Miami Dolphins

Keys to the game: Dolphins vs. Bills

Although Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s statistics through the first two games of the season are good, the passing game has been inconsistent because of dropped passes, missed open receivers and poor pass protection.
Although Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s statistics through the first two games of the season are good, the passing game has been inconsistent because of dropped passes, missed open receivers and poor pass protection. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

When the Dolphins pass the football

Ryan Tannehill individual statistics are good. His QB rating is 101.7. He hasn't thrown an interception. He's completing 66.7 percent of his passes. But that is merely a facade. Outside of Jarvis Landry and occasionally tight end Jordan Cameron, there has been no consistency for the Dolphins through the air. There have been dropped passes, Tannehill has missed open receivers, rookie DeVante Parker is still trying to figure things out, and the pass protection was so good last week against Jacksonville that Tannehill left the stadium with a noticeable limp. The Dolphins are likely to be in quick-passing mode most of this game because the Miami OL has simply not proven it can protect Tannehill against any sort of solid defensive front and the Bills have perhaps the best in the NFL. The Dolphins can find solace in that last week New England lit up the Buffalo secondary to the tune of 467 passing yards. But, of course, Tom Brady is probably busy with other things today.

ADVANTAGE: Buffalo

When the Dolphins run the football

So far, not much has happened. Lamar Miller wasn’t getting enough rush opportunities last season and he’s getting fewer so far this season. The problem? The offensive line, again. No one is breaking enough tackles. And the coaching staff has to resolve to not abandon the run when it doesn’t necessarily work every single time. The Bills so far have been solid against the run. Not surprising. They have an excellent defensive front. But it just might be possible that they will be so intent on defending the pass — with which they got destroyed last week — that this perhaps will leave an opening for running the ball. There’s also the intangible that Miami has been terrible (30th in the NFL) running the ball and maybe someone on the team might want to prove a point.

ADVANTAGE: Buffalo

When the Bills pass the football

The Bills are going with first-year full-time starter Tyrod Taylor, who acquitted himself well in the opener and then fell back to reality last week against Bill Belichick’s defense. Taylor is quick to check down, sometimes to the detriment of waiting for receivers downfield to uncover. And he is very quick to run the football if pressured. Interesting that Sammy Watkins, who is perhaps the most gifted of Buffalo’s receivers, has been somewhat overshadowed. He is only averaging 10 yards per catch and is Buffalo’s fourth-leading pass catcher. The Dolphins last week struggled with the deep ball against Jacksonville. They need to address the issue before it becomes acute.

ADVANTAGE: Miami

When the Bills run the football

The Bills want to be a tough run-first offense. And so far, so good, as they’re No. 3 in the NFL in rushing and No. 2 in rush yards per attempt. LeSean McCoy has been dynamic in past years but is still waiting for a signature moment with the Bills as his longest run from scrimmage so far is 18 yards. The Dolphins run defense hasn't been terrible. They're middle of the pack in rush yards allowed per game and per attempt. The problem is the Miami front is supposed to be great. The Dolphins paid Ndamukong Suh $114 million to, in part, bring the same kind of results to Miami he brought to Detroit when the Lions were the No. 1 run defense last season. Yes, small sample size so far this year. But this is a division game. Time to show up. Taylor leaving the pocket is a wildcard the Dolphins must account for.

ADVANTAGE: Even

Special teams

The Bills special teams should be familiar to Miami fans because former Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter and former Dolphins return man Marcus Thigpen are playing for the Bills now. Carpenter struggled in the preseason but is 2-for-2 this year. Thigpen has been good, not great on punt returns while sharing the kickoff return duties with Percy Harvin, who can by dynamic. The Dolphins got the big special teams play in their opener but last week rookie kicker Andrew Franks missed a key 46-yarder that might have changed the tenor of the game.

ADVANTAGE: Even

Coaching

The Dolphins have failed to start fast in either game this year. That is on the coaching staff. The Bills coaching staff, specifically head coach Rex Ryan, made the strategic mistake of talking too much before playing New England last week. The talk got Western New York excited and perhaps got the team so overly excited they seemed to play nervous and without discipline early in the game. This week both staffs have to address penalties that plagued both teams last week.

ADVANTAGE: Even

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