Earlier this season, few Dolphins fans were excited about the Buffalo Bills coming to town in Week 11. Buffalo, who were 5-2 just four weeks ago and fighting with the Patriots and Jets for the AFC East's top spot, figured to be a virtual death sentence for the Dolphins and their ineptitude in the red zone, along the offensive line and in the defensive secondary (through the first seven games of the season, at least).
The Bills' mid-November visit to Miami was a disaster all right, but not for the Dolphins. Instead, it was Buffalo who was humiliated early and often during the game. And when it was said and done, the Dolphins walked away with a decisive 35-8 victory over their bitter division rival.
Clearly, this isn't the same Miami Dolphins squad that was a virtual punching bag the first two months of the season.Dolphins' defensive line continues to dominate line of scrimmage
When the Dolphins' control the trenches on defense the way they have the last three weeks, it's hard to imagine this team getting away from its current 3-4 scheme. Defensive end Kendall Langford has really shored up his spot, Jared Odrick is proving to be the rare 5-technique DE who can consistently rush the passer, and Paul Soliai is back to playing like the franchise space-eater he was throughout most of last season. And all three linemen played well yesterday, as the Bills finished the afternoon with just 41 yards rushing on 19 attempts, and gained only two first downs on the ground. Fred Jackson, who's been a horse for Buffalo this season, gained 17 yards on seven carries before leaving with an injury. Despite Miami's dominance in the trenches on the defensive side of the ball, the Bills' sudden inability to gain yards on the ground, however, can also be tied to the absence of stud center Eric Wood, who was a virtual boulder in Buffalo's trenches earlier this season.
Odrick also had one of the Dolphins' two sacks on the afternoon, and again broke into that now-signature Pee Wee Herman dance. If I was Miami's front office, I would give Odrick a Magic-Johnson-like 20-year contract with the single provision that he do that dance at least twice a game.
Red-zone scoring, creating turnovers no longer a problem for Miami
The Dolphins' offense, since Week 9, has played like a cloven-hooved, horned wolverine in the red zone, and yesterday's game was no different for Miami. Trailing 3-0 early in the first quarter, Matt Moore led a blitzkrieg drive down the field that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Fasano. On the Dolphins' next trip inside Buffalo's 20-yard line, Reggie Bush punched it in from the 5-yard line. The next red-zone visit after that, Moore went play action and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Charles Clay. And then to top it all off, Moore hit Davone Bess with a 4-yard touchdown pass right before halftime (and following a Yeremiah Bell interception deep in Bills territory). Noticing a trend here? The Dolphins have become flat-out bullies in the red zone, and are able to do so because of quality play from their quarterback and the majority of the offensive line.
The Dolphins' running attack is a different story, though. Daniel Thomas, Miami's power back, had an okay afternoon with 50 yards rushing on 15 carries, but when your offensive line is battering your opponent and getting a great push at the line of scrimmage, you have to hit the holes with conviction and grind out yards. Thomas should be a good one for the Dolphins over the next few seasons--and it's not like his lack of major contribution is a big problem right now--but in the Dolphins' faster, more spread-out scheme, Thomas looks a little too plodding right now.
Of course, we should probably mention the Dolphins' turnover surge as of late. After ranking 32nd in takeaways through the first eight weeks of the season, the Dolphins have ratcheted up their ability to create turnovers in back-to-back games. This week, it was the aforementioned Bell and Nolan Carroll getting picks off of Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who struggled to find any kind of rhythm against the Dolphins after Buffalo's first drive of the game stalled inside the red zone. Fitzpatrick finished with a respectable 209 yards passing and a downright bad QB rating of 45.8.
Dolphins stellar on special teams, too
Despite Sparano and Co. going mega-conservative in the second half, the Dolphins managed to get another score in the third quarter, when Chris Clemons (remember him?) blocked a Brian Moorman punt that was recovered by Lex Hilliard in the end zone. The Dolphins were already up big on the Bills (28-6) before the blocked punt, but it was still nice to see Miami getting after it on special teams, too.
Time for the lightning round ...
-The Dolphins haven't allowed a touchdown in the their last 12 quarters, and haven't given up double-digit points in any of their three victories this season.
-Despite Karlos Dansby's Kanye-like comments earlier this week about being the best linebacker in the game, it should be mentioned that he and Kevin Burnett are absolutely on fire right now--shooting gaps, taking on ballcarriers and even getting after the quarterback once in a while. Of course, it helps that Soliai is eating multiple blocks down low and keeping offensive linemen off of Miami's inside linebackers.
-Mike Pouncey gets a phenomenal initial punch at the line of scrimmage, and has the best feet of any center I've ever seen (Ah, I kind of sound like Rex Ryan right now). He also handled his college nemesis Marcell Dareus very well whenever the two collided at the point of attack during the game yesterday. And for those of you who recorded the game, go back to Miami's first scoring drive and check out Pouncey and Incognito channeling their inner thug while pushing around Bills linebacker Nick Barnett near the end of the drive. That kind of behavior won't win you points for sportsmanship, but it's absolutely the kind of mean streak you want in your offensive linemen. The left side of our offensive line is not to be messed with right now.
-I wish Marv Albert would call every Dolphins game. His voice takes me back to the early '90s and the NBA on NBC. "Jordan from 17 ... yes! And it counts!"
-Call me crazy, but it almost seems like the Dolphins' offense has gotten faster in an attempt to keep up with Reggie Bush.
-Matt Moore hasn't looked back since that heartbreaking loss to the Giants three weeks ago. He just has the appearance of someone playing with house money, and I love it. He sells play action well, is decisive and even aggressive at times. Our next quarterback can learn a lot from this guy.
-Quiet game for Brandon Marshall (one catch for five yards), but that's what happens when your quarterback is distributing the ball to seven different receivers throughout the game. Unfortunately for Marshall, he's been the ultimate decoy the last two weeks.
-We'll see how far this Dolphins team has come along when they hit up Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. Mmmm. Jake Long vs. DeMarcus Ware. Can't wait.