Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Buccaneers are strong defensively at home
When it comes to defense, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prefer home cooking. How else do you explain a team that allows only 15.2 points per game at home and 33 points on the road?
When asked about the reason for the disparity, defensive coordinator Mike Smith zeroed in on one area.
"We haven't done a very good job of stopping the run," Smith said. "I think that's the common denominator. You can look back to the Arizona game. When you get yourself in unfavorable third-down matchups, it's tough. It's a lot easier to call a game. It's a lot easier to go out and get after a quarterback when you've got them in third-and-10, third-and-nine, third-and-14 - even so when you have them in second-and-10 or second-and-11. That puts you into more of a pass mode and that gives you a little bit more flexibility in terms of what personnel groupings you can put out there on the field."
Fortunately for the Bucs, when they play the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m., they won't have to face running back Jay Ajayi, who was traded to the Eagles.
"He is a stud," Smith said. "He is no longer there."
In other words, the Dolphins have lost their identity on offense and have put more on veteran quarterback Jay Cutler.
The Bucs beat Cutler when he was with the Bears in Tampa last season, so they are familiar with him. But until Sunday's 15-10 win over the Jets, Smith's defense has had trouble putting pressure on the quarterback. They entered Sunday's game against the Jets with only eight sacks on the season before sacking Josh McCown six times.
"We performed better in terms of rushing the passer, but as I just mentioned, it's a lot easier to rush when it's third-and-10, third-and-12 and third-and-14," Smith said. "You get in those situations by winning first down and getting ahead of the chains. Your game plan and your playbook get a lot bigger and you've got a lot more flexibility when you're in those downs and distances because pretty much everybody knows what is going to happen when you're in those."
It also helps when you have a lead in the game. The Bucs had not scored first and maintained the lead throughout the game since Week 2 until they did it against the Jets.
At 3-6, Tampa Bay is having one of the most disappointing seasons in recent history. But it's not too late to get on some kind of run.
Unfortunately, they will have to start it without quarterback Jameis Winston, who will miss his second straight game with a shoulder injury.
Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick did not play all that well in his first start for Tampa Bay, completing half his passes for 187 yards with one touchdown and one interception. But he won the game, and this week, he will have the services of his top receiver, Mike Evans, who returns from a one-game suspension.
The Dolphins are reeling, having lost three straight and allowed 40, 27 and 45 points in the process.
SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 5-5 with the Bucs winning four of the past five meetings. Their last game was a 23-19 win by the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium in 2013. The Bucs are 1-3 in games played at Miami.