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Scouting Report: Miami Dolphins

Posted Nov 7, 2013

Taking a closer look at the Bucs' opponent in Week 10, as the Miami Dolphins come to Tampa for a Monday night affair, bringing an underrated ground game and a very capable pass rush

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Miami's rushing attack has averaged 4.3 yards per carry, with the speedy Lamar Miller providing the big plays
  • The Dolphins' defensive line has accounted for 21 of the team's 25 sacks so far, led by DE Cameron Wake's 5.5
  • P Brandon Fields is averaging 48.8 gross yards per kick and owns the third-highest career gross in NFL history
On Monday night, the 0-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the 4-4 Miami Dolphins at Raymond James Stadium.  It will be the 10th meeting between the two teams but their third in prime time and their second on the popular MNF series (more on the Bucs-Dolphins series history here).  The Buccaneers will try to avenge a narrow loss in the last game in the series, in 2009. To record their first win of the season, the Buccaneers will have to overcome a team that has played very well in the red zone on both offense and defense and a defensive line that has strong sack totals across the board.

HEAD COACH: Joe Philbin, architect of the Green Bay Packers' high-powered offense from 2007-11, became the Miami Dolphin's 10th head coach in January of 2012.  He has since led the Dolphins to a 7-6 season and a second place finish in the AFC East in 2012 and a 4-4 first half in 2013.  Philbin is obviously known for his offensive expertise, and his first order of business in Miami was to draft Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the first round in 2012.  Tannehill set Dolphin rookie records with his completions  (282) and yards (3,294)…for a franchise that has previously enjoyed the rookie seasons for the likes of Dan Marino and Bob Griese.  Philbin is considered a personable coach with his players but also one who is meticulous with the details, and his team certainly plays a disciplined brand of football.  Miami finished the 2012 season with the third fewest penalties in the league, and that's exactly where they rank again in 2013 at the midway point.  Philbin, who has installed a West Coast style of offense in in Miami, has been described by a former Packers executive as "calm, cerebral and humble."

-- Miami Head Coach Joe Philbin honed his offensive system during five years as the OC in Green Bay
OFFENSE: Miami has the league's 28th-ranked offense in terms of yards, but in the more important category of points scored they rise to 19th, and the running game has been quietly effective, at least on a per-carry basis.  Led by Lamar Miller with an assist from Daniel Thomas (plus 83 rushing yards from the reasonably mobile Tannehill), the Dolphins are putting up 97.5 rushing yards per game and an excellent 4.3 yards per carry.  The 5-10, 216-pound Miller is more fast and shifty than powerful, and his breakaway speed has helped him average 4.8 yards per run on the way to 448 yards overall.  He's considered a decent pass-catcher out of the backfield but has just 13 catches for 72 yards thus far.  Thomas, at 6-1 and 235 pounds, is much bigger and is better at pounding between the tackles.  Both backs have scored twice so far.  The much-publicized issue involving Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito means the Dolphins are running behind a recently-shuffled O-line.  Bryant McKinnie, acquired just a few weeks ago in a trade with Baltimore, has started the last two games at left tackle, moving Martin to right tackle for the first one; Martin's subsequent departure pushed long-time Atlanta Falcon Tyson Clabo back into the starting five at right tackle.  Nate Garner is listed as the new starting left guard on Miami's latest depth chart.  Garner started four games at right tackle in 2012.

-- RB Lamar Miller averages 4.8 yards per handoff
In his second year, Tannehill leads a Miami passing attack that ranks 21st in the NFL with 217.6 yards per game.  Tannehill has a respectable 80.8 passer rating that is aided by a 60.6% completion percentage, but his TD-INT ratio is just 11-9.  Of perhaps more concern is the fact that Tannehill has been sacked a whopping 35 times already, or more than four per game.  The Dolphins rank second-to-last in sacks allowed per pass play this season, with only Oakland faring worse.  Fortunately for the Miami offense, Tannehill is a very effective playmaker when he escapes the pocket and either runs or extends a play long enough to find a man downfield.  The Dolphins brought in former Pittsburgh Steelers speedster Mike Wallace to give Tannehill a downfield threat, but Wallace's 13.3 yards-per-catch average is well below his career mark of 17.2 and he has scored just one touchdown.  Wallace and fellow starter Brian Hartline, a Dolphin for all five his NFL seasons, have nearly identical totals so far: 36-480-1 for Wallace and 38-477-2 for Hartline.  The Dolphins recently lost a very capable third receiver to injured reserve in Brandon Gibson (30-326-3) and are now likely looking for second-year man Rishard Matthews, a 2012 seventh-round pick, to step up.  Miami's offense has turned the ball over 15 times, which is middle of the pack in the NFL rankings, and has been quite good in the red zone, ranking seventh in the NFL with a touchdown percentage of 64.0.

DEFENSE: Miami's defense ranks 23rd in the league and has been roughly as effective against the run (21st) as the pass (22nd).  What the Dolphins have done best on that side of the ball is pick off passes, with seven different defenders getting into the act, led by CB Dmitri Patterson's four.  The Dolphins rank eighth in the NFL in interceptions per pass play on defense, and with a total of 15 takeaways they have managed to stay exactly even in turnover ratio.  Miami's total of 11 interceptions this season is already one more than it had in all of 2012. Patterson, something of a veteran journeyman who was claimed off waivers by Miami from Cleveland last December, had a total of five interceptions in his first seven NFL seasons before 2013.  Patterson plays opposite Brent Grimes, who is even newer to the Dolphins defense as a big-name free agency acquisition this past offseason, but the former Falcon is very well-known to the Buccaneers.  Grimes is a smaller corner at 5-10, 190 but he makes a very good break on the ball and has a knack for the big play at the right moment, such as the 94-yard interception return for a touchdown that helped Miami defeat Cincinnati last Thursday.

-- DT Jared Odrick is one of five Miami D-Linemen with at least 2.5 sacks
However, Miami's 4-3 defense starts up front with a very effective defensive line.  LE Cameron Wake (5.5 sacks), RE Olivier Vernon (4.5) and DTs Jared Odrick (3.5) and Randy Starks (3.0) present an entire front line that can get to the quarterback, and even backup end Derrick Shelby has contributed 2.5 sacks.  Overall, Miami has recorded 25 sacks, 21 of them by defensive linemen.  Wake, whose 43.0 sacks from 2009-2012 ranked fourth in the NFL in that span, leads an active front that moves around a lot before the snap in an effort both to get to the quarterback and disrupt the running lanes.  Still, the Dolphins' rush defense has been susceptible to the big play of late, giving up four runs of 23 or more yards in the last four games.  Over the past four contests, Miami has surrendered an average of 134.5 rushing yards per game and seven touchdowns on the ground.

The Dolphins reworked the middle of their defense during the offseason, signing linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler away from the Ravens and Raiders, respectively.  Those two stepped into the starting lineup alongside 2010 all-rookie selection Koa Misi, a second-round pick, and have produced immediately.  The 6-2, 240-pound Wheeler leads the team with 58 tackles and also has a half-sack, three passes, defensed, five tackles for loss and five quarterback hits.  Ellerbe is second on the team with 55 tackles and has a an interception and four passes defensed.  Like the Miami offense, the defense has been good when the ball is near the end zone, ranking 11th in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage at 51.7.  Miami has also been good on containing opposing offenses on first down, allowing 4.65 yards per try to rank fifth in the NFL; however, when it gets to third down, the Dolphins are just 18th on defense, at 39.0%

-- RB Marcus Thigpen was top five in the NFL in 2012 in both punt return and kickoff return average
SPECIAL TEAMS: By the raw numbers, it might seem as if Miami placekicker Caleb Sturgis has struggled this season, compared to the league norm, as he has missed five of his 18 tries and ranks 29th in the league in field goal percentage.  However, one of those five misses was actually blocked, and the other four have come from an average distance of 47 yards away, and he has also made three field goals of 50 or more yards this year.  Sturgis hasn't been particularly impactful on kickoffs, though, as his touchback rate of 50.0% is better than only seven other teams in the league.  Punter Brandon Fields is blasting away, as usual; his 48.8-yard gross average this year has only upped his career mark to 46.6, the third-highest career mark in NFL history.  Fields also has only one touchback against 14 inside-the-20 kicks, which has helped create a very fine 43.2 net punting average.

RB Marcus Thigpen, a signing out of the Canadian Football League in 2012, had an immediate impact in Miami, averaging 27.4 yards per kickoff return and 12.2 yards per punt return and scoring once each way.  He ranked fourth in the league in punt return average and fifth in kickoff return average.  Thigpen has nearly matched his 2012 mark on kickoffs this year, at 25.1 per, but his punt return mark has fallen to 5.2 and his longest so far is just 13 yards.