This Sunday, we are in for the next edition of the Battle of Florida or the Sunshine Series for those old-school cats like myself. We are not talking about who has the best beaches or Cuban sandwiches, no no, we are talking about Sunshine-State-football-bragging-rights. Past Super Bowl Champions need only apply, sorry Jacksonville, you will have to settle for a bit of Urban Meyer drama instead and the flowing locks of Trevor Lawrence.
The history of the game series is a little funny. More preseason games have been played between the two teams than regular-season games — Sunday will be the 12th in the series, with the Buccaneers leading the series 6 to 5. The series is not without intrigue from Bob Griese getting hurt in the first game of the series in 1978, the “Curse of Tampa Bay” supposedly leading to a Super Bowl loss for the Dolphins, beef between the owners; Joe Robbie and Hugh Culverhouse. There have been Hall of Fame players and coaches roaming the sidelines in the games as well. Tony Dungy, Don Shula, Dan Marino, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and Lee Roy Selmon, to name a few. The last game was won by our beloved Buccaneers back in 2017; 30 -20. This weekend’s game may not have the gravitas on paper, but there is intrigue for sure.
A snapshot of our neighbors from the south.
Looking at our opponents, firstly, we should look at the defense. Brian Flores, probably the most successful of the former defensive coordinators of the Bill Belichick coaching tree, does have the Dolphins playing good defense. This year so far, with their 1-3 record not really showing it, but a lot of the struggle could be attributed to playing non-complementary football with an anemic offense. Miami has on paper two of the best defensive backs in the league in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, the former a DNP on Miami’s Thursday injury report. With those two on the field, two of our weapons could be held in check on Sunday. On defense, they try to employ the amoeba defense that did work to a degree last week in New England to confuse Tom Brady. If they can achieve that confusion Sunday, a large box will be ticked for the Dolphins, chances of victory on Sunday. Keeping the Tampa Bay offense in check is going to the key, but that is easier said than done.
On the other side of the ball, it is a different story. Tua is still sidelined with those broken ribs, but even with him under center, so far this year, the offense has been sputtering. Jacoby Brissett will start again this week— while on social media, there is talk on Bucs Twitter of roasting Jacoby Brisket — please be reminded of the game two short seasons ago when playing for the Colts; he did his own roasting of our defense. First-round pick Jaylen Waddle has performed, at times very well so far, while free-agent acquisition Will Fuller on IR and Devante Parker nursing slight injuries, will be needed in the passing game along with tight end Mike Gesicki. Running against the Buccaneers is something that is easier said than done, as we have seen so far this season by the uses of screens and short passes to circumvent that defensive front. This week blocking Vita Vea is going to be a huge task for Miami, with Myles Gaskin still being the main back in Miami and Malcolm Brown backing him up.
For our feature presentation, ladies and gentlemen.
Let’s look at the Tampa Bay offense first. Tom Brady looked slightly lost last week without Rob Gronkowski, so let’s hope that one more weeks’ worth of rep with Cam Brate will help elevate some of those issues. Giovanni Bernard is still nursing a knee, Scotty Miller missing, Oj Howard still not looking right, the Buccaneers’ passing game should be more than enough for Miami even with excellent corners. There are only two of them after all, and one is banged up. Leonard Fournette last week had his highest scrimmage yards game of the season and looked decent doing it even with those two drops. Ronald Jones looked spry on his bounce-out touchdown run versus New England as well. Honestly, a balanced attack would serve the Buccaneers best against the Dolphins. It would keep the defense off-balance, opening up all lanes of attacking Miami offensively.
The defense is another story, completely.
The MASH unit is full. SMB on IR, Carlton Davis out for a few weeks with a strained quad, JPP with his shoulder, Antoine Winfield concussion, and Jamel Dean, nursing a sore knee. Of all on that list only looks like that Jamel Dean might be ready to go Sunday. Richard Sherman and Pierre Desir filled in admirably, with backup Ross Cockrell playing quite well. The big breakthrough last week — and hopefully will continue this week versus Miami — is the pass rush getting home. Joe Tryon Shoyinka had his first two professional sacks in that game and looked every bit of a first-round steal. If that same tenacity is shown this week, then it will be a long day for Brissett. The back end still is a worry depth-wise, Sherman should get his second start, and possibly Jamel Dean will be back to start outside. Who will play the slot? It’s probably going to be Cockrell. Mike Edwards should fill in for Winfield Jr. With all of the holes, Todd Bowles will have to get inventive with his coverage packages and blitzes. I, personally, feel that Vita Vea is going to beast this mode, opening up the middle as well for Devin White on A-gap blitzes. Even missing the previously mentioned players, Tampa Bay has more than enough firepower on defense to keep Miami at bay.
No games are easy in the NFL, are they? But this game starts a stretch of games that are against sub .500 teams. This is a chance to get some of our guys back and still win games. This Dolphins Game might not be the