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Breaking down the game: Dolphins at Bills

 
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Bills defensive end Mario Williams
Bills defensive end Mario Williams
Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

asalguero@miamiherald.com

Breaking down the game | By Armando Salguero

When the Dolphins pass the football

The Bills get after the quarterback and it is not just about Mario Williams. Yes, Williams leads the team with 12 sacks — only 2 1/2 shy of establishing a career best — but Buffalo has four players with at least eight sacks. That’s the reason they lead the NFL with 49. So what’s the answer? Throw quickly. Throw on early downs. Avoid throwing out of necessity. Ryan Tannehill is having a fine month. He’s spreading the ball around to a handful of receivers and the locking down of any one of them does not upend the Miami passing game. So although the Bills have a major advantage at the line of scrimmage, the Dolphins enjoy a major advantage down the field. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football

Daniel Thomas, hobbled for a couple of weeks with an ankle injury, is hobbled again with an ankle injury. That definitely signals another week in which Lamar Miller will be allowed to carry most of the load rather than share 20 to 25 carries with Thomas. The Bills offer fertile ground for running the ball. They’re 26th in the NFL against the run. They’re not much better (23rd) in rushing yards per attempt, which confirms the previous statistic. Are the Dolphins going to stick with the run when it doesn’t work? And will offensive coordinator Mike Sherman use the run to play situational football if the opportunity presents? The answer to both questions in the first meeting was no. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Bills run the football

C.J. Spiller was hobbled the last time the teams met and that’s why he rushed only six times for 11 yards. But he’s healthy and playing more like the guy who last season rung up 130 yards from scrimmage against Miami. Spiller is averaging 4.6 yards per carry but the Dolphins can hope poor conditions will slow his wide runs and mitigate his speed. The Dolphins, once a top-10 team against the run, are a shadow of that now. The Dolphins are No. 22 against the run and that’s when run-stuffer Paul Soliai is 100 percent healthy. He’s not now, as he’s nursing a tender ankle. Look for the Bills to use the running game as their primary weapon as long as the game is close. ADVANTAGE: Buffalo.

When the Bills pass the football

The biggest surprise of the week came when coach Doug Marrone announced that starting quarterback EJ Manuel would not start against Miami and would be replaced by Thad Lewis. This suggests a windfall for the Dolphins because Lewis was a practice-squad quarterback when the season began and obviously is a backup at best. But the backup helped author Buffalo’s October victory over the Dolphins, so overconfidence cannot be a wise thing for Miami. Unlike the end of last week’s game, the Dolphins expect to have all their starting defensive backs available for this game. The Bills will be without receiver Stevie Johnson. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Special teams

The Dolphins exiled Dan Carpenter before the season began — picking rookie Caleb Sturgis over the veteran. The Bills gladly signed Carpenter. The Dolphins were right to do what they did based on the salary, because they saved money. But Carpenter has been better than Sturgis in 2013. The Bills are 11th in field-goal percentage with Carpenter. The Dolphins are 27th with Sturgis. Leodis McKelvin, who last year had a punt-return touchdown in Buffalo against Miami, hasn’t returned one for a score this season. If that trend continues, it would mark the first time since 2010 that McKelvin is held without a return touchdown. ADVANTAGE: Buffalo

Coaching

Joe Philbin has his team on a three-game win streak and the playoffs beckon if the team can close out the season with two more wins. That is commendable considering the Dolphins suffered a four-game losing skid, lost to winless Tampa Bay and had an NFL scandal to deal with this season. Doug Marrone was a good-not-great coach at Syracuse. He’s working toward becoming a good coach in the NFL. He’s a work in progress. ADVANTAGE: Miami

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