WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
SPREAD: Bucs by 4
WHERE THE DOLPHINS STAND: The Miami Dolphins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers matchup will be both teams' first preseason game of the 2002 season.
DOLPHINS HEAD COACH: Dave Wannstedt (1-1 all-time vs. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden).
DOLPHINS OFFENSIVE COORINATOR: Norv Turner
DOLPHINS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jim Bates
DOLPHINS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Keith Armstrong
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL (2001):
OFFENSE OVERALL: 26th (tied) RUSHING: 30th PASSING: 15th
DEFENSE OVERALL: 6th RUSHING: 12th PASSING: 5th
HOW THE DOLPHINS RANK IN THE NFL (2001):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 21st RUSHING: 23rd PASSING: 19th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 5th RUSHING: 17th PASSING: 1st
MATCHUP TO WATCH Dolphins RB Ricky Williams vs. Bucs MLB Shelton Quarles:
Miami pulled off a huge trade just before the 2002 NFL Draft when they sent draft picks to New Orleans in exchange for running back Ricky Williams. Miami's ground attack ranked 23rd in the league last season, which is why they traded for the Saints' 1999 first round draft pick. Williams carried the Saints' offense on his back by rushing for 1,245 yards (4.0 avg.) and six touchdowns last season. Williams also is a serious receiving threat – he hauled in 60 passes last season for 511 yards and scored one touchdown. The 5-foot-10, 230-pound running back is a legitimate power back. He's put back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and he hopes to add a third this season as a Dolphin.
The Buccaneers' run defense dropped off last season, and they'll have to improve against the run this season if they want to be considered a dominant defense again. Tampa Bay has a question mark at its middle linebacker position. The team is high on Shelton Quarles, who moved from strongside linebacker to the middle to replace Jamie Duncan during the offseason. The Bucs might be high on Quarles, but the truth is that the team will not know what they've got at the middle linebacker position until he's played in some games. Quarles can't stop Williams on his own, but he'll certainly play a big part in stuffing the run on Monday night. Quarles brings speed to the middle linebacker position, and he's added about 12 pounds since the Bucs moved him to the middle at the beginning of the offseason. If the Bucs are going to contain Williams and Co., Quarles will have to stay disciplined, hit the right gaps and wrap up the elusive Williams on Monday night.
TURNOVER BATTLE: The Miami Dolphins finished the 2001 season with a minus-13 turnover ratio. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were just the opposite, as they finished the 2001 season with a plus-17 turnover ratio.
Miami starting quarterback Jay Fiedler thew 19 interceptions last season, including 15 during an eight-game stretch. New Dolphins running back Ricky Williams has a reputation for putting the football on the ground from time to time. He fumbled the ball 20 times in three seasons with the New Orleans Saints, including eight last year.
FIEDLER EXPECTED TO START AT QB FOR MIAMI:
Dolphins starting quarterback Jay Fiedler underwent surgery to repair a tear in his left hip joint on July 13. While he's been throwing the ball on the side, Fiedler has missed all of Miami's contact workouts since the team began training camp on July 29. But Fiedler recently returned to full-contact drills and barring any setbacks, he is expected to start at quarterback for the Dolphins on Monday night.
BEWARE OF MIAMI'S SECONDARY:
The Dolphins lost starting strong safety Brian Walker in free agency, but Miami's secondary still is one of the best in the NFL. Cornerbacks Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain are one of the best duos in the league. Neither Madison nor Surtain are turnover machines, but they have excellent coverage skills and are very disciplined against the run. Dolphins free safety Brock Marion led the team in interceptions last season with five. He returned two of those for touchdowns. The Buccaneers, who ranked 30th in rushing offense last season, must establish the run against the Dolphins' defense on Monday night. Miami's secondary is too good to pass on all night, so Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman and Co. have to move the chains for the offense.
BUCS CORNERS MUST CONTAIN DOLPHINS WR CHAMBERS:
Tampa Bay starting cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly have faced some talented receivers before, but they'll have their work cut out for them when they attempt to contain Dolphins second-year WR Chris Chambers. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound 2001 rookie sensation is Miami's speed and deep threat, and neither Barber nor Kelly have the speed to keep up with Chambers in a footrace. Last season, Chambers hauled in 48 catches for 883 yards (18.4 avg.) and seven touchdowns as the No. 3 receiver. Chambers is now a starter, and he'll certainly benefit from the addition of offensive coordinator/guru Norv Turner. Both Barber and Kelly have good coverage skills, but they'll have to bump Miami's speedy receiver if they want to keep Chambers in check on Monday night.
BUCS SOUND OFF ON THE MIAMI DOLPHINS:
BUCS DT WARREN SAPP ON THE BUCS-DOLPHINS RIVALRY:
"I think a lot of these guys know each other, and we're all competing in the state of Florida. Although we're not in the same conference, both teams know a lot about each other. You've got to respect Miami. This is as hard a team as there is in football to throw the ball against. The statistics are well-documented over the last four or five years. Offensively, with Norv Turner and the return of Jay Fiedler, (plus) Ricky Williams, this is going to be a really good Dolphin football team."
SAPP ON DOLPHINS GUARD MARK DIXON:
"Solid. [He] always has been. [He's] probably the most solid guard I've faced all year long because I never get to face him. I only get him in preseason. It's kind of strange."
SAPP ON WHAT HE WANTS TO SEE ON MONDAY NIGHT:
"I'm waiting to see this Bucs defense turn back tight again. We were a little loose, had a little screws loose. My plate is full, so I'm not worried about what [Bucs head coach] Jon [Gruden] and his boys have to get done. That Miami offense is similar to Jon's. [There are] a lot of switches, a lot of formations and a lot of motion. Different things that sometimes get you out of wack if you are not on the detail. That's usually how we prepare ourselves each day- on the detail. It went pretty well this morning."
BUCS WLB DERRICK BROOKS ON THE IMPORTANCE OF STOPPING THE RUN:
"We have to go out there and stop the run, period. That sets up everything and you make a team one-dimensional. That means we can dictate some things and that lets our big guns go. Monte (Kiffin) can make calls and mix his blitzes up. That will make us a more dangerous defense once we stop the run. Our attitude this year is to basically shut down the run, so we can go out there and take over the ball game."
BUCS HEAD COACH JON GRUDEN ON WHO WILL PLAY ON MONDAY NIGHT AND FOR HOW LONG:
"Brad [Johnson] will play a couple series. He won't play much longer than that. [RB's] Mike Pittman, Mike Alstott, [OL's] Kerry Jenkins and Jeff Christy [will play] similar roles. Then we will start to substitute. Some of the starters will play a little bit longer than others, but Brad will play a couple series and Rob Johnson will finish the first half. We'll see how the half unfolds, and he [Rob Johnson] might start the third quarter. We might just let Shaun King play the second half."
GRUDEN ON THE BUCS' GOALS FOR MONDAY'S GAME:
"We want to come together as a football team, obviously. We want to play well, we want to execute and we want to play a physical football game. We want to win, [but] at the same time, we want to play a lot of guys. [I'll] really take a look at the special teams film, who's helping us in the kicking game, and get our guys acclimated to game situations. At the same time, we have to evaluate a lot of players."
GRUDEN ON IF HIS FIRST BUCS HOME GAME IS SPECIAL TO HIM:
"Every time I step foot in there [Raymond James Stadium], it's going to mean a lot to me. That's our stadium. I think we all hold it in high regard, and we want to play well in front of our fans. But at the same time, we have 87 or 88 guys on this team, and there is a good chance that just about all of them are going to play."
Starters typically play about two or three series in the first preseason game of the year, but Bucs head coach Jon Gruden may keep some of his starters in as long as one quarter. Why? Well, Gruden wants to get a look at some of his players in different packages and different situations.
Miami has a playoff-caliber team, which means Tampa Bay will have a tough game on Monday night. The Dolphins are a solid team, but they tend to turn the ball over, which is something Tampa Bay has made teams pay for in the past.
What do the Bucs have to do in order to defeat the Dolphins? Well, it's easier said than done, but the Pewter Pirates will have to stop Miami's rushing attack, including QB Jay Fiedler, who is quite mobile. Both Tampa Bay Pro Bowl CB Ronde Barber and CB Brian Kelly must contain wide receivers Chris Chambers and Oronde Gadsden. The Bucs' defensive line can help both Barber and Kelly by putting pressure on Fiedler early and often. Although Miami's offensive line was suspect at times last season, Fiedler was sacked just 27 times due to his elusiveness and mobility.
Although Miami's secondary is the strength of its defense, Tampa Bay may attempt to open up its running game by passing first. It should be interesting to see how Bucs RB Michael Pittman and Co. fare against Miami's defensive line, which ranked 17th against the run last season.
Last, but not least, Tampa Bay's offensive line must protect its quarterbacks. The Bucs have apparently upgraded this group, which gave up a whopping 47 sacks last season, with left tackle Roman Oben, left guard Kerry Jenkins and offensive coordinator Bill Muir. Oben should start at left tackle for the Bucs, and he'll have the tough task holding off Miami Pro Bowl DE Jason Taylor's speedy pass rush. Keep an eye on Kenyatta Walker, who will likely start at right tackle for the Pewter Pirates. Tampa Bay will have a hard time winning this game, or any game for that matter, if the offensive line can't protect the quarterbacks better than it did last season.
FLYNN'S PICK Bucs 20 Dolphins 13
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