As a visiting team, Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo is one of the toughest venues to play in—especially in late December with your backup quarterback under center. Without help from the running game and the defense, Matt Moore will have a difficult time achieving the Dolphins goal of coming out of upstate New York with a win.
Dolphins’ fans, often perturbed by their beloved team’s performances in crucial games, will have to endure, once again, the same unsettling feeling to which they’ve grown accustomed as a fan this Saturday as they take on the Buffalo Bills.
To add insult to injury for the Dolphins, this crucial matchup with the Buffalo Bills will take place on Christmas Eve. Consequently, Dolphins’ fans will be asked to forgo partaking in any of their family’s time-honored holiday traditions between roughly 1:00 pm and 4:30 pm EST. Instead, fans of the aqua and orange will have to endure a nerve-racking experience that they never would have expected 11 weeks ago: watching their Miami Dolphins play in a meaningful game in late December.
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In fact, if the Dolphins beat the Bills on Saturday and the Denver Broncos lose to the Kansas City Chiefs the following day on Christmas, the Dolphins will secure a spot in the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2008. Despite the excitement swirling around the Dolphins organization and the chance of having a very merry Christmas, this week’s opponent, the Buffalo Bills, pose a major threat to the team’s playoff hopes and are a potential buzz kill for their holiday season.
Currently, the Bills are ranked first in the NFL in both rushing yards (2,290) and yards per rushing attempt (5.5). The Dolphins, on the other hand, are one of the worst teams at defending the run, allowing 132.5 rushing yards per game, which ranks 30th in that category.
All throughout the year, the Bills have relied heavily on the legs of Pro Bowler LeSean McCoy and quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Despite their dominant ground assault, however, the Bills’ running game has been stopped twice this season; once by the best defense in the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens and, oddly enough, another time by the Miami Dolphins.
Of course, it will be a tall order to fill for the Dolphins to hold the Bills to less than 100 yards rushing. But if you recall, the Dolphins achieved this feat when the two teams first met in Miami in October. In that game, the Dolphins’ defense held the Bills to 67 yards rushing on 22 carries (an average of just 3 yards per attempt). Equally as dominant that day was the Dolphins’ offense, which gutted the Bills’ defense for 256 rushing yards behind Jay Ajayi’s historic 214-yard performance.
Of course, this game isn’t in Miami in October; a forecast of 80 degrees and sunshine isn’t likely. In contrast, this game will be a typical winter’s day in dreary upstate New York—very cold (mid-30s), cloudy, and wind gusts expecting to reach 12 mph. It’s likely that this game will resemble the NFL of yesteryear, with the victor being the one who wins the battle in the trenches.
Jay Ajayi appears to be a shadow of his former self. The second-year running back hasn’t topped 100 yards rushing in the Dolphins last six games. During this span, Ajayi’s average per carry has been an abysmal 3.47 yards. Evidently, some of Ajayi’s struggles have come due to the absence of Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey. However, it seems as if the J-Train has lost some of his vision and locomotive power.
Reviewing their last five games, however, the Bills aren’t necessarily the same defense they once were, which is fantastic news for the Miami Dolphins. During this span, the Bills have surrendered 762 rushing yards on 159 carries, allowing teams an average of almost 4.8 yards per carry.
Could this be the game that Ajayi and the Dolphins redeem themselves and prove to their critics that they can, in fact, physically dominate opposing defenses again? Or will this game be another reminder of how much the Dolphins’ offensive line struggles running the ball without Mike Pouncey?
For the Dolphins—or any team, for that matter—to win late in December, running the ball and stopping the run is paramount. If the Dolphins don’t want to suffer another loss in Buffalo in late December, they must stop the Bills prolific rushing attack and commit themselves to running the football on offense.
Interestingly enough, the last time the Dolphins won in Buffalo was in 2011. In that game, the Dolphins rushed for 254 yards. Their quarterback? Matt Moore.