The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1) are in need of a strong, convincing victory this week after an up-and-down two-game road stretch against the Los Angeles Rams - a game that ended in a Bucs' loss - and the New England Patriots - a matchup that Tampa Bay narrowly escaped with a victory.
Fortunately for the Buccaneers, they'll have a chance to obtain such a win this week when they host the Miami Dolphins (1-3) at Raymond James Stadium. The Dolphins have gotten off to a disappointing start in Brian Flores' third season as head coach, dealing with a mix of injuries and offensive inefficiencies. Although, you could say the same about Tampa Bay if you flip inefficiencies to the defensive side of the ball.
1. Jacoby Brissett has stepped in for the injured Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback over the past two weeks and will start again vs. Tampa Bay. How has Brissett performed and how has the offense changed with him leading the charge?
Alain Poupart: In two words: not well. This was not a big-play offense to begin with, but it’s gotten even worse in that sense with Brissett, who seems unwilling to take any shots downfield unless the Dolphins are in desperation mode. If anybody had just seen the gamebook from the Dolphins-Colts game last Sunday and seen Brissett’s 107.5 passer rating, that would have been the most misleading stat of maybe all time. The most telling stat from that game is the fact the Dolphins did not have a single offensive play longer than 12 yards until the fourth quarter when they were down by 17 points both times they had the ball.
2. Considering the vast number of injuries to Tampa Bay's secondary, is there any Brissett-to-pass-catcher connection that you could see thriving on Sunday?
AP: The most talented wide receiver on the Dolphins roster is DeVante Parker and Dolphins co-offensive coordinator George Godsey said this week they need to get him more involved in the offense early in the game. That really should be a no-brainer. Parker isn’t overly fast or quick, but he’s very good at winning 50-50 balls downfield — if the quarterback isn’t afraid to throw those passes. But Parker is dealing with some injuries (shoulder/hamstring) and he was limited in practice Thursday. And, of course, there’s rookie first-round pick Jaylen Waddle, who has the kind of speed the Dolphins need to exploit more than they have. Waddle has a lot of catches, but most of them have been for short gains and that's something the Dolphins want to change.
3. Four games into the year, this Buccaneers team is not as strong as the playoff squad from last season. With that being said, where can the Dolphins expose the Buccaneers, and vice versa, in your opinion?
AP: Coming off their really poor performance against the Colts last Sunday, it’s difficult to talk about the Dolphins “exposing” anything against anybody. Really, it’s bad in Miami right now. But to provide an answer, maybe the Dolphins can find a way to protect Brissett better than they have and take some shots downfield because it’s not realistic to expect the Dolphins to have any kind of success running the ball.
4. Miami is monitoring injuries to its star starting cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. What is their current status and who would fill in should either player miss the game?
AP: With Jones and Howard, the Dolphins have a very good starting cornerback tandem, but each of them is dealing with injury issues this week and their status for the game Sunday is unclear. With Jones and Howard, the Dolphins can use Nik Needham as a slot corner and that gives them a really good trio that way. But if Jones and/or Howard have to sit out Sunday, then it creates problems because Needham probably would have to move outside and Justin Coleman would have to take over in the slot, and he has struggled in coverage this season. Another option is also moving veteran safety Jason McCourty to cornerback, where he has played most of his 13-year NFL career.
5. Are you a believer in the idea that Brian Flores' experience with Tom Brady can present an advantage for Miami defensively? Aside from two explosive plays that led to or resulted in scores, that appeared to be the case when Flores last faced Brady when the Dolphins upset the Patriots in Week 17 of the 2019 season.
AP: I'm of the belief that the notion of familiarity is overrated because, yes, the Dolphins did a good job against Brady in Week 17 of that 2019 season, but let's not forget all the wide receiver issues that Patriots team had that led to the team struggling down the stretch and leading to the eventual elimination with the home playoff loss against Tennessee. I'd feel a lot more optimistic about Flores' ability to devise a plan to stop the Bucs passing game if Brady had his 2019 wide receivers and not Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown.
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