Buccaneers vs. Dolphins: Previewing Miami's Preseason Week 4 Matchup
Not so fast, though. There's still one preseason game left to play, which is the reaction we always get in the first week of September as we go through our fantasy drafts and read our season previews. This final preseason game for Miami, which is 1-2 in the preseason so far, comes against its cross-state rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2).
In terms of star power, the Dolphins' biggest names on offense and defense will likely sit the game out.
There should be some excitement for Florida State fans living in South Florida, however, as this will be their first chance to see Jameis Winston as a pro.
Other than that, expect a game that centers around those position battles that haven't been decided yet. Thursday's game might also be the final opportunity for many of the players on the field to play in the NFL, and they will look to make the best of it.
Location: Sun Life Stadium, Miami
Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV: WFOR CBS4 (Miami-Ft. Lauderdale), WTVX CW34 (West Palm Beach), WBBH NBC2 (Ft. Myers/Naples), WFTV ABC9 (Buccaneers Announcers) and WRDQ Channel 27 (Dolphins Announcers) (Orlando), Fox Sports Florida (Replay—Friday, 1:30 p.m. ET and 10:30 p.m. ET) NFL Network (Replay—Friday, 1 p.m. ET)
Preseason Recap: Dolphins 13, Falcons 9
Miami had plenty of questions surrounding it going into its third preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Many of these questions were answered in ways that Dolphins fans enjoyed.
Dallas Thomas started at left tackle in place of Jason Fox. Thomas was not very effective at the position, nor was Billy Turner very effective at right guard.
Despite that, Ryan Tannehill wasn't sacked, as the Dolphins employed a vanilla, quick-strike offense against the Falcons while the starters were in the game. The Twitter peanut gallery may have beamoned the lack of chances taken by the Dolphins offense, but keep in mind that it's still the preseason, where the main goal is not to get injured.
Tannehill remained upright and completed 15 of 19 passes for 145 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 116.
Since I doubt that Tannehill plays against Tampa Bay, that means his preseason stat line saw him complete 33 of 41 passes for 303 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 121.8.
Miami's run game did struggle, yet running backs Lamar Miller and Jay Ajayi both wound up looking very good when they ran the ball.
The Dolphins' front four was the best part of the night, as it held Atlanta to zero rushing yards in the first half and got to the quarterback six times. Two of those sacks came from starters Earl Mitchell and Cameron Wake, and one sack came from starting linebacker Jelani Jenkins with help from Miami's massive front line.
Speaking of linebackers, this was a fatal flaw, as the only time Atlanta's starting offense could get anything going was by taking advantage of the underneath routes that forced the linebackers to cover the receivers.
This has been a flaw in Miami's defense over the past five years and looks like it will continue to be one despite the dominance that the defensive line has displayed.
News and Notes
Dolphins Shopping Cornerback Will Davis
Miami's 2013 third-round pick, Will Davis, isn't the most disappointing player from that very disappointing draft, but it looks like his time in Miami might be coming to an end.
Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reported that the Dolphins have shopped Davis around this week.
There's good reason why the Dolphins would consider trading Davis. He has been inconsistent throughout his career with the Dolphins, only playing on special teams in 2013. In 2014, Davis got some playing time, but a knee injury suffered in November knocked him out for the rest of the season.
Davis is also playing a very crowded position.
Jamar Taylor and Brice McCain have both been very good this preseason, while fifth-round pick Tony Lippett has looked good in limited action and will likely be kept as a developmental player. Another rookie, Bobby McCain, has also had moments this preseason.
With the exception of Taylor, all of those players were either drafted or signed by Dennis Hickey or Mike Tannenbaum, while Davis was selected by former general manager Jeff Ireland.
Between that and the fact that Davis has been so inconsistent, it would make sense that he'd be the first player released or traded from such a crowded field.
Salguero reported that there's no word on whether or not the Dolphins would release Davis if they can't find any takers for him.
Brandon Fields Released, Matt Darr Named Starting Punter
Punter news, exactly what Dolphins fans look for.
When a punter gets released, it usually isn't a big deal, but in the case of Brandon Fields, this is worth talking about.
Fields, arguably Miami's best punter since Reggie Roby, was released by the Dolphins on Tuesday, per Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel.
The move saves the Dolphins $544,667.
In the article, Kelly criticized the move, noting that punting was a position of strength for the Dolphins. With Darr as the punter, it could still be one. However, considering that a punt is only the third-worst outcome to a drive, this isn't something to harp on.
This signals more confidence in Miami's offense, as it will be expected to score more. That's the message that the team should take away from this.
**Update (9/3/2015, 6:15 p.m.)** DeVante Parker To Start
About an hour and a half prior to kickoff, Greg Likens of the Finsiders reports that DeVante Parker will be starting for the Dolphins against the Buccaneers.
Parker will start at wide receiver alongside Matt Hazel, with McLeod Bethel-Thompson starting at quarterback.
This signals that Parker will be ready to play in Week 1's contest against Washington, but the Dolphins likely want to see him get some snaps in game to get him up to speed before throwing him out there in the regular season.
If Matt Moore were starting, I'd agree with this move since Moore is the second-string quarterback and despite his struggles this preseason he does have a better arm than Bethel-Thompson and will make smarter throws. I'm not so sure it's a good idea with a third-stringer starting at quarterback that by this time next week might be on the practice squad.
Latest Injury News
|DeVante Parker||Wide Receiver||Foot|
|Branden Albert||Left Tackle||Knee|
|Mike Gillislee||Running Back||Quadriceps|
|Anthony Johnson||Defensive Tackle||Foot|
There will be a lot of starters who won't play on Thursday night. However, according to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post, the injuries above are the only ones of note.
Both DeVante Parker and Branden Albert are practicing fully, but there's a good chance that neither of them will be on the field for Week 1. This isn't a bad thing, as the Dolphins' early schedule is workable with the talent on the field and you want both of those players healthy for the stretch run.
Matchups to Watch
Dolphins' Linebackers vs. Buccaneers' Running Backs and Wide Receivers
Beating the Dolphins defense requires the ability to get the ball out of your hands quickly to a speedy wideout or running back and just watching said player break tackles.
It's something the Buccaneers will likely do on offense on Thursday night as they give rookie quarterback Jameis Winston more work to tune up for his first season in the league.
This will test the linebackers more than the secondary and will decide the final team at linebacker.
Dolphins' Offensive Line vs. Buccaneers' Defensive Line
Much like you won't see Miami's first team out there for too long on Thursday, you likely won't see much of Tampa Bay's first team.
Despite that, you can expect to see Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas play plenty of snaps as they fight for the final job at guard.
They will be tested by a tough and deep Buccaneers defensive front. Keep in mind that last preseason, Dallas Thomas had a horrendous performance against this same group.
Neither Turner nor Douglas hope to repeat that performance. As of now, Turner's in the hot seat, as Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported that Douglas is the front-runner for the starting job.
X-Factor of the Week
Dolphins' X-Factor of The Week: Mike Hull
One of the players playing for their future this week is undrafted free-agent linebacker Mike Hull.
Hull was one of my favorite UDFA signings, and he has had a very good preseason.
The problem for Hull is that Zach Vigil has had a better preseason and seems to be a lock to make the final 53-man roster, while free-agent acquisition Spencer Paysinger has experience both on defense and special teams that the Dolphins need just in case anything happens to one of their starters.
One reason to keep Hull is that Pro Football Focus awarded him a plus-3.3 grade, with nothing but positive grades across the board in run coverage, pass coverage and pass-rushing. He has played both on the strong side and in the middle.
Hull's his next chapter with the Dolphins is likely on the practice squad, but he could still make his way onto the final roster with an impressive performance on Thursday.
First prediction: The man in the picture won't play.
On to the real prediction of who will win this game.
Before you scoff and say, "Who cares?" keep in mind that this will be the last preseason game.
So you'd be correct in asking that question since this is a game that doesn't count toward any standings. For some of the players on both teams, though, this is the game of their life, for it could be their final game on an NFL team.
Dreams will come true after Thursday, while other dreams will die. Due to those stakes, the game tends to have a very odd vibe—somewhat like the first preseason game but with an aura of finality to it.
As for the matchups themselves, I'm going to go with the Buccaneers for the simple reason that they'll have their everyday players in the game longer as a young team.
Prediction: Buccaneers 18, Dolphins 13
Stats provided by NFL.com unless otherwise noted.