The Miami Dolphins (4-9) travel to Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday to face the Buffalo Bills (5-8) in this AFC East matchup. The Dolphins won the first meeting between these two teams 35-8 on November 20th at Sun Life Stadium, and also won the last time they traveled to Buffalo 15-10 in September of last year. Miami holds the series lead 54-36-1 and this game marks the first head coaching assignment for Miami’s interim coach Todd Bowles. He’s facing a team that has lost six straight games after starting the season 5-2, and Miami is looking to win the first of three-straight match-ups against division opponents to close the season. Here are some of the keys to this Sunday’s game.
1) Defense Must Lead The Way – The uncertainty at the quarterback position for the Dolphins this week (Matt Moore’s head injury could force JP Losman to start), the defense must set the tone and lead the way to victory. They will be facing a Buffalo offense that has taken a major step backwards over the last six weeks. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s numbers have drastically declined during the losing streak (throwing only six touchdowns and nine interceptions over the last six weeks) compared to 14 touchdowns and only seven interceptions when leading the Bills to a 5-2 record out of the gates! The Bills offensive line has given up a league low 17 sacks this season, and Fitzpatrick loves to take quick drops and deliver the football on time. Players like linebackers Jason Taylor (two sacks last week against the Eagles) and Cam Wake must find a way to break down the Bills offensive line and get to Fitzpatrick. Buffalo’s offense has changed since the last meeting because of the injury to running back Fred Jackson, and that’s put more pressure on the passing game. Winning on first down will help defensive coordinator Mike Nolan dial up different looks and pressures to keep the Dolphins defense aggressive.
2) O-Line Needs To Play Better – Last Sunday’s game is not one that will make the highlight reel for anyone that played on the offensive line for the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins gave up nine sacks, 11 tackles for loss and nine hits on the quarterback. Miami lost it’s best lineman in offensive tackle Jake Long early in the first half, and starting right guard Vernon Carey aggravated the ankle injury that kept him out of the entire second half of the Eagles game. Their availability for this week’s contest is in question, but back-ups Nate Garner and John Jerry have received plenty of work and reps to prepare if they’re needed to start on Sunday. Center Mike Pouncey has been nicked over the last few weeks, but his aggressiveness and mean streak has been a bright spot for this unit. Veterans Richie Ingognito and Marc Colombo have been consistent over the last few weeks, and will need to continue to as they will face dominate players like Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and linebacker Chris Kelsay. They will also need to provide running room for running backs Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas, and that should take the pressure off of Moore or Losman to make so many plays on third down.
3) Beating Buffalo And The Conditions – No matter what the forecast calls for on Saturday night, it always seems to change come Sunday morning! You always here it’s the same for both teams and that’s true for most of the players, but not for the specialists! Sometimes the game can come down to how well the kickers and punters react to the cold and windy conditions. The weather can play a part in the return game as well trying to adjust to a punt or kick return opportunity. It will be important that the Dolphins special teams win the third of the game against Buffalo. Special teams coach Darren Rizzi has found a way to change the field position (blocked punt against Philadelphia that led directly to a Moore to Marshall touchdown, and better production in both the kick-off and punt return game), and that could be the difference between winning and losing.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.