The Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers play this evening and the two fanbases could not be entering the game feeling much differently. While the Bucs were embarrassed at the hands of the New England Patriots last week, the Dolphins won handily against the Carolina Panthers. More importantly, for the first time in a long time, Dolphins fans saw some promise on the offensive side of the football. Reggie Bush looked potent both as a runner and a passer, Chad Henne actually looked solid for a change and the team moved the ball all first half with relative ease. Defensively the Dolphins enter the season looking stout, after finishing 6th last year, the Fins have upgraded at middle linebacker and will get back Jared Odrick, Philip Merling and AJ Edds after missing them almost all of last season. We had a chance to talk with our friends at PhinPhanatic, FanSided’s Dolphins blog, and this is what they had to say about tonight’s game and this season. You can read my answers here.
After going 11-5 and winning the division in his first year, Tony Sparano has been 7-9 the past two seasons and the team looked into a coaching season this offseason. Has Sparano lost the team? And how short is his leash? Could he be a mid-season firing?
PhinPhanatic: I sure hope not. It’s embarrassing to fire a coach mid-year, I hope it doesn’t come to that. As per losing the team I think you’ll find more of the players are loyal to Sparano than they are to the front office. With Sparano, what you see is what you get. He’s very frank with his players, the expectations are right up front, if you work hard and meet expectations then he will do well by you as a player. I think for the most part guys like that kind of environment. The problem with Sparano has been the offense more than anything. The last two years the Dolphins have just employed a very vanilla, very unimaginative style of offense. It was not well suited to Chad Henne’s strengths and there was this unreasonable rigidity from the offensive coordinator that they were going to continue to hammer a square peg into a round hole instead of being pragmatic and trying to go with what worked. That sounds funny considering the wildcat was brought to Miami in a fit of pragmatism, but it’s been an issue. Now with Brian Daboll calling the plays, fans hope that the offense is going to be a bit more potent. Last week looked pretty good too, there’s a bit of hope now.
How is Chad Henne?
PP: I’m still not entirely sure that he’s the right guy to go into the season with myself, but at this point, it looks like he’s going to be the one to start. Personally, I think it’s all about confidence. There have been times when Henne looked the part of an NFL starter, there have been others where he looked like a JV Scout team QB. But I’ll be honest, the fans do him no favors. He got booed the opening day of camp, people almost blame him for the teams struggles the past two seasons. There’s almost a tangible resentment towards him from parts of the fan-base. Truthfully, he hasn’t been put in the best position to succeed either. He’s been looking over his shoulder most of the time, he was in an offense that played to Chad Pennington’s strengths and almost exploited the holes in his game. I think if Miami commits to him for the full season and tries to build his confidence up that he may actually surprise people. He has all the tools, he’s got a howitzer on his shoulder and this season he’s in a better situation. But it’s all going to come down to his mental make up.
What can we expect in tonight’s game?
PP: The starters will play into the third. I expect Miami to want to carry over the momentum from last week’s first half and play well against a much better team. I’m anxious to see how the defense looks in particular and what kind of pressure they try to dial up to confuse the Buccaneers young offense. Miami is very deep along its line and they have some talented pass-rushers at outside linebacker (and inside as well). I’m curious to see how much of the defensive playbook Mike Nolan tries to throw at Josh Freeman and how the defense looks covering a dynamic young offense with a lot of power and speed. I also want to see if Chad Henne can have another good week, maybe toss a few into the end zone. The Dolphins have and continue to be a run-first team under Tony Sparano, but they have assembled to good weapons in the passing game and I’d like to see Chad Henne show us what they can do.
Anything in particular you’re going to be taking an interest in tonight?
PP: How the Dolphins cover Kellen Winslow. It’s a well know fact in Miami that the Fins can’t seem to cover the tight end. Kellen Winslow is one of the most athletic ones in the league and he will be playing tonight, I’m curious to see how AJ Edds and Kevin Burnett can handle Winslow in the passing game. Part of why Miami acquired both players (drafting Edds, signing Burnett) was for their skills in pass coverage, it’s time to test their mettle.
Predictions? For tonight and this season?
PP: Tonight, I like the Fins 31-17.
For the season I’m going to go 9-7, I think the Dolphins will surprise some people this season.