Dolphins-Bills: Five Things To Watch

Posted Dec 17, 2011

Quite a bit has changed for both teams since the last time the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills faced each other on the gridiron – and it’s only been a month.

The Dolphins have a new interim head coach in Todd Bowles, who replaced Tony Sparano on Monday, and could be starting their third different quarterback of the season if Matt Moore is unable to go tomorrow in Buffalo. That new quarterback would be a familiar face to Bills fans in upstate New York as JP Losman was Buffalo’s first-round draft pick back in 2004.

Buffalo, meanwhile, had to place three players on Injured Reserve as a direct result of injuries suffered in the 35-8 loss suffered at the hands of Miami at Sun Life Stadium. Chief among those was running back Fred Jackson, who was having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. Bills players this week sounded like a group bent on revenge for that humiliating loss, and the Dolphins are expecting a physical game typical of an AFC East rivalry.

“I think they’re a very competitive team and they’re going to hold that first game in the back of their minds and really come out swinging early,” said tight end Anthony Fasano, who caught two passes for eight yards and a touchdown in the first meeting. “So I expect it to be a hard fought, division rivalry game.”

Miami dominated in all three phases at home and will be looking to replicate that performance for Bowles in an attempt to get him a victory in his first game at the helm. Here are some key factors that will come into play:

1. Dolphins head coach Todd Bowles versus Bills head coach Chan Gailey – Bowles cracked a smile Friday when he was asked if he had a “big fiery speech” prepared for the team immediately before Sunday’s game. “I have something up my sleeve,” he said. “I’ll mull it over tonight. I’m sure we’ll be ready to play and I’ll have something to say.” How he handles himself in his new role on the field, especially at crucial times like on fourth downs and in the Red Zone, will go a long way towards letting his players know their fate is in good hands. Across the field from Bowles will be a coach in Gailey who is trying to end a six-game losing streak and keep his team’s faint playoff hopes alive. There’s no telling which way this game is going to go in the end because of these differing circumstances.

2. Buffalo’s special teams units versus Miami’s special teams units – In the last meeting this matchup completely favored the Dolphins as they blocked a Brian Moorman punt and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown, pinned the Bills inside their own 20 five out of seven times on punts and didn’t allow the dangerous C.J. Spiller or Brad Smith to break a long return on punts or kickoffs. If Chris Clemons or one of his teammates on the punt return unit can block another one of Moorman’s punts, like rookie Jimmy Wilson did last week against Philadelphia, that could be a turning point in the game. Buffalo needs Spiller or Smith to break a long punt or kickoff return to ignite the home crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

3. Dolphins running back Reggie Bush versus Bills run defense – Bush has rushed for a career-high 770 yards and is closing in on that 1,000-yard milestone he’d like to reach to further prove that he can be an every-down back in the NFL. Buffalo held him to just 32 yards on 15 carries in the first meeting for a paltry 2.1 yards per carry, and with his quarterback situation shaky at the moment, Bush needs to establish the run early and force the Bills to respect it and not be able to tee off in the pass rush. He’ll need rookie center Mike Pouncey to stifle Buffalo’s physical nose tackle, Marcell Dareus, and the rest of the O-line to hold their blocks and create running lanes for him and rookie running back Daniel Thomas.

4. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick versus Miami’s front seven – In the first meeting Fitzpatrick was sacked twice, hit four times and pressured into making poor decisions and errant throws from the very start. He threw two interceptions, one to strong safety Yeremiah Bell and the other to cornerback Nolan Carroll. If the Dolphins can get in his face again and keep him on the run for four quarters with outside linebackers Cameron Wake and Jason Taylor collapsing from the edges they can make Buffalo one dimensional without their best running back. The cold weather and field conditions could impact this battle on both ends, and if Fitzpatrick can find his footing first, he might be able to find success through the air.

5. Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis versus Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson – Davis has been playing at a very high level since fully recovering from his hamstring injury and has two interceptions and a quarterback sack in his last five games. He also shut down the opposing team’s number one wide receiver in each of those games, including losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles save for one breakdown against the Eagles that resulted in a 34-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson. Johnson was held to two catches for 16 yards in that first meeting despite being targeted eight times but since then has reeled in 17 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. This battle goes in hand-in-hand with the item above in determining the outcome of this divisional game.
Game Pass: Miami Dolphins