The Miami Dolphins will head to Orchard Park, New York to take on the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. In the all-time series in Buffalo, Miami leads 25-24. Will they be able to extend that series lead or will the Bills even it up? There are numerous things the Dolphins can do to help guide themselves to a victory on Sunday. Here are the top three that they should focus on.
Run the ball
This one might seem obvious, but the Dolphins will have an excellent opportunity to establish the run game against a Bills' defensive line that is missing one of its key players in Kyle Williams, who is out due to injury.
In their Week 3 match-up, Lamar Miller rushed 7 times for 38 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He split time withJonas Gray because of a nagging ankle injury. Gray rushed 9 times for 39 yards, also averaging 5.4 yards per carry.Damien Williams had two of his own rushes and picked up 17 yards, averaging 8.5 yards per carry.
So, why did they abandon the run against the Bills if it seemed to be working? It's because the Dolphins shot themselves in the foot over and over again with tipped balls that turned into interceptions, bad protection and yes, even bad awareness at times from quarterback Ryan Tannehill. This included two back-to-back interceptions towards the end of the first half, which allowed the Bills to convert it into ten points. The score at halftime? 27-0. It's hard to stay committed to the run game when you are down that much with only two-quarters of football left to play.
If the Dolphins are able to control the tempo of the game and either get ahead early or keep the game close, they need to continue to run the ball on a suspect run defense. Remember that the Dolphins' offensive line has changed somewhat as well. Billy Turner has replaced Jamil Douglas, who wasn't very good when it came time to running the ball. While Jason Fox will be manning the right tackle position, it's not a huge downgrade when running the ball.
I am predicting a big game on the ground for Miller if the Dolphins don't abandon it. Dating back to last season, Miller has 1,533 rushing yards, which is the third most in the AFC. He has also averaged 5.2 yards per carry over the last two seasons, which is the best among all running backs in the NFL.
Everything seems to be in place for a successful rushing attack from the Dolphins. They just need to make sure they put themselves in a position to run the ball throughout the entire game to make this a reality.
Make the Bills one-dimensional by spying Tyrod Taylor
Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor hasn't played football in several weeks so one might assume he would be a bit rusty. A first-year starter, one might also assume that he isn't that good yet at reading coverages and making all of the throws. However, what many people don't take into account is his ability to scramble away from pressure, keep the play alive and then make something happen.
Against the Dolphins in Week 3, he did this time and time again. After scrambling for a bit, a receiver is bound to get open. It doesn't matter if you are the best cornerback in the NFL - give the offense enough time to keep the play alive and eventually, the receiver will break free and get open.
Defensive Coordinator Lou Anarumo said that the Dolphins are well aware of the problems that Taylor presents to not just their defense, but every defense he faces off against.
"Well, as we saw in the first game, if you let him get out on the perimeter and he's a problem because he can run the ball. He's elusive out on the perimeter and not just in our game, but in a number of games and when he's in the pocket he can still stand in there and deliver it. You've got a mobile guy who can hurt you with his arm and his legs. We've got our hands full and he's done a great job this year. We'll be well aware of what he presents, the problems he presents and be in a position to hopefully do a good on him."
That's why the Dolphins need to shut down the passing attack and make the Bills run the ball. One way to do that is to keep a spy on Taylor in obvious passing situations. The Dolphins didn't do much of that in their previous match-up and Taylor was able to run all over the place. Putting a spy on Taylor, whether it's Koa Misi, Kelvin Sheppard, Jelani Jenkins, Chris McCain or someone else, will help them keep Taylor in the pocket and severely limit what he can do.
Yes, the Bills have two good runners in LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams. However, when a team becomes one-dimensional, it is very hard to execute their offense regardless of how good a player may be. Shut down the pass, force them to run and the Dolphins should be in good shape throughout the course of the game.
Play more man coverage and less zone
In the previous match-up against the Dolphins, the Bills used a lot of misdirection and had guys running through zones to get open. It worked as they accumulated 277 yards through the air and three touchdowns. If the Dolphins were to go with more of a man coverage scheme, which they haven't done a ton of this season, I think it would help them contain the misdirection and eliminate some of the big plays that happened when the Bills' receivers found the soft spots in the zones.
Additionally, this type of zone coverage allowed former Dolphins tight end Charles Clay to pick up 82 yards and one touchdown on only five receptions. As the Dolphins did the vast majority of the game against the New England Patriots, they should stick Reshad Jones on the tight end and let him shadow him in obvious passing situations. Fortunately, it looks like that may happen as Anarumo hinted as much in his press conference on Thursday afternoon.
"I think like you said (New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski) Gronk is Gronk and I know this, Reshad (Jones) was on him for most of the game and was in a position to make a play early in the game on a long touchdown and Gronk broke a tackle, but Gronk breaks a lot of tackles. We're looking at that hard, we're going to face him again, we're going to face other tight ends as we get going in the future and we have to do a better job of tweaking some things. At the end of the day, being aware of the tight ends and what they're doing because guess what - Charles Clay in the first game took advantage of us and we can't let that happen and we'll be well aware of where he is again for this upcoming Sunday."
Head Coach Dan Campbell also said that they can do various things to take the tight end out of the game.
"Certainly there is and then you open yourself up to other problems. A lot of those things have been - honestly, communication has been a huge issue. Of course we do play man-to-man at certain times but we play so much of a version of Cover-3 which at times could play like man. You'll pass things off if you get over routes, naked routes, the keepers and all that kind of stuff. Somebody's got to communicate and pass it off - linebackers and safeties. I would say that it's a little more of that type of stuff, if we go man-toman we feel as good as anybody with our matchup there. With Reshad Jones we feel like he can lock down any tight end in this league and then if you draw Jelani (Jenkins) on man to man with a tight end that's a pretty good matchup too. We like what Jelani brings to the table. Certainly do we need to do a better job? Yes, but I think it's more of a communication deal and knowing who you're playing."
The Bills will already be without Percy Harvin and Sammy Watkins is questionable to play. If they can take out Clay and limit Taylor's options in the passing game, they will be well on their way to making the Bills one-dimensional.
At the beginning of the week, I would've told you I wasn't very confident in the Dolphins' chances against the Bills. However, after watching the film from Week 3 and then taking a look at what the Dolphins did well against them, I am confident enough to predict a victory for the Dolphins. Final score? 27-17.
This column was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter: @FinsInsider