Buffalo Bills (4-4) at Miami Dolphins (0-8)
Looking at this game, the first thing that jumped out at me when analyzing what the Dolphins might do offensively against this Bills defense was the fact that there's no reason the Dolphins can't be effective on offense. This Buffalo defense gives up a ton of yards. They average giving up 371 yards per game, which is the 4th worst in the NFL. They also allow their opponents to convert over 46% of their 3rd downs. That's good for 6th worst in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are converting only 39.6% of their 3rd downs. That's something that will need to change if Miami is to pull this one out. The Dolphins must also make sure they score touchdowns when they get in the redzone and not just settle for field goals. I say this because the Bills, despite giving up all the yardage, are only allowing 19.5 points per game, which is 12th best in the league. So the Dolphins must take advantage of their redzone trips and come away with touchdowns. They also must protect the ball, as the Bills are currently forcing 2 turnovers per game. The Dolphins are not good enough to overcome mistakes like turnovers and missed opportunities, so to win they must avoid them.
The key to this game offensively for the Dolphins will be to establish the run with Jesse Chatman. Doing so will benefit the Dolphins for many reasons. First, it will mean Cleo Lemon won't have to make as many plays, because we all know he isn't really that type of quarterback. I'm sure there isn't one Dolphin fan out there who feels confident in Cleo's ability, and for good reason. So the Dolphins must get the run going. The other reason an effective running game is important this week is because the Bills defense is very good when their opponent becomes one dimensional. Consider the stats. Buffalo's rushing defense ranks 19th in the league, allowing 115 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry. However, over their last 5 games, the Bills are holding opponents to just 78 yards per game on the ground and a lowly 3.7 yards per carry. In those 5 games, the Bills are 4-1. When Buffalo is able to make their opponent one-dimensional, they are very successful. So it will be up to this offensive line to open up holes and allow Chatman to get going early in this game, keeping Buffalo's defense on their heels.
When Cleo Lemon does have to put the ball in the air, there's a good chance he'll have time to make a good read and find an open receiver. The Bills pass defense has been suspect all season long. They rank 29th in the league, allowing 255 yards per game through the air and letting the opposing QB complete 64% of his passes. They also only have 8 sacks through 8 games. This means that Lemon should have some open targets to throw to down the field and should have the time to make a good throw. In my view, if Lemon struggles, there will be no excuses for him anymore. The lack of a pass rush by Buffalo coupled with Miami's offensive line, which has played quite well, should mean Lemon will have success. Also keep in mind that he's seen this defense before just last year. In that game, he came on in relief of Joey Harrington in December in Buffalo. He ended up going 9 of 16 for 98 yards but failed to score. But at least he didn't turn the ball over, either. Regardless, I think this is the last straw for Cleo. If he struggles in the first half, I will be hoping and praying we see John Beck. More more excuses for Cleo. He either performs at a starting QB's level, or he's out.
When you look at individual matchups in the passing game, it's hard not to get excited about the "Battle of the Buckeyes." Of course I'm referring to Ted Ginn and Bills' cornerback Ashton Youboty. It's likely that these 2 will be matched up all game and I have to say that I'm fairly confident that Teddy will be able to get open relatively often. What I wonder about is how the Bills plan to cover him. Will they bracket cover him with a safety over top? And if so, will it be with another former Buckeye, Donte Whitner, or with Jim Leonhard (who is replacing the injured Ko Simpson)? I would expect it to be Leonhard simply because of how good Whitner is against the run. If so, I think Ginn could be open a few times deep. The problem, as always, will be if Lemon is able to connect with him.
That's all I got for now. The second half of the preview will be up tomorrow.