The Miami Dolphins will face their first AFC East test when the Buffalo Bills come to town this Sunday at 1 PM. Miami is currently sitting at second place in the AFC East with a surprising 3-2 record. Buffalo, on the other hand, is last in the division with a 2-4 record, but this Buffalo team should not be overlooked.
Buffalo boasts the third ranked rushing attack at 148.8 yards per game averaging 4.3 yards per carry and has 21 sacks defensively – 8 of those are by “Super” Mario Williams who is having a spectacular season up north. Buffalo is also led defensively by the NFL’s top rookie in LB Kiko Alonso who leads the NFL in total tackles at 66 and is tied for the league lead in interceptions with 4.
Buffalo, however, will be without their first round pick QB EJ Manuel, whom is still nursing an injured knee. QB Thad Lewis will likely get the start after almost pulling off the upset over Cincinnati last weekend. Lewis is nursing an injury also, if he cannot go then recently signed QB Matt Flynn will get the nod.
This should be an exciting game, so let’s dive into a few keys to the game for the Miami Dolphins to secure their 4th victory of the season.
1 — Protect QB Ryan Tannehill. This should be Miami’s biggest concern heading into Sunday against a very stout front four with DE Mario Williams, DT Kyle Williams, DT Marcel Dareus, and DE Alan Branch. Buffalo’s starting four defensive linemen have accounted for 14.5 of the team’s 20 sacks. That’s pretty significant. Miami’s offensive line has struggled to open the season allowing a league high 24 sacks.
The match-up I am most concerned with is DE Mario Williams facing either tackle for Miami – Martin or Clabo. Both Martin and Clabo have struggled this season, while Williams is playing absolutely lights out. If Clabo and Martin can hold their own, I like this offense’s chances of moving the football. If not…yikes.
2 — It’s officially time to pound the football, Mike Sherman. Miami really needs to establish a running game and Buffalo’s defense is the perfect team to do so against allowing 124.2 yards per game on the ground to opposing teams which is ranked 28th in the league. Don’t flatter yourself, though. Miami’s running game averages 69.6 yards per game which is good, well bad, for 29th in the league.
RB Lamar Miller is an electric runner than can break a 50-yard run any time he touches the football – Miller has 50 carries for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns on the season. Miami’s OC Mike Sherman needs to give this guy 20-25 carries Sunday to justify my statement above. If Miller simply cannot get anything going after touching the football that many times, maybe it’s time to look elsewhere? Maybe give rookie RB Mike Gillislee some looks? Is an Maurice Jones-Drew trade in the works?
Miami’s offensive line will play a huge role in the success of the run game Sunday, however. Miami’s offensive line will be facing a strong front, but if they can hold their blocks long enough for RB’s Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas to get to the second level, I like Miami’s chances.
Expect to see a bit of a rotation with G/T Nate Garner and G Danny Watkins splitting some time show casing their abilities for this Miami coaching staff. Especially if Miami either struggles along the offensive line or if Miami gets out to a huge lead.
Use the run to set up play action, something Miami was very good at last season. Remember, Miami cannot win many games with a one dimensional offense.
3 — I’ve been saying it for weeks, this defensive front is capable of collecting a few 8+ sack games. Well, with DE Cameron Wake finally healthy and DE Dion Jordan starting to come into his own, it’s time to justify that statement.
Miami only has 13 sacks as a team, which is a bit surprising given the athletes this defense possesses.
DE Olivier Vernon will likely be facing second-year LT Cordy Glenn Sunday – toss up, both are quite inconsistent.
DE Cameron Wake will likely be facing RT Erik Pears Sunday – Advantage Miami. Wake should own Pears.
DT Paul Soliai will likely be facing LG Colin Brown – Advantage Soliai against the run.
DT Randy Starks will likely be facing RG Kraig Urbik – Toss up. Starks has been playing lights out but expect C Eric Wood to slide over and help Urbik.
With pass rushers Jared Odrick, Derrick Shelby and Dion Jordan also being able to come in and offer up fresh legs, I like Miami’s chances this week against Buffalo’s offensive line which has allowed 20 sacks so far this season.
Expect a Miami pass rusher not named Cameron Wake to break out Sunday. My money will be on DE Olivier Vernon.
4 — It’s time to bottle up RB CJ Spiller and shut down RB Fred Jackson. Miami’s run defense has struggled at times to open the season, but I’m crossing my fingers that they will get themselves back on track Sunday. Miami ranks 15th against the run allowing 105.4 yards per game, not something we want to hear facing the league’s 3rd ranked rushing attack.
Miami struggled containing RB CJ Spiller last season allowing Spiller to run for 229 yards on 44 carries good for a 5.2 yard per carry average. Spiller possesses an attribute that this Miami defense tends to struggle against, and that is speed. What will help Miami’s chances, however, is the fact that Spiller is nursing an injury that has been holding him back for quite a while this season.
Even so, Miami must focus on shutting down Spiller, Jackson and Tashard Choice, the ex-Dallas Cowboy, and put the pressure on QB Thad Lewis to beat them.
Miami may be without MLB Dannell Ellerbe this Sunday. And according to multiple sources, the team has been preparing as if Ellerbe cannot play. If Ellerbe cannot go, LB Jason Trusnik will unfortunately get the nod. While I would much rather see rookie LB Jelani Jenkins or LB Josh Kaddu get a look – they possess more athleticism than Trusnik – it seems as though Trusnik will indeed get the start.
Cross your fingers for Ellerbe to miraculously heal and play at a high level Sunday, Miami fans.
5 — Just play a clean game all around, please. Miami needs to do a few things to play a “clean” game. First off, the team needs to clean up their penalties which they have been pretty darn good at so far this season. Miami ranks as the least penalized team offensively at 21 and 12th defensively with 31 giving them a grand total of 52 on the season thus far. Penalties will kill a team, therefore playing clean is a must against a division foe.
Secondly, Miami must convert on third downs. Miami opened the season as one of the best teams on third downs. While Miami still converts on 40% of their third downs, I want to see that number much higher this week. If the team can get themselves converting on say 55-65% of their third downs, I like their chances.
Which brings us to our next point, allow WR Brandon Gibson to assert himself as Mr. Third Down. Gibson has to be your go-to guy this week if you are QB Ryan Tannehill. Two weeks ago, Tannehill’s weapons really killed their chances to win that game against Baltimore in the closing minutes outside of Gibson. If it’s 3rd and 5, I’m looking for Gibson this week against Buffalo’s beat up secondary.
Lastly, really…run the football.
Miami really needs to run the football this week against Buffalo. Are you sick of me saying that yet? Good. If Miami can do so and shut down Buffalo’s three headed run game to force QB Thad Lewis to beat them with his arm, I really like Miami’s chances. Miami’s defense is quite a bit faster than Cincinnati’s defense and I favor Miami’s secondary over Cincinnati’s.
It should be a great game, but I am going to have to side with my Dolphins in this one. If QB EJ Manuel was healthy and could play, I think Buffalo would put up quite a challenge for these Dolphins, but we’ll save that one for a few weeks. I think RB Lamar Miller has a big day and finally gets more than 14 carries in a game.
Miami wins this one 27-20.