The Miami Dolphins will be looking to get their 2013 season back on track in Week 7 versus the division rival Buffalo Bills.
Joe Philbin’s Dolphins might be losers of two consecutive games, but losing to perhaps the class of the NFC on the road and the defending Super Bowl champions is nothing to be ashamed of. And Miami could be the healthiest it’s been since Week 1 after healing up during its bye week.
Despite sitting in the cellar of the AFC East with a 2-4 record, the Bills are a competitive football team. They beat the same Ravens that the Dolphins couldn’t, and were nearly able to pull off upsets versus AFC contending teams in the Patriots and Bengals.
Let’s begin previewing a vital matchup for the Dolphins by seeing which team has the edge:
Dolphins pass defense vs. Bills passing attack
The Dolphins get somewhat of a break against the Bills being that they won’t have to face rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, who was solid during his first five starts. But they shouldn’t take new starter Thad Lewis lightly.
Lewis suffered a sprained foot versus the Bengals this past Sunday, but all indications are pointing to him still being able to play in Miami. And during his second start as a pro, Lewis threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score against the same Cincinnati defense the great Tom Brady completed less than 50 percent of his passes against a week prior.
But the Dolphins won’t go into this game as blind as the Bengals were. They have whole afternoon of game film on Lewis and how the Bills used him. Miami must be wary of Lewis’ ability to beat them with his arm or his legs, but defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s first priority should be containing Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller and the Bills high-powered running game. That means the Dolphins will likely try to force Lewis to win this game for Buffalo.
On obvious passing downs, however, I’m expecting Coyle to be more aggressive than he’s been all season by dialing up various blitz packages to rattle and confuse the inexperienced quarterback. And with Cameron Wake likely returning to the lineup as an every-down starter, the Dolphins’ pass rush could be in store for a big day versus a struggling Bills offensive line.
Buffalo has conceded 20 sacks through six games, including nine in the past two, which is about as porous as the Dolphins’ pass protection has been. It could be a humbling afternoon for Thad Lewis.
Dolphins rushing attack vs. Bills run defense
This could be the game where the Dolphins’ rushing attack is finally able to generate some consistent success. The Bills’ defensive line has underwhelmed and their linebacking corps is rather mediocre. Buffalo’s defense currently ranks 28th in the league against the run after allowing 124.2 yards per contest during the first six games.
Starting running back Lamar Miller has actually been decently productive this season despite getting so few carries for the Dolphins. He’s averaged a very solid 4.2 yards per attempt through five games. Getting him at least 15 carries on Sunday should be the goal for Miami.
If the Dolphins are able to establish the run throughout, they might be able to neutralize the Bills’ pass rush to a degree. A play-action passing game would also come into play for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, which is something he hasn’t had the luxury of utilizing much this season.
Dolphins run defense vs. Bills rushing attack
The Bills possess one of the league’s best one-two punches at running back in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Spiller is one pace for 936 rushing yards this season, Jackson is on pace for 917 and the Bills currently rank third in the entire NFL in rushing yards per game, averaging nearly 150 each week.
Containing this rushing attack will be a tall order for the Dolphins’ front seven, which has struggled defending the run at times this season despite a formidable defensive line. Linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, who will likely be questionable for this game with a shoulder injury, and Philip Wheeler haven’t crashed the line of scrimmage like they were expected to against the run. Both should improve as they begin to settle in on their new defense, but so far their play has downgraded Miami’s run defense.
But like I mentioned earlier, I expect the Dolphins to force quarterback Thad Lewis to make plays in order for the Bills to win. I think we could see Miami stacking the box at times in order to stop Jackson and Spiller and even Tashard Choice, who is averaging 4.0 yards per carry for the Bills.
Buffalo has the clear advantage here, but while I don’t see Miami stopping this rushing attack, I do think they can contain it.
Dolphins passing attack vs. Bills pass defense
The Bills’ opponents have averaged 270.8 passing yards per contest so far this season, which ranks 22nd in the NFL. Needless to say, Ryan Tannehill could be poised for a big afternoon.
While Buffalo’s cornerbacks and linebackers have struggled to cover at times this season, free safety Jairus Byrd finally returned to the lineup this past Sunday. Byrd is a Pro Bowl caliber safety who should improve the Bills’ pass defense as he becomes more acclimated with this year’s unit. But even with Byrd’s return, there are plays to be had against this pass defense for Tannehill.
Getting the football to speedy targets like Mike Wallace and Lamar Miller in space appears to be a recipe for success. The Bengals were able to gash the Bills’ defense this past Sunday by dialing up some quick screen passes, as quarterback Andy Dalton lit up the stat sheet for 337 passing yards and three touchdowns.
Buffalo’s pass defense has certainly conceded its fare share of yardage this season, but it’s capable of producing game-changing plays, however. Buffalo has sacked the quarterback 21.0 times already this season, which only trails the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens. And that certainly poses a problem for the Dolphins’ offensive line, which has been torched for 24 sacks in only five games. Former first overall pick Mario Williams, who has 8.0 sacks this season, will be the main rusher to scheme against.
The Bills also lead the entire NFL with 10 interceptions. That figure was certainly aided by Joe Flacco’s five-pick meltdown in Week 4, but the Bills are just now getting ball-hawking safety Jairus Byrd back in the lineup. Byrd has intercepted 18 passes during his career and will look to bait Tannehill into some costly mistakes on Sunday.
Bills kicker Dan Carpenter returns to Miami, where he spent the first five years of his career. Carpenter has been quite reliable for Buffalo this season, connecting on 12 of 13 tries and splitting the uprights from 55 yards out in Week 2 versus the Panthers.
The Dolphins have themselves a reliable kicker too, though. Rookie Caleb Sturgis, who beat out Carpenter to become Miami’s kicker in August, has also missed only one attempt this season and consistently booms kickoffs deep into the endzone.
In the punting battle, Brandon Fields leads the entire NFL in yards per punt with a 50.6 average. Meanwhile, the Bills are second in the league in total punt yards thanks to the boot of Shawn Powell.
The Bills have been leaky in punt coverage, but neither team has produced many big plays in the return game. It’s a pretty even special-teams matchup across the board.