On Sunday the Dolphins begin a run of three consecutive games against teams with records no better than their own 3-5 mark. That's a refreshing fact following the brutal schedule the Dolphins have gone through to start this season. But at the same time, these games still pose some challenges and the Dolphins, who have dug themselves a big hole, have absolutely no room for error.
Below are, in my opinion, the three most important keys to ensuring the Dolphins do what they should do and knock of the Bucs at home.
Get back to basics and run the football
Yes, we all love the intrigue and excitement that some of the Dolphins' "exotic" play calling brings us. You can't sit here and tell me you didn't love watching Pat White bust out a 30+ yard run or jump up in celebration when Ricky Williams took the option pitch from White and powered into the endzone. It's very exciting stuff and it seems to open up a world of possibilities on offense.
That's all well and good when you're playing against a team that is clearly more talented than you are. But what about when you are the team that is far more talented? That's when you put aside these creative plays and get back to the basics - pounding the football between the tackles.
The Bucs come to Miami boasting one of the league's worst rush defenses. They are 30th in the NFL, allowing over 160 yards per game on the ground. And their 4.8 yards allowed per carry is also the third worst in the entire NFL. Honestly, I don't care if the Bucs are putting nine men in the box to stuff the run. The Dolphins must remain committed to Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams and let them wear down Tampa's struggling defense.
Over Miami's last three games, Ronnie and Ricky have combined for just 87.6 yards per game. And over their last two games, the formerly dynamic duo is averaging just 3.29 yards per carry. That's not acceptable for a team that is supposed to be a power running team. Things need to change in a hurry - and this week needs to be the beginning.
Get out in front early
Last week, the Bucs finally got their first win of 2009 by knocking off the Packers at home in Tampa. Some might think that's a good thing because now the Bucs aren't going to be battling to get that much-needed first win. But I don't agree with that statement. Instead, I think that last week's win will finally allow the Bucs to play looser, with less pressure, and with more confidence.
That's one of the reasons why it'll be important for the Dolphins to jump out on top early. They need to steal away from Tampa any confidence or momentum that team may have generated by beating a good team like Green Bay. They need to remind the Bucs that they are still just a one win team and they don't have the talent to hang with a team like the Dolphins. They need to dishearten the Buccaneer players quickly by scoring early and never letting up.
The other reason why the Dolphins need to jump out early? As Ethan Skolnick points out in his blog, the Bucs have been outscored 65-21 in the first quarter of games this season. They are equally bad in the third quarter, getting outscored 54-7. But in the second and fourth quarters, the Bucs have only been outscored by a total of 6 points - or less than a point per game.
We're also all aware at the Dolphins' fourth quarter struggles this year. There's no need to take any chances here against a team the Dolphins should beat. They have got to get an early lead.
Treat Josh Freeman like the rookie he is
One thing that good teams do is harass rookie quarterbacks and make them look like rookie quarterbacks. Josh Freeman will come to Land Shark Stadium on Sunday with just one career start under his belt and just 35 pass attempts. Despite the win last week, Freeman completed just 45% of his passes. But he still threw for three touchdowns and was protected relatively well by Tampa's offensive line.
On Sunday, the Dolphins have to do what they can to confuse and harass Freeman. Paul Pasqualoni has got to draw up some blitzes to confuse Freeman and to get his pass rushers to actually - you know - apply some pressure. None of the Buc receivers are really big threats, either. So there's no reason why Pasqualoni shouldn't let his two talented rookie corners work in single coverage to give him some more players to send at Freeman.
Whatever the game plan, though, we have got to see some kind of pass rush apply some pressure to the rookie quarterback. Hey - maybe even Joey Porter will decide to make a play. You never know...