3TFO: Dolphins @ Buccaneers, Week 10
It's a Florida battle on Monday Night as the Dolphins travel to Tampa Bay. Steve Palazzolo takes a look at the areas to focus on that could decide the winner.
3TFO: Dolphins @ Buccaneers, Week 10
The off-field stories have dominated the news for both the Miami Dolphins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season. The Dolphins are in the midst of a potential game-changer regarding locker room ethics as starting right tackle Jonathan Martin’s choice to leave the team has uncovered a number of uneasy stories about team dynamics. Tampa Bay’s off-field issues coincide with their inability to win a game to this point. Head Coach Greg Schiano’s management style has come under scrutiny and he appears to be fighting an uphill battle to stay for a third year on the job. It’s only fitting that the two teams settle the off-field battle for supremacy with an actual football game, particularly on a Monday night.
Despite the turmoil, the Dolphins’ wild card chances are still alive at 4-4, but they’ll have to overcome the offensive line shuffle they’ve encountered in recent weeks. For Tampa Bay, they’ve reached the play-for-pride portion of their winless season, but don’t count them out as they have much more talent than their record would indicate.
Here’s a look at three matchups to watch.
Miami Offensive Line vs. Tampa Bay Defensive Line
The re-shuffling in Miami has newly-acquired Bryant McKinnie at left tackle where he’s graded at +2.8 in his two games with the team. Martin’s departure has thrust Tyson Clabo back into the lineup at right tackle where he was originally benched. His -10.6 grade ranks 68th among offensive tackles while his Pass Blocking Efficiency of 90.2 comes in at 56th. They’ll match up against a struggling pair of defensive ends in Adrian Clayborn and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim who are grading at -7.7 and -25.2 respectively. Te’o-Nesheim comes in last as both a pass rusher and as a run defender among 4-3 defensive ends, so this could be a good week for the Dolphins to get some production out of their tackles.
The biggest name in this battle is certainly defensive tackle Gerald McCoy whose +25.8 overall grade leads the position, but another matchup to watch is DT Akeem Spence against center Mike Pouncey. I highlighted their battle back in the preseason as they went back and forth throughout the game. Spence looked like a promising prospect early on, but he’s taken a step back of late, coming into the game at -5.1. Still, he has a chance to prove to Tampa Bay that he’ll be a good complement to McCoy from their tilt nose tackle position.
Tampa Bay Running Game vs. Miami Run Defense
Even with the loss of starting running back Doug Martin, it appears the Buccaneers have found an intriguing prospect in rookie sixth round RB Mike James. He’s grading at +5.6 on the season. He’s coming off an impressive 28-carry, 158-yard performance against the Seattle Seahawks that saw him grade at +3.0 with six missed tackles forced. As far as his blocking goes, it hasn’t been pretty as only offensive tackles Donald Penn and Demar Dotson have positive run blocking grades while RG Davin Joseph is last among guards at -16.6. They’ll have their work cut out for them against a stout Miami front, particularly DTs Randy Starks and Paul Soliai. Starks is seventh among DTs in run stop percentage at 9.6 percent while Soliai ranks 18th at 8.1 percent. The place where Miami has been vulnerable has been at linebacker where new acquisitions Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler are grading at -3.3 and -4.1 respectively against the run. Wheeler has missed one of every 5.8 tackle attempts to rank 18th out of the top 20 qualifiers at 4-3 outside linebacker. It will need to be a team effort from the defensive front and the linebackers in order to slow down James.
Mark Barron vs. Charles Clay
One of the hidden matchups that will be fun to watch is Miami tight end Charles Clay going up against Tampa Bay strong safety Mark Barron. While neither is grading off-the-charts this season, both players are valuable tools for their respective teams. Though he’s cooled a bit in recent weeks, Clay has provided a versatile target for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, particularly in the middle of the field, a place where Tannehill needs to improve in order to take the next step in his development. He lines up all over the place for the Dolphins, from fullback to tight end to the slot, and even out wide at times.
Barron will likely be charged with keeping an eye on him as the second year safety has generally been charged with covering opposing tight ends this season. We highlighted his various responsibilities earlier in the season so look for him to play close to the line of scrimmage with his sights on Clay. Barron certainly seems a better fit when playing in the box where his run stop percentage of 13.0 leads all safeties and he appears much more comfortable matching up with tight ends and running backs than he does dropping into deep coverage. Look for Tampa Bay to expand his role in this area as the season progresses.
Follow Steve on Twitter.