Miami Dolphins

Keys to the game: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills

Ryan Tannehill, shown losing the ball against the Bills at Sun Life Stadium on Sept. 27, has struggled against the Bills in Western New York — where Miami plays Sunday — to the point three of his worst games have come there.
Ryan Tannehill, shown losing the ball against the Bills at Sun Life Stadium on Sept. 27, has struggled against the Bills in Western New York — where Miami plays Sunday — to the point three of his worst games have come there. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

When the Dolphins pass the football

There’s a myth that the Buffalo Bills are a great pass-rushing team because that’s what they were two years ago and again last year. The truth is the Bills are 30th in the NFL in sacks and the reason, according to Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, is because teams are getting the football out of the quarterback’s hands quickly, throwing slants and taking short drops. That’s likely the approach the Dolphins will take against the Bills. Ryan Tannehill has historically struggled against the Bills in Western New York to the point three of his worst career games have come against the Bills in that venue. Of course, Tannehill threw three interceptions against Buffalo in the first meeting, and that was in Miami. The Dolphins must stay out of third-and-long situations because Miami converted only 31 percent of their third-down situations in the first meeting and have gotten worse at it since.

ADVANTAGE: Buffalo

When the Dolphins run the football

At some point the Dolphins have to find out if their running game is legitimate or a mirage that only appears against poor teams such as Tennessee and Houston. Miami had ample success against Buffalo in the first game, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, but the problem was the game got out of hand so quickly the Dolphins had to abandon the run. That limited the Dolphins to only 20 run plays. The Dolphins would love to be in a close game that allows them to stay balanced. The Bills have the No. 6 run defense in the NFL, but the absence of defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who is out, weakens the interior line.

ADVANTAGE: Even

When the Bills pass the football

Tyrod Taylor put up a career-best 136.7 quarterback rating against the Dolphins in their first meeting, and his 277 net passing yards was also a season high for the Bills. So is that likely to repeat against a secondary that has generally played well under new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo? Hard to fathom. What does work in Buffalo’s favor is that the pressure on Taylor, who has been battling a knee injury, doesn’t promise to be as fierce as usual because the Dolphins are now playing without elite pass-rusher Cameron Wake. The Bills are also expected to get Seantrel Henderson back in the lineup after he missed time with a concussion. The wild card remains the availability of Buffalo receiver Sammy Watkins, who has been limited by an ankle injury for weeks. He has said he’s going to play but is listed as questionable. Tight end Charles Clay did major damage to his former team in the first meeting, catching five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. The Dolphins, who struggle with tight ends, need to figure out why so many tight ends have played so well against them in recent years.

ADVANTAGE: Even

When the Bills run the football

The Bills’ backfield of LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams has been injured most of the season but seems healthy now. That’s bad news for Miami because the Bills have managed to be the No. 11 run offense in the league despite the injuries. The problem for the Dolphins is containing Taylor, whose mobility and desire to run adds a dangerous dimension to the Bills’ run attack. Taylor, however, is returning from a knee injury and still is wearing a brace, so his desire to get outside the pocket and up the field might be diminished. The Miami run defense has improved the past few weeks since the team fired defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. In a strange twist, the replacement of the injured Wake in favor of Derrick Shelby on early downs might be a benefit because Shelby is bigger than Wake and considered a slightly better run defender.

ADVANTAGE: Even

Special teams

Leodis McKelvin is expected back for the Bills this week — he broke his ankle at Miami last year — and that could be a boost for the Bills’ kick and punt returns because Buffalo is 16th in punt returns and 32nd on kick returns. The Dolphins continue to be excellent on punt returns and pretty good on kick returns. The Bills, however, are ranked second in the NFL on kickoff coverage. As for the specialists, the Bills have gotten solid work from former Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter, who has connected on 2 of 3 attempts from 50 yards or more.

ADVANTAGE: Even

Coaching

Rex Ryan tried to hire Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell a couple of years ago but was blocked by the Dolphins. That shows the disparity in experience between the coaches. But the truth is that under Campbell, the Dolphins have generally been more competitive than under Joe Philbin. As for Buffalo, Ryan has not gotten the results he expected from his defense, and the team has lost three of its past four games. Both teams got extra preparation time prior to this game, the Bills because they had a bye and the Dolphins because they last played on a Thursday night game.

ADVANTAGE: Buffalo

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