at DRE, got three pressures and also stood up the tight end to force no gain on a run.
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    In summary, neither of these teams looked impressive but if the Buccaneers can sort out some of the issues on their offensive line they may have a chance to compete for a play-off spot. For Miami, nine or 10 wins looks a long way off and may be measured more in terms of years than months.
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