The Miami Dolphins (8-6) will shift their focus towards the AFC East rival Buffalo Bills (5-9) this weekend for their second-to-last game of the regular season. Miami is in dire need of a win in this one to keep pace with the Baltimore Ravens (8-6) for the final AFC wild-card spot.
Buffalo was able to come up with the 23-21 victory when these two teams last met during week 7, and will be starting QB Thad Lewis again in place of rookie EJ Manuel due to a sprained knee. Miami made their share of mistakes last time around committing 3 costly turnovers, while also allowing Buffalo to convert on numerous third and long situations.
The big question on everyone’s mind this week has to be if Miami can over-come their division rivals to show that they belong in the playoffs.
Here are some keys to victory for the Miami Dolphins this weekend:
—- QB Ryan Tannehill needs to play lights out for the second straight week.
Last week, Ryan Tannehill out-dueled Tom Brady, completing 25 of 37 passes for 312 yards and 3 touchdowns. I’m not sure what’s more impressive, the fact that Tannehill was turnover-free, or the fact that he was on target with the majority of his throws giving his receivers a chance to make a play on the football.
Tannehill will need to continue his hot play in this one facing one of the league’s best pass defense units, ranking 6th against the pass, while also intercepting 20 passes on the season.
Miami’s second-year QB struggled against Buffalo when they last met, throwing two costly interceptions, while also fumbling away Miami’s last hope. Literally.
If Tannehill and co. can get themselves on page early, and he can prove to show some poise, pocket awareness, and good decision making, the sky is the limit.
—- Shutting down RB’s Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller is a must.
Miami did a decent job shutting these two down during their week 7 match up, on paper that is. Spiller was dealing with some ankle trouble, therefore he did not see the field much and only rushed for 11 yards on 6 carries. Jackson, on the other hand, hurt his knee early in the first quarter and only received 11 carries, while rushing for 36 yards and a key touchdown.
Please, do not be mistaken, though. These two are quite capable of taking over a game. Both running backs have over 700 yards on the season, and Jackson has 7 touchdowns, while Spiller has 2.
Miami’s run defense has actually been the weak-point of their defense this season, which honestly feels a little weird saying with confidence. Miami’s linebacker make-over has not panned out, and it really, really shows. Dannell Ellerbe couldn’t wrap up a tackling dummy, and Philip Wheeler is about as inconsistent as they come.
Keep an eye on rookie linebacker Jelani Jenkins in this one. He’s been seeing an increase in playing time due to Wheeler’s inability to consistently cover absolutely anyone, and he has done well thus far. He has speed and can tackle well, which is something Miami could use in this one.
—- Third down efficiency is a must for the remainder of the season for Miami.
When these two teams last met, Buffalo was 47% on third downs….Miami, was 23% on third downs converting just 3 of 13 attempts. That has to change in this one for Miami to have any chance to leave Buffalo with a win.
Miami’s offense has struggled this season converting 36% of it’s third downs. While we could sit here and bitch about their inability to run the football effectively, or their awful, rather atrocious, offensive coordinator, the truth is that this team has struggled for much of the season when it comes down to execution.
Miami is in the thick of the playoff hunt, and really they control their own destiny with Baltimore and Cincinnati facing each other next week, therefore execution on third downs from here on out is a must.
—- Turn up the intensity on defense.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has baffled me a bit this season with his play calling and his game plan against certain teams, but I have faith in the guy. Coyle needs to turn up the blitz in this one with WR Stevie Johnson and QB EJ Manuel both out.
DE Olivier Vernon has been a pleasant surprise this season, grabbing 11.5 sacks opposite all-pro DE Cameron Wake, who has 8.5 on the season. Coyle has nice depth along the defensive line, along with great athleticism at linebacker, therefore, why not bring the blitz and force Thad Lewis to beat you deep?
Miami may be without CB Brent Grimes AND CB Nolan Carroll in this one, therefore bringing the blitz and forcing Lewis to throw the ball under pressure will only help your young secondary.
—- Pound it inside all game long on offense.
During their last meeting, Miami gained 120 yards on the ground, Daniel Thomas leading the way with 60 yards on 12 carries. Mike Sherman should make this a statement game for his running game by attacking Buffalo’s 26th ranked rush defense allowing 127.3 yards per game to opposing teams.
Lamar Miller saw a nice work load last week against New England, gaining 61 yards on 15 carries, while Daniel Thomas only received 5 carries for 16 yards after a huge 16 carry-105 yard performance against Pittsburgh.
Can Miami actually find success on the ground and make a statement by showing teams that their running backs must be feared? We shall see.
This will be an interesting game to say the least. Miami has struggled handling Buffalo consistently each year for quite some time, but tends to play well while visiting Buffalo.
I would love to call a blow-out, but I cannot see it this week. Buffalo always plays Miami tough, Thad Lewis or EJ Manuel, they will be tough. But Miami has confidence and momentum on their side right now playing for a playoff spot. Buffalo has nothing to play for except pride and, well, dropping their draft position.
Miami – 24 Buffalo – 20
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