NFL Week 10 – Monday Night Football Preview

Miami Dolphins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Forgive me if I skip all the off-field romantics and get right to the on-field matchup…

Miami Offense

I was expecting to see some bad offensive line play when I started watching the Dolphins on film. They didn’t disappoint and on the very first snap against New England, right guard John Jerry decided not to block anyone and let the defensive tackle run right by him for a tackle on the running back in the backfield. After watching a few more snaps I realized the kind of problem that Offensive Coordinator Mike Sherman and quarterback Ryan Tannehill were dealing with.

The offensive line is much better run blocking than they are at pass blocking. They can’t sustain blocks for long at all even against mediocre opponents. Bryant McKennie has been an upgrade over Johnathan Martin at left tackle. Tyson Clabo has played poorly at right tackle and neither Jerry nor left guard Richie Incognito have played well lately. The real highlight has been center Mike Pouncey who has played well in spite of everything going on around him. He’s a good pulling center who displays good athleticism and strength.

The Dolphins are pretty well set at running back, but I’m not sure what their fascination with Daniel Thomas is. He’s certainly not as explosive as Lamar Miller but Miller also runs better between the tackles. Miller is a terrific threat in both the pass and run game that has the agility to make one cut and jump across 2 gaps to find space to run. He keeps his momentum going forward which is tough for a back like that.

Mike Wallace hasn’t given the production that many expected of him. Brandon Gibson actually stepped up at the team’s best receiver before going down with a season ending knee injury against New England. Brian Hartline is a solid receiver that is strong and smart. He displays good hands but has a limited catch radius. The real standout on film was Rishard Matthews who flashed more than a few times with some good routes and highlight catches. TE Michael Egnew serves as the FB when necessary and the Dolphins use he and Charles Clay as their 2 primary tight ends. Charles Clay is a solid receiver but offers very little in terms of blocking.

Ryan Tannehill can be perplexing to watch on film. After a solid rookie season, Tannehill hasn’t produced like many expected of him. The problem is that he still plays like a rookie. Tannehill hasn’t progressed at all, and may have even regressed, as a passer since his rookie season. While I don’t know the nature of the coaching he’s receiving, Tannehill was a wide receiver at Texas A&M who converted to QB. He’s still a college QB that’s trying to adjust to the NFL. This explains his inconsistency and his inability to make correct reads. It seems that about 90% of the time Tannehill has decided where he’s going with the football before the snap. He blanks when that throw isn’t there.

The scheme is pretty elementary. The Dolphins use mostly 3-5 drops in the passing game and run their routes off of that. This is probably partially because of the offensive line troubles but I’m mystified why they don’t use more rollouts or move the pocket to use Tannehill’s athleticism. They run a mix of zone and power run and Lamar Miller looks good in both. The Miami offense would really benefit from the use of the Pistol formation. It would allow the running backs to get downhill faster as well as making the defense defend both sides of the formation against the run – as opposed to the shotgun where the RB must cross the face of the QB or run a draw play.

The Dolphins use a lot of 11 personnel and spread formations but will occasionally bring in 2 tight ends or even 3 to mix up personnel. Egnew counts as a tight end but plays from the backfield as a fullback a decent amount. The Dolphins like wide splits from their receivers and spread formations. Their trips and bunch packages are sort of bolted on as a sidepiece to the rest of the offense and not woven into it.

Tampa Bay Defense

The Tampa defensive line is a hodgepodge of talent. Gerald McCoy is a dominant 3-technique defensive tackle who is a penetrating force inside when he’s let loose. Unfortunately, the scheme doesn’t really play to his strengths most of the time. Next to him, Akeem Spence is a 1-tech tackle that eats up double team blocks that let the linebackers get into the backfield. He’s tough, strong, and anchors well but doesn’t get a ton of push inside. On the outside, DE Adrian Clayborn has been standing up as a pass rusher a lot lately – probably to help with his stunting. He’s violent but doesn’t have tremendous speed. He’s best when bull rushing or with a push and rip. He uses his hands well but he’s another guy who never really seems to get into rhythm because of the nature of the playcalling. Opposite Clayborn is starter Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. He is a below average end in the NFL who lacks speed as a pass rusher and can’t get off of a 1-on-1 block.

At linebacker, the Buccaneers have one of the best young players in the league. Weakside LB Lavonte David is playing at an All-Pro level. He’s shown he can blitz, fill the gap against the run, and drop into coverage when asked to, and he can do all of those jobs remarkably well. He’s a special player and is fun to watch on film. At middle linebacker, Mason Foster is more of a gap filler than a flow player. He lacks legit speed but plays well against the run. He’s a strong tackler and has solid instincts. At strongside linebacker, Johnathan Casillas is a decent player who is better at blitzing than dropping into coverage.

In the secondary, the Bucs have the best zone man coverage cornerback in the game in Darrelle Revis. Revis has been playing in more and has been pressing at the line of scrimmage of late, too. Opposite him, the Bucs have an interesting situation. Rookie Johnthan Banks hasn’t played well. He gets beat, misses assignments, and hasn’t tackled well. Danny Gorrer has been injured all season but looked like the better cornerback in a small sample size last week. They’ll probably run Banks out as the starter but Gorrer should get plenty of snaps. The nickel cornerback is Leonard Johnson is a target for opposing offenses as he’s given up plenty of big plays both last season and this season. If the Bucs have to put Michael Adams on the field he’s another liability in coverage.

At safety, the Bucs have one of the best duos in the NFL. Dashon Goldson acts more as the free safety while Mark Barron is the strong safety who plays inside the box a ton. Goldson had been hurt and Keith Tandy got significant snaps at free safety. Goldson is an aggressive player who can get sucked in with play action. Barron typically plays in the box but can run and cover a tight end as well. Tandy can get lost in coverage and is most certainly not a filler for the run. He takes bad angles and shows poor technique when tackling.

The scheme has been evolving over recent weeks. The Bucs are playing more man and cover 3/cover 1 looks in the last few games. Revis will press his man a lot on first down but he still only stays on one side of the formation of the other and doesn’t trail the other team’s best receiver. The Bucs base defense is a blitzing style because they can’t get pressure with just their front 4. It doesn’t help that they stunt on about half of the snaps that they run. There’s a time for stunting but it seems like Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan believes it’s a good way to play on most snaps. In reality, it invites a double team on Gerald McCoy and has slow-ish edge rushers in Clayborn and Te’o-Nesheim running a loop to get to the quarterback instead of in a straight line. It also makes it hard for the Bucs to contain on the edges. Da’Quan Bowers has showed a little pop when rushing but he doesn’t get a ton of snaps – only in obvious pass rush situations.

MIA Offense vs. TB Defense

The Bucs can be torched on the edges with the run – stretch, off tackle, and lead tosses. Their obsession with stunting leaves the edges open and makes it hard to contain. Their best bet tonight is to play straight up and beat the Dolphins with power and punch. I fully believe the Bucs can generate a pass rush on Tannehill without blitzing. This will also help contain Lamar Miller.

The Dolphins offense doesn’t function well without the run. When Mike Sherman gets pass happy it puts the Dolphins in tough situations on third downs and they are good enough to consistently overcome those situations. If the Bucs let Gerald McCoy penetrate tonight instead of using him as a decoy in stunts, he’ll have a massive night. He can get tremendous penetration and disrupt both the pass and the run game. Bowers will probably be limited in snaps again but facing any of the turnstile right tackles that the Dolphins have, he could notch a sack as well.

Miami has to neutralize the pass rush with a short and quick passing game that they’ve lived on the last 2 weeks. Getting Lamar Miller in rhythm early can also help. To beat Tampa in the run game, Miami needs to identify Lavonte David and assign him his own personal blocker or run to the opposite side completely. David will still get involved in plays but if he isn’t specifically accounted for he can dismantle a run game by himself.

Tampa matches up against 11 personnel with their nickel package almost exclusively. Against the Dolphins they’ll predominantly stay in that package. If Miami can do that and get good matchups in the slot with Charles Clay or Rishard Matthews, they can torch Tampa’s secondary there. Stay away from Revis and single out Leonard Johnson or Michael Adams. If Tandy is in the game, find him too. The Bucs safeties are gullible to double moves so a max protection with a sluggo for Mike Williams could be an easy strike for a big play. Atlanta burned Banks/Goldson with it.

Tampa Bay Offense

Mike Glennon has been a solid passer as a rookie. He has been surprisingly mobile in the pocket and extended a few plays that helped create time for his receivers to get open. He is increasingly leaving the pocket earlier and earlier. Against the Seahawks he missed a big throw in the 4th quarter when Tim Wright was open in the seam because he decided to take off too early from the pocket. He doesn’t have the zip on the ball that you’d expect from a tall quarterback and he struggles with the deep ball. He is smooth on his short and intermediate throws to open receivers but he can’t pull the trigger as readily as he needs to. He’s not a fan of trying to throw the ball through tight windows.

Glennon’s favorite receiver is clearly emerging TE Tim Wright. Wright is essentially a wide receiver who might put his hand in the ground every few plays. He won’t block a soul but he’s a good receiver with solid hands. Tom Crabtree is the other tight end who moves around the formation a good amount. He’s really about average in all areas and offers nothing special but he’s a smart player. The Bucs will bring in offensive linemen Gabe Carimi and make him eligible as a tight end but he’s really in as a pure blocker.

At wide receiver, the Bucs’ Vincent Jackson is a big body who can go up and bring down just about any ball that’s thrown in his general vicinity. He has concentration issues as he’s dropped a lot of easy passes lately. Tiquan Underwood is who you’ll see as the 2nd receiver with a little of Skye Dawson in the slot. Tim Wright serves as more of the slot receiver than anyone. Underwood is a sloppy route runner with suspect hands but his length and strides can be deceptive and gives him a slick advantage over unprepared corners. Dawson is smaller in stature but plays the deep ball well and has solid body control.

Mike James emerged last week as a viable option at running back. The Bucs’ offense finally got into some good numbers matchups and good playcalls and James was able to find the holes and break off big chunks of yards. James made some impressive runs and found holes that most running backs wouldn’t have but he also made some incorrect reads of blockers. He’s not a burner but he has decent speed and solid agility. His vision last week really allowed him to get through the hole and to the second level before being hit. The Bucs use Erik Lorig as their fullback and Lorig is a decent blocker and receiver. If forgotten, Lorig can pick up big chunks of yardage in the pass game. Brian Leonard serves as the 3rd down back and will spell James at times.

The offensive line had a much better week last week than I had anticipated. Davin Joseph’s reputation is higher than his play level has been this season but he showed some moments of improvements last week. The insertion of Jamon Meredith at left guard last week really opened up the power run game for the Bucs. They pulled both Joseph and Meredith, and center Jeremy Zuttah at times, and got Mike James running downhill with blockers in front of him. Donald Penn has been above average at left tackle this season and is still a good option for pass and run blocking on the left side. Demar Dotson had improved and solidified his position at right tackle this season but he had some issues last week with the bull rush. He was pancaked 3 times, once leading to a poorly timed sack of Glennon late in the game. The offensive line is at its best when it’s bullying (no pun intended) it’s opponents and overpowering them.

The passing game relies heavily on outside routes the isolate receivers one on one. Last week against Seattle they ran an incredible amount of hitch or comeback routes. It’s a vertical offense that plays off the effectiveness of the run game. They love to run four verticals and let Glennon dump off underneath. Glennon’s inaccuracy with the deep ball, especially outside the numbers, is not a good fit for this type of offense. Glennon makes up for it with accurate throws over the middle that allow his receivers to run after the catch. The Bucs need to play to this strength and run more crossing and drag routes.

Miami Defense

Miami’s defensive line is the strength of it’s defense. Defensive end Cameron Wake is a disruptive pass rusher who commands attention from an offense. If he’s not accounted for then he’ll create chaos all night long. On the interior, defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks generate a fantastic rush up the middle and can collapse a pocket from the inside. Starks is the better run defender of the two while Soliai offers a bit more explosion in pass rushing. The other defensive end is Oliver Vernon who is a good player on his own but is a bit more reserved as a pass rusher and plays well against the run.

At middle linebacker, Dannell Ellerbe is a player who seems strong but stiff. He’s much better playing downhill against the run than his is dropping into coverage. However, when he does drop into coverage he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Phillip Wheeler is a speed backer on the weakside. I like him more as a pass rusher than anything else. With his speed he should be better in coverage but lacks the clean feet to be able to stick to receivers. Koa Misi is the strong side linebacker but only sees the field on a little over half of the Dolphins defensive snaps as he comes off for the nickel package. Misi is a productive player when in the game. He’s tough and physical against tight ends and can stack and shed tackles or pulling guars in the run game with consistency. It’s unfortunate that the Dolphins use rookie Dion Jordan so little.

In the secondary, I was excited about the prospects of Reshad Jones this year at safety but he’s been so overly aggressive that he plays on skates most of the time. He’s looked slower yet more reckless than last season. Beside of him, Chris Clemons is emerging as one of the better safeties in the league. He’s fantastic at playing centerfield and is reactive and physical when the ball is in the air. At cornerback, Brent Grimes is one of the best off-man coverage corners in the NFL. His ability to sink his hips, put his foot in the ground, and drive on the ball in front of him is terrific. He can also swing his hips and turn and run with relative ease. Opposite him is corner back Dimitri Patterson who played much better in the last couple of games. I thought Patterson was more of a reserve corner or nickel at best but he’s shown that he can play well on the outside. Jimmy Wilson serves as the nickel cornerback and can be picked on, especially with larger receivers. In limited snaps against the Bengals, RJ Stanford looked viable as the dime defensive back when necessary.

Miami runs a 4-3 defense that tries to stay in its base package if at all possible. They’ll go to nickel but they’ll devise ways to work coverages to keep from being outmatched. They like to play Jones in the box and that leaves them in a lot of cover 1 man on the back end. They like to force quarterbacks to make accurate throws into tight windows or use anticipation to beat their off man coverage. The linebackers are deceived with play action.

The key to this defense is the enormous pass rush potential they have up front. They don’t have to blitz and that helps to clog the zones when they decide to go zone. They’re not afraid to rush 4 and drop 7 into coverage all day if they can generate enough pressure that way. Otherwise, Phillip Wheeler is the blitzer that they like to send the most.

TB Offense vs. MIA Defense

Glennon’s increased skiddishness in the pocket over the last couple of games has me concerned he’s starting to “see ghosts.” He’s done a good job of moving out of the pocket and stepping up but again, he misses a lot of potential throws that way. That plus watching Dotson end up on his rear end from 3 bull rushes last week makes me worried that he won’t be able to handle Cameron Wake. The Bucs will need to help him, especially in obvious passing situations, with a tight end or running back chip before leaking out or by keeping the back in to block.

Draws should work well against such an aggressive pass rush but the Bucs also need to stick to the weak iso runs that have worked so well of late. Pulling guards and the center have led to some major holes and James hasn’t missed most of the big ones.

The Dolphins don’t really have an answer for Tim Wright. Wheeler may be their best option but he hasn’t been able to stick to receivers even with his speed. Misi is more of a box player and isn’t as good when out over the slot. Grimes will probably follow Vincent Jackson for most of the night, unless the Dolphins decide to use Patterson on Jackson and roll the coverage over to his side. Jackson lines up in multiple positions so it’s tough to game plan for that before seeing the formation.

Jackson will run a ton of wheel routes out of the slot. Almost every route Jackson runs is vertical up the sideline or down the seam. He’s tremendous at getting separation on the post and his size is a great utility in shielding the ball. This is a good route against almost any coverage with a single high safety (cover 1 or cover 3), unfortunately it’s not one that’s a staple of the Tampa offense.

Last week the Tampa offense had a strong tendency to run on second and 7 or less. It’ll be interesting to see if that is something they continue. There was a renewed dedication to the run game last week on 1st and 2nd down and it kept the offense in manageable 3rd down situations, which was something that hadn’t happened all year. Even in 3rd and 5-ish situations, it gave Glennon the ability to scramble for a few yards and pick up the first down if his reads weren’t there.

The Game

The correct plan for the Bucs is to walk the corners up to the line of scrimmage and jam the receivers to break Tannehill’s timing. The offense is predicated on short drops and quick throws and Tannehill’s penchant for deciding where he’s going to throw the ball before the snap means he’ll end up making bad decisions and poor throws. That will lead to turnover opportunities. It also means if his 1st read isn’t there, he freezes and holds onto the ball which results in sacks.

The Tampa front 4 and linebackers are good enough to contain the run if they aren’t stunting and blitzing every play. If they continue that trend (they will), then that opens up gaps and opportunities to get past the blitz and big chunks of yardage. I also don’t have faith that Tampa will play press man and instead will allow the Dolphin wide receivers to have free releases.

Miami’s has their own dedication to the run game over the last few games and Lamar Miller has looked fantastic. If he gets going, it could spell doom for the Tampa defense. The Seahawks saw what I did on film and ran off tackle, toss sweeps, and stretch plays to get their running backs to the edge. It gashed Tampa because Clayborn doesn’t play strong against the run and set the edge and Te’o-Nesheim just isn’t good enough to get off of blocks fast enough.

The Miami pass game is super elementary and really operates off of about 5-10 plays out of different formations. They’ll throw in a wrinkle or two but it usually involves misuse of their talent. I am mystified why they don’t use Ryan Tannehill’s athleticism to roll him out or to move the pocket. This would simplify his reads and also give him more time against the rush. I’m also fascinated at the lack of effort to get the ball in Mike Williams hands on end arounds, screens, or even defined shot plays against good matchups and looks.

The Bucs lack depth at corner and getting Leonard Johnson and Michael Adams on the field is a positive for the Dolphins. Opposing offenses have singled them out and torched them in multiple games with average receivers.

The Verdict

Ignoring all of the off field stuff, I think Tampa is the more complete team and seem to be trending up. However, I look at the Dolphins first few games this year and this defense is capable of shutting down mediocre offenses. I think the Miami defense will come in well coached and prepared.

I expect a low scoring game because of both teams’ emphasis on the run game as well as the inability to stretch the field. If one of these teams pulls away and the opposing offensive coordinator loses discipline and starts calling too many passes, they could work themselves into a significant hole.

I don’t think Glennon has the ability to make the tough throws he’ll need to make tonight to keep up and a turnover will be costly. Miami wins.

P.S. Tampa always blitzes on their first defensive snap. If Miami throws a screen, Lamar Miller might take it to the house on the first play.

 

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