Buffalo Bills (4-2) @ Miami Dolphins (2-4)
Sunday October 23, 1:00 EST – Hard Rock Stadium
Betting Line: Buffalo -3
My longing for the 2017 NFL draft is put on hold for at least another week as the Dolphins put a beating on one of the NFL’s elite teams. Now, the team turns its attention to the biggest thorn in the side of the organization for the last three years, the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills have put together a four game winning streak at the hands of the Jacoby Brissett led Patriots, Cardinals, Rams and 49ers. The real test, for the Bills, comes in these next four games traveling to Miami, back home for the Patriots (with Brady this time) then on the road to Seattle and Cincinnati. The Dolphins were raked over the coals for losing those exact three games so the Bills could be coming down to earth shortly.
That, of course, enters the discussion of a trap game. At 4-2, an easy victory in this game would preclude a massive AFC East showdown with first place on the line in week eight. Can Rex get his team up for a game against the lowly Dolphins?
The underdog role at home is a fortuitous one. Typically, home dogs feel disrespected and play with a greater energy. We saw it last week with the Steelers coming to town expecting a cake walk. Instead, they ran into a buzz saw with the healthy Dolphins offensive line and a highly spirted defense getting after Pittsburgh and embarrassing them on both fronts.
Can the Dolphins match that intensity in this game? That remains to be seen as consistency has been a major issue with this team for a number of years. Pittsburgh was an incredibly encouraging showing, but beating Buffalo before the bye will restore hope.
The offensive line is healthy again, but the defense lost its most important cog as Reshad Jones is now done for the season. This injury has been countered by the doubtful status of LeSean McCoy, who has been shredding everyone through six games.
Regardless, the Bills still want to run the ball. The left side of the offensive line is as good as there is in the league with Cordy Glenn at left tackle, former Dolphin Richie Incognito at left guard and center Eric Wood. The Bills line-up with little disguise and run the ball downhill with power plays, traps and a steady commitment to run regardless the down and distance.
Tyrod Taylor still isn’t a great passer from the pocket with his intermediate and short game, but he’s certainly capable of beating defenses with his legs as well as the long ball. He’s the best running quarterback in the game capable of making something out of nothing on any given play.
The Dolphins wide-9 defense figures to offer its best chance to slow Taylor, just as it did with a similar player in Seattle with their quarterback, Russell Wilson. The ends will rush to a spot that forces Taylor up into the pocket rather than giving him avenues to break contain either left or right. Cameron Wake saw a healthy amount of snaps last week, but they will need to rotate him and Mario Williams to keep them fresh enough to chase Taylor around all game.
From that edge, Jordan Mills will be protecting that right side. When the Dolphins played the Bears in 2014, Cam Wake enjoyed one of his best pass rushing performances as a pro pressuring Jay Cutler on 19% of his pass rush snaps and registering a strip sack and fumble recovery.
John Miller is the right guard tasked with dealing with Ndamukong Suh. The more imperative match-up comes from the nose guard (or 1 technique) be it Jordan Phillips or Chris Jones. This is where I think the Dolphins lose the game as Buffalo can handle Phillips, focus more attention on Suh, and force the Miami linebackers to make quick decisions – something they struggle with.
Kiko Alonso, and Mario Williams for that matter, need to be energy sources in this game playing their former team. You just know Rex Ryan is going to make Mike Gillislee and Charles Clay focal points of this game. Alonso needs to be on top of his game making proper run fits, forcing the Bills into third and longs and playing coverage against Taylor.
Offensively for the Dolphins, I have bought my ticket and boarded the Jay Train. This team should be built around a strong running game and the play action game for a number of reasons:
1.) Ryan Tannehill is a play action quarterback. He’s most effective when the ground game is moving and he can get moving on the rollout and develop a rhythm early. He had more simplified reads in the Pittsburgh game and the same thing will help them beat Buffalo. The Bills like to attack with blitzes in the run and pass game with their linebackers so more misdirection and using the momentum against those guys should be the plan once again.
2.) Playing in Miami in September and October is difficult. Go back to the Ricky Williams era (the first time) and those 5-1, 4-2 starts to seasons were because we gassed teams on defense and Ricky popped a long touchdown run to ice it, not unlike Jay Ajayi’s 62 yard scamper last week. Run 15 more plays than the Bills and you will beat them.
3.) Imposing your will on a team sets the tone of a football game. It is so cliché to say, but the Steelers wanted no part of that fourth quarter while our entire team played with a level of confidence and bravado we hadn’t previously seen.
The Bills will create turnovers and pressure the quarterback. Playing this game close to the vest and utilizing the short passing game to Jarvis Landry again, getting the tight ends going across the formation and attacking the flats will keep these aggressive linebackers honest. I hate to see the EXACT same play this week, but the match-up really does call for it.
We need to see a larger role and better performance from Devante Parker. His first quarter dropped touchdown pass from last week can’t happen again. He needs to win his match-up with Stephon Gilmore and put the Bills secondary on notice.
This is a statement game for the Dolphins as far as I’m concerned. We had plenty of “statement” games in the Joe Philbin era and even when we won them, we’d typically come out with an egg-laying performance the following week (Tampa Bay 2013 says hello.)
But the way the Dolphins responded after the 1-4 start and a healthy offense was impressive. You have my curiosity, Coach Gase, but a win over Buffalo will get my attention. If this team can match that intensity for a second straight week and take down a team that, frankly, has prevented them from post-season play in two of the last three years, consider me vastly impressed.
Ryan Tannehill checked one game off his final 11 game evaluation stretch as a positive performance. Exercising this Buffalo Bills demon would not just be huge for the team, but for the 28 year old quarterback (hey, we’re the same age, that is neat!)
With all of that said, my faith in this run defense still isn’t strong. I need one more piece of proof from this group before I buy back in (and then we inevitably lose to the Jets anyway, right?)
This is going to be a close contest. I believe the Dolphins are still learning how to win and I think this game comes down to who runs the football better. You have to give that advantage to the top rushing team in football and the fifth highest scoring offense in the league.
And if that late game winner is a Dan Carpenter kick or Gillislee or Clay touchdown, Perfectville will be a sad town come Monday.
Until then, Dolphins fans, FINS UP!
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