Countdown to Kickoff: Dolphins-Bucs
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Miami Dolphins in Week Five, and we're counting down the hours to the 1:00 p.m. ET kickoff at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. After a week of preparation, here's what it all comes down to:
Richard Sherman. Sherman has already had his baptism by fire in the Buccaneers' defense, finding out last Friday that he was going to play on Sunday, on Saturday that he was going to start, and about halfway through the game on Sunday night that no subs were coming to give him a break. Four days after signing with the team, he played all but one defensive snap in the Bucs' 17-16 win over the Patriots. Sherman, who has been to five Pro Bowls and is unquestionably one of the best NFL corners of the past decade, expressed a bit of dissatisfaction with his play but also knew that was to be expected after he had been away from the game for so long. After a second week of practice, he should have a better grasp on the Bucs' defensive playbook and perhaps a bit more spring his legs as he rounds back into football shape. With Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting on injured reserve and Jamel Dean still coming back from a knee injury, the Buccaneers will continue to lean on Sherman and his experience as they take on the Dolphins this week. Sherman has the size, length and ball skills to be a good match for Miami's best receiver, the 6-3, 216-pound DeVante Parker.
Leonard Fournette. The Buccaneers got more production out of their backfield in the win over New England than they had in any of their three previous games, and most of it was Fournette's work. The fifth-year back accounted for 139 yards from scrimmage, his best single-game total since joining the Bucs shortly before the start of the 2020 season. That included 20 carries for 91 yards, the most in both categories by any Bucs back this season, and three catches for 47 yards. The Dolphins run a defense that is similar to the Patriots' defense through former New England assistant Brian Flores, and they may choose to take the same approach, daring the Bucs to run while they focus on coverage against the NFL's top passing attack. Tampa Bay played the last game without its primary third-down back, Giovani Bernard, and Bernard was limited in practice this week, too. Fortunately, the Buccaneers also have a lot of confidence in Fournette in the passing game. "He always helps us in the pass game," said Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich. "Every time you look up, he has four or five catches every week – four or five big catches, really. Our [running] backs are part of our passing game all the time – getting open, doing what they need to do. They put the work in day-in and day-out throughout practice to make sure they can be an option in the passing game."
Mike Edwards. Antoine Winfield, Jr. suffered a concussion last Sunday night and was not able to exit the concussion protocol in time to suit up this weekend against the Dolphins. He has been ruled out for the game, which makes Edwards the starter at safety next to Jordan Whitehead. Last year, Edwards gained the reputation of being a ball-hawk, making the most of his somewhat limited playing by frequently getting his hands on the football. He proved that again in Week Two against the Falcons when he became just the second player in team history to record two pick-sixes in a single game. Whitehead and Edwards often share snaps while Winfield stays in for every, but their complementary talents will also work well with them starting together. Winfield is more likely to approach the line of scrimmage and make plays in run support while Edwards is more likely to play centerfield, especially when the Bucs are in a single-high coverage. Edwards is a smart and instinctive player who does best when he has his eyes on the quarterback. The Bucs will miss Winfield's playmaking – he had an interception and a forced fumble in New England – but Edwards will get a chance to show what he can do with a full plate of defensive snaps.