Dolphins-Bills: Five Things To Watch

Posted Nov 15, 2012

Critical division battle waits after short week.

Three weeks ago there was a four-way tie in the AFC East as the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots and New York Jets all sat at 3-3. Since then, one team has gone on a roll while the rest have struggled, making tonight’s Dolphins-Bills game crucial.

New England holds a comfortable cushion on top of the division now at 6-3, two games ahead of Miami (4-5) and three games ahead of Buffalo and New York (both 3-6). If the Dolphins want to keep pace with the Patriots and close the gap in time for the December 2nd showdown at Sun Life Stadium, they have to shut down a potent Buffalo offense and exploit a weak Bills defense.

Miami has won three of the last four meetings between the two teams and swept the Bills last year, but last Sunday’s 37-3 home loss to Tennessee on the heels of a tough 23-20 loss at Indianapolis revealed some concerns. Here are five things to pay close attention to under the lights at Ralph Wilson Stadium should the Dolphins want to successfully bounce back and even their record at 5-5:

1. What will Buffalo’s front seven on defense do to avoid a repeat of last year’s dominance on the ground by Miami – Running back Reggie Bush flourished in the snowy conditions last December 18th by rolling over the Bills for 203 rushing yards, including a highlight reel 76-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that blew the game open. He was the catalyst behind a rushing attack that gained 254 yards on the ground and while Miami’s ground game has hit the skids after a strong start, Buffalo’s 32nd-ranked run defense could be just what the doctor ordered. The Bills are allowing 163.7 yards per game on the ground 5.5 yards per carry, so this could be where the game is decided.

2. How will the Dolphins’ front seven contain the Bills’ dangerous C.J. Spiller as he becomes the primary ball carrier – Spiller is averaging a ridiculous 7.3 yards per carry and has been splitting carries with the more physical Fred Jackson all season. But a concussion suffered late in last week’s loss at New England will sideline Jackson, meaning Spiller shoulder the load at running back. Tennessee’s Chris Johnson snapped Miami’s streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher at 22 games last week by rushing for 126 yards on 23 carries, including a nifty 17-yard touchdown run where he reversed his field and used his speed to outrun the linebackers and defensive backs into the end zone. Dolphin defenders were hard on themselves for allowing too many cutback lanes and not staying disciplined and they have vowed to not let Spiller do what Johnson did. They still rank fifth overall against the run and that pride needs to come to the forefront in this game.

3. Miami cornerback Sean Smith versus Buffalo wide receiver Stevie Johnson – After back-to-back subpar performances at Indianapolis and at home against Tennessee, Smith is dead set on not making it three in a row and returning to his early season form when he stymied the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and A.J. Green. He is expecting Johnson to do a lot of talking and try to distract him before the snap and is ready for those mind games, but Johnson’s production has been rather pedestrian so far (41 catches for 502 yards and four touchdowns). If Smith can shut him down and take him away as a target of Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick that could bode well for the Dolphins.

4. Will Dolphins tight ends Anthony Fasano and Charles Clay be able to exploit the Bills’ linebackers in their 4-3 scheme – Since Fasano and Clay go against a 4-3 every day in practice they are well-versed in how to get open and how to provide the best looks for rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Clay had a nice 31-yard touchdown reception at the Colts and has a knack for getting open down the seam, while Fasano has a good chemistry with Tannehill over the middle and in the flat. If the two of them can win their matchups with Buffalo’s Nick Barnett, Kelvin Sheppard and Nigel Bradham, Tannehill should be able to set up the deep ball with strategic completions to the tight ends.

5. What impact will the raucous Buffalo crowd and the cold play in the outcome of the game – Ralph Wilson Stadium is notoriously one of the toughest places for visiting teams to play, in part due to the weather from mid-November to late December and in part due to the noise level. Bills fans like to show off their toughness in the cold by going shirtless in the stands and they love to frustrate opposing quarterbacks by getting real loud before the snap, inducing a fair share of false starts. Miami’s silent count needs to be flawless and if the offense can get on the board early and often to take the air out of the stadium, its chances of coming away with a victory increase.

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