ReFo: Dolphins @ Bucs, Week 10
Ben Stockwell breaks down how the Buccaneers broke their winless streak over the in turmoil Dolphins.
ReFo: Dolphins @ Bucs, Week 10
After a difficult week coming under the glare of the national media the Miami Dolphins were able to focus on football again but after falling to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers they couldn’t end it on a positive note.
The Bucs came out of the gate fast catching the Dolphins flat in the opening exchanges to set up a 15 point lead early in the second quarter. From there the Dolphins climbed back into the game and looked to have claimed control of the game consigning Tampa Bay to squandering their second double digit lead in as many weeks. However unlike last week in Seattle the Bucs dug deep and found a gritty drive off the back of their ground game with newly acquired Bobby Rainey getting both the big play and the scoring play to put the Bucs’ back in front. Courtesy of another time consuming drive and timely plays from their defense Tampa held on to get that goose egg out of the win column at the ninth time of asking.
For the Dolphins the positives that came from their overtime victory over the Bengals on Halloween seem distant memories at this point on many levels. On a purely football level they are now back below .500 and devoid of forward momentum in their season. Crucially though in the logjam that is the AFC playoff race they sit only one game behind the Jets in the final wildcard game. If they can re-discover their winning form on the field their season is still there for the saving.
Miami – Three Performances of Note
Not getting the bang for their buck
One of the Dolphins’ many aggressive moves this off-season was re-tooling their linebacker corps, bringing in the combination of Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe to replace Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby. Both made rough starts to their careers in Miami and though Ellerbe is coming off of a strong stretch of games this game gave an unwelcome reminder of how neither player has provided the impact or upgrade the Dolphins would have been hoping to be rewarded with for their aggression. Ellerbe earned his lowest grade of the season (-3.1) principally off the back of his work in coverage missing two tackles (taking his season total to nine) en route to surrendering 45 yards on six targets. Alongside him Philip Wheeler earned his sixth “red” grade (-1.1 or worse) of the season, also setting a season low due largely to his work in the run game. Missing a tackle for the fourth straight week (his 14th of the season) Wheeler was consistently neutralized at the second level by Tampa Bay’s linemen and tight ends, offering little resistance on the Bucs’ few crucial drives in the game. Both Ellerbe and Wheeler have shown flashes of the positive play that they were brought in for (Ellerbe more consistently) but neither player is at present redeeming the Dolphins for their decision.
Starks continues his destructive form
One Dolphin in exceptionally good form is Randy Starks and he continued his strong spell with another terrific game in run defense, earning his fifth straight “green” (+1.1 or above) grade. Stark set a season high with five defensive stops and was simply too hot to handle for the Bucs’ guards, principally Davin Joseph. His five stops included two tackles behind the line of scrimmage and one at it in his highest graded game of run defense since we started grading games back in 2008. After an inconsistent start to the year Starks has been on fire since Week 5 and with Cameron Wake limited due to injury Starks has led by example on the defensive front. He worked well in combination with Derrick Shelby (+3.4 run defense) when deployed on the left side of the Miami defensive linewhere Shelby was busy taking advantage of a favorable matchup against Tom Crabtree to help himself to three stops, one of which was nullified by a penalty. The Dolphins’ failing was that this strong run defense was not consistently shared by the rest of the defense, with the Buccaneers able to exploit that inconsistency across the defense on their key drives.
In search of a running game
If you look at the grades for the Miami offense in our premium section you might be puzzled as to why Miami’s running and run blocking grades aren’t lower. Well in simplest terms the Dolphins didn’t run enough to accrue significant negative grades. The Dolphins also had issues in terms of organization and assignments before even getting to the point of trying to block a Buccaneer defender and open a lane for him. Frequently the Tampa Bay defender corralling the runner for a loss or at the line of scrimmage was unblocked, most notably with the catastrophic breakdown on their safety when of all people the Dolphins failed to account for Lavonte David. The positives for Miami’s ground game were very few with a decent block or two spread across the line and Lamar Miller making the most and more on a couple of runs. At the end of a tough week for this offensive line they didn’t put in the sort of performance they would have been hoping for to move on and get back to football.
Tampa Bay – Three Performances of Note
Making the most of coming downhill
While their counterparts on the other sideline were struggling the Bucs got a terrific game form their linebacker pairing of Mason Foster and Lavonte David. Continuing his stellar season David added a mere three stops this week, one of the few linebackers of whom you would describe recording three stops in such terms, but he added value with some solid coverage and added his 23rd pressure of the season. Alongside him Foster was in need of a rebound performance and came up with it (+4.4), only his third positively graded game of the season. Having missed 12 tackles in his last seven games Foster missed none and his five stops mark his second highest total of the season. The third-year player made the most of the dysfunction in the Miami ground game carving an unblocked path to the runner on a number of his stops but considering his tackling in recent weeks, especially last week when he missed five in Seattle, simply capitalizing on every opportunity given to him by the opposing offense is a big step in the right direction for Foster.
Next Man Up
Sport can be cruel sometimes and rookie running back Mike James seems to be the latest Buccaneer to find that out first hand. Filling in for Doug Martin with a terrific display in Seattle last Sunday James was off to a fine start against the Dolphins last night showing excellent burst to collect 41 yards on five carries with another strong run (17 yards) nullified by Spencer Larsen being too eager to lay his block Jason Trusnik. James ankle injury at the end of that drive (reportedly a fractured ankle) opened the door for Tampa Bay to look further down their depth chart for contributions. Their third and fourth running backs stood tall to fill that void with Brian Leonard carrying the bulk of the load to good effect while Bobby Rainey did his best to replicate James’ production from the opening drive on what proved to be the game winning drive.
If you don’t generate a consistent pass rush (the Buccaneers don’t) then you have to make it count and bring it at the key moments in the game. Tampa Bay ticked both of those boxes last night with timely pressure that they converted into crucial plays. Of Ryan Tannehill’s 44 dropbacks the Bucs only pressured him ten times but on those ten plays they notched two sacks (both featuring two defenders) and knocked him down another four times. The Bucs sold out for the first sack on the game’s deciding drive, sending six with Mark Barron stunting across the formation to come free through the left side B-gap and though he didn’t bring Tannehill down he made him bring the ball down which gave time for the pile to be driven to Tannehill for William Gholston and Da’Quan Bowers to finish the play. The next sack was a far more “regulation” play with Gerald McCoy shaking free for almost the first time in the game, shedding John Jerry’s block extremely quickly to register the sack again driving Tannehill into the arms of Bowers for the second time in as many plays. McCoy made his presence felt on both the third and fourth down plays stunting from his left tackle spot in opposite directions on the two plays. They may not have created much pressure but when they did they made it count.
– Both quarterbacks combined to go 0-of-8 on deep shots last night with the one interception coming on the Dolphins’ desperation Hail Mary to end the game with one drop for Tannehill.
– After his explosive display against the Bengals last Thursday Cameron Wake was held a little more in check last night by Demar Dotson registering only two pressures (1 Ht, 1 Hu).
– After a return to their worst tackling form a week ago in Seattle (16 missed tackles) the Bucs missed only two tackles last night, their lowest total of the season.
PFF Game Ball
For his defensive work Mason Foster gets the nod.
Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.