1. C.J. Spiller and Thad Lewis are both injured right now, with Spiller not practicing and Lewis limited. Obviously this ankle injury for Spiller is something that has been bothering him the last few weeks, but he has been able to play at less than 100%, while the injury to Lewis is new this week. How concerned are you about either player, and what should we expect as Dolphins fans from the two of them on Sunday?
Galliford: Actually, Lewis wasn't limited at all - he practiced in full on Wednesday, and given that he finished last week's game on that injured foot, it's as close to certain as you can get that he'll play. Physically, he won't have any limitations. As for what to expect from him: your guess is as good as mine, though Bills fans would obviously be pretty okay with a repeat of his Week 6 showing. As for Spiller, he hasn't practiced much over the last two weeks, and that probably won't change this week. He's not very close to 100 percent, and the team is severely limiting his touches as he grinds through the ankle injury. He's only carried the ball a combined 18 times in the last two games, but he's still been effective, with 121 yards and a 54-yard touchdown in Cleveland.
2. On defense, Mario Williams is injured and limited in practice as well. The Bills defense has been really good at getting after the quarterback this year, recording 21 sacks on the season, the third most for any team at this point. Is Williams' injury a concern, and, what has caused this explosion of sacks? Is it simply players executing, Mike Pettine's defensive schemes, or a combination of things?
Galliford: Williams' injury is not a concern; he's been on the injury report for a few weeks in a row now, but has still played 84 percent of defensive snaps this season. As for the sack total, it's a combination of factors: Williams has been better than he was in 2012 (eight sacks in six games), and the Bills are much more aggressive with blitzes and stunts under Mike Pettine than they were under previous coordinators. They're hit or miss in this department, but are capable of picking up sacks in bunches.
3. With this being Doug Marrone's first year in Buffalo, and the season only being six weeks old, this may be a little premature, but what is your feeling on the former Syracuse coach and Dolphins offensive lineman?
Galliford: My feeling is that Marrone is an excellent head football coach, and that early on in his program his players are buying in. They're doing a lot of things well, and they're unsurprisingly making a lot of mistakes; this is one of the youngest rosters in the NFL, after all. Ultimately it comes down to wins and losses, but if the Bills keep playing teams close the way they have through the first six weeks, the hope is that they'll be able to turn the corner and start stacking up wins with a bit more seasoning.
4. Every Bills game this season has been close, with the four losses being by an average of just six points, and the one double digit loss, 13 points to the Cleveland Browns, skewing that number. The two wins come by one point and three points. Obviously, the Bills are in games this year, but just have not been able to pull it out most of the time. Is this a case of a young team trying to learn how to win? Bad decision making near the end of the game? Just bad luck?
Galliford: The Bills are really bad in a category that means a great deal in close ball games - third down percentage. That goes for both sides of the ball. They just haven't been able to make the necessary plays in key situations to sustain drives on offense or get off the field on defense, and that's given opponents opportunities they may not have otherwise had. You can chalk that up to any of the factors you describe - if pressed, I'd probably lean in the direction of youth - but in terms of things that are tangible, they just haven't done enough to win more games. Keep in mind, also, that it took a desperation drive to beat Carolina and five Joe Flacco picks to upset Baltimore.
5. If you are game planning against the Bills, how do you attack the defense? Where is the offense vulnerable?
Galliford: I'd attack Buffalo's defense the way Cincinnati did - with a ton of screen passes to the perimeter of the field to take advantage of Pettine's aggressiveness and the weakness of Buffalo's corners. The Bengals used that approach with great effectiveness, and it allowed them to settle into their more natural play-calling tendencies with relative ease. As far as Buffalo's offense goes, it's not complicated: contain the run as much as possible, and make Thad Lewis beat you with stick throws. Buffalo ranks third in the NFL with 148.8 rushing yards per game, and first with 35 rushing attempts per game, so the Dolphins can rest assured that Buffalo will be running a lot. Miami can't let the Bills throw over the top, either; Lewis was at his worst against Cincinnati throwing intermediate routes, where his accuracy deteriorated considerably.
Thank you to Brian for taking the time to share his impressions of the Bills this year. We will, of course, re-visit this in a few weeks when the Dolphins head north for the second half of the season series with Buffalo.
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