Winning can't solve all the problems in Miami. But it would sure help douse a raging media fire that shows no signs of slowing down.
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It's rare that a game against a winless team feels so vital, so necessary. The football world is crashing around Miami's organization at a time when its coach and general manager are believed to be on the way out. There's one way to slow down those stories.
The national media won't pack up and leave Miami anytime soon. Joe Philbin's news conferences will continue to be uncomfortably tense and test his leadership no matter what the result is Monday night. But if the Dolphins thought things were ugly now, they don't want to know what it will be like if they lose to an 0-8 Buccaneers team.
Here are some things to watch on the field Monday night:
- The Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin story is not just a fascinating/troubling/tiresome "off-the-field" story. Miami's struggling offensive line is now down two starters. Martin's absence keeps Tyson Clabo in the starting lineup; there's a reason why the Falcons cut him. Incognito wasn't playing great this season, but he was the best option the Dolphins had at guard.
- Ryan Tannehill has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the league. That is on him almost as much as the Dolphins' offensive line. Tannehill, like a lot of young quarterbacks, can struggle when his first read is taken away. He does a good job avoiding big mistakes, but he often holds onto the ball too long.
- In theory, this matchup sets up well for Miami's beleaguered pass protection. The Buccaneers don't have any great edge rushers, although defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is having another Pro Bowl-caliber season from the inside. The Buccaneers' defense can be effective with its blitzes, and Tannehill hasn't always handled those well.
- Tampa can blitz with linebacker Lavonte David and safety Mark Barron. The Buccaneers are a weird, imbalanced team. They are wildly weak in some areas defensively (at defensive end), but McCoy, David and even Darrelle Revis are elite players at their positions. For all the consternation about Revis, he's played well overall. Barron has started to show up more on tape, too. He can make mistakes in coverage, but his closing speed on tackles is rare.
- An upset would not a be a shock Monday night because the Buccaneers' offense is improving. Mike Glennon is the best rookie quarterback in the league, and I don't think it's that close. He has good pocket movement and can make tough throws on the run. He can leave the pocket too early at times and has struggled to finish games. Glennon has the fourth-highest passer rating in the NFL in the first half of games. He has the fifth-lowest in the second half.
- With Doug Martin (shoulder) out for the season, Mike James will carry the load for the Buccaneers on Monday night. He was shockingly good last week against Seattle, rushing for 158 yards last week against the Seahawks. The rookie out of Miami ran with toughness, taking on tacklers and bowling them over. He falls forward and shows great burst through the hole.
Coordinator Kevin Coyle isn't afraid to get creative and blitz plenty. Expect to see a lot of different looks Monday in order to confuse Glennon.
The Buccaneers are 1-13 in their last 14 games. No one should be surprised if they make it 2-13 after Monday night.