By Abraham Gutierrez
Losers of three consecutive games, the Miami Dolphins return to South Florida in Week 11 hoping some home-cooking will serve as the remedy that gets them out of their current funk.
“We’ve just kind of lost our way for a minute here,” said Dolphins head coach Adam Gase as he met with media members on Tuesday. “We just have to regroup and get things back on track.”
Fresh off a 45-21 whooping at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, the Fins welcome a struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that’s also in search of answers following a dreadful start to their 2017 NFL season.
In spite of the fact that they reside in the same state, this will only be the 11th meeting between the Fins and Bucs. With Miami and Tampa Bay knotted up at five wins apiece, this game will also serve as the rubber-match.
The last time they clashed dates back to the 2013 NFL season, when the Bucs captured their fourth win in five meetings with the Dolphins, coming away with a 22-19 victory at Raymond James.
Buccaneers 2017 NFL Record: 3-6-0
Following a successful debut as Buccaneers head coach, Dirk Koetter has gotten off to a rough start in his second season at the helm of this team. Coming in with an 0-4 mark away from home, the Bucs are looking for their first road win of the 2017 NFL season. Thus far, Tampa Bay is 1-2 against non-conference foes, and just 1-4 in its last five games played.
Bucs on Offense
For the second straight year, this unit remains under the supervision of offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Todd Monken. Aside from the passing game (262.4 yards per game: ranked 3rd in NFL), Tampa Bay’s offense has left a lot to be desired through nine games.
Heading into Week 11, the Bucs rank 28th in rushing (82.8), 22nd in points (19.2) and 14th in total yards per game (345.2) offensively. Those numbers are particularly disappointing given last year’s success, and it gets worse when the show must go on without their main weapon at their disposal.
With starting quarterback Jameis Winston (shoulder) expected to miss an “extended period of time,” veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick will make his second consecutive start of the season.
The Harvard grad led Tampa Bay to a slim 15-10 win over the New York Jets last week. In his first start as a Buccaneer, Fitzpatrick connected on 17-of-34 pass attempts for 187 yards, a touchdown and a pick for a quarterback rating of 64.2.
After watching the Panthers run wild over Miami’s defense, Monken will try and get Tampa Bay’s running game going and limit Fitzpatrick’s mistakes with a balanced approach.
Doug Martin (93 carries, 305 yards, 2 TDs) and Jacquizz Rodgers (51 carries, 183 yards, TD) are top rushers in the Bucs locker room, while receiving-yards leader Mike Evans (40 catches, 532 yards, 4 TDs) will return from suspension looking to make an impact.
Bucs on Defense
Defensively, former Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith enters his second season as the Bucs defensive coordinator. Much like in Monken’s case, this unit has also fallen short compared to last year’s production.
Tampa Bay’s defense comes into Week 11 ranked 29th in passing yards (266.4), 27th in total yards (376.3), 20th in points surrendered (23.1) and 14th in rushing yards per game (109.9).
Tied for team-honors with three sacks apiece are defensive tackles Gerald McCoy (27 tackles) and Clinton McDonald (18 tackles), and defensive end Robert Ayers (26 tackles, FF). Outside linebacker Lavonte David leads the way in tackles (51) and forced fumbles (4).
Bucs Players to Watch: DeSean Jackson, Brent Grimes
Considering the high expectations heading into the 2017 NFL season, Bucs wide receiver DeSean Jackson (33 receptions, 504 yards, 2 TDs) has gotten off to a slow start. However, if last week is any indication, the three-time Pro Bowler might be heating up. In last week’s win over Gang Green, Jackson snagged six of the 10 passes thrown in his direction for 82 yards, accounting for nearly half of Fitzpatrick yardage.
On the opposite side of the rock, the player to watch is no stranger to South Florida, as controversial cornerback Brent Grimes makes his return. The four-time Pro Bowler leads the Bucs in interceptions (2) and will try and stick it to his former ballclub. In his second year in a Bucs uniform, Grimes has also managed to tally 27 tackles in six starts after missing time due to a shoulder injury.
With Winston out, NFL Week 11 oddsmakers are siding with the home team in this one. According to NFL point spreads, the Miami Dolphins (-3) opened up this week as betting favorites by a field goal against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3).
For what it’s worth, the Dolphins are 3-4 against the spread this season, while the Bucs are currently 2-6 ATS. Head-to-head statistical trends indicate that Tampa Bay is 5-0 ATS in its last five meetings with Miami and the OVER is 4-1 in as many games.