WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN THE BALL
Reggie Bush believes he’s in a slump because he has fumbled in two of the past three games and the most recent fumble earned him a benching during the Tennessee game. So he has motivation to play better and produce, knowing that another fumble or more uninspiring play will earn him another hook. But the question is not whether the Dolphins will stick with Bush. Even if he comes out, Miami has good talent behind him. The question is, will the Dolphins stick with the run overall? Last week, they could not. The week before, they simply did not and it had nothing to do with the pace of the game or the score. The Dolphins need to run the football more, especially when one considers the Bills yield an average of 163.7 rushing yards per game. That is dead last in the NFL. Advantage: Miami.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS THE BALL
So how does Ryan Tannehill respond? Last week he delivered a stinker of a game — easily his worst as a rookie considering the Titans were so bad on defense before meeting Miami. So this week, Tannehill has to show that he can handle adversity. He has to show that he can play well with limited preparation. He has to show that he can lead the team in a hostile environment during a time of year when games are getting harder. It would help if his tight ends would get open faster to add another dimension to the Miami passing game. It also would help if he got better protection because he has been beaten up lately. Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams has 4.5 sacks. That’s a disappointment based on the huge free agent contract he signed in the offseason. But Williams has been injured and is now back after wrist surgery. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams is actually the team’s most effective pass rusher so far. Advantage: Miami.
WHEN THE BILLS RUN THE BALL
Last week, the Dolphins yielded a 126-yard rushing game to Chris Johnson and that marked the first time a running back has gone over 100 yards against Miami in 22 games. The good news is the Dolphins don’t play Tennessee again. The bad news is the Bills use a similar, if not identical, scheme for running the ball and C.J. Spiller is a very similar back to Johnson — fast, deceptively strong and patient. Dolphins coaches this week have preached fundamentals to the defense. They want players to keep their discipline on lanes of pursuit. They want players to break down and collect themselves when they are going to tackle. They want players to attack the tackle with aggressiveness. And they want players to wrap the ball carrier. It’s back to the basics for Miami. Advantage: Even.
WHEN THE BILLS PASS THE BALL
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing for his job and he knows it. Unless he improves and gets victories under his belt, the Bills will find another QB this offseason. He has an opportunity this week, because, despite having little preparation time, he is familiar with Miami’s defense. Fitzpatrick played in Cincinnati when Dolphins coordinator Kevin Coyle was there. And the Bills have played the Bengals in recent years. So Miami’s adopted scheme is familiar. The Bills present the Dolphins a horizontal attack that focuses on making yardage after the catch. The Dolphins need to tighten their coverage because they have allowed too much cushion lately. The secondary has given up too many third-down conversions the past two weeks. Sean Smith has struggled some. And nickel corner Jimmy Wilson has struggled even more, giving up multiple big plays. The Dolphins have the 28th-ranked pass defense. Advantage: Buffalo
Returner Leodis McKelvin leads the NFL in punt returns with a whopping 19.5-yard average. The Dolphins are 17th in punt return defense, allowing only 9.2 yards per return. As good as the Bills are with their returns, they are almost equally bad at stopping other teams on returns. They are dead last in the NFL with a 15-yard against return average and did yield a touchdown this season. It’s going to be cold and possibly windy. That suggests the elements could work against Miami punter Brandon Fields and kicker Dan Carpenter, except that both played in similar conditions before and made their mark playing in college at Michigan State and Montana, respectively. Advantage: Even.
It’s the Dolphins’ new coaching staff against the old one. The Bills are led by Chan Gailey, who is Miami’s former offensive coordinator. His defensive coordinator is former Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt. Wannstedt is still employing the same old formula: His defense doesn’t do anything fancy and they typically play a lot of press coverage on the outside with help over the top. Miami’s current staff has the assignment of recovering from a 37-3 embarrassment at home against Tennessee, the worst loss of the season and the worst coaching job of the season. Neither staff seems headed to postseason coaching awards or the playoffs at this point. Advantage: Even.