The Miami Dolphins are coming off an impressive, upset win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 6, but now will have to pull off another upset, this time within their own division, as they host the Buffalo Bills in Week 7. The Bills, 4-2 on the year and winner of four straight, are only a game behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East and are legitimate playoff contenders this year. If Miami wants to gain some respect around the league, they need to pull off this win and show the slow start over the first five weeks of the season was more a matter of getting used to the new systems being used in a new coaching staff than it was an indictment of their talent.
That is going to be a tough task against a physical, attacking Bills. Buffalo is first in the league in rushing offense this year, 11th in total defense, and have the second-most sacks in the league with 20 on the season. They also are the second best team in terms of turnover differential, with a +8 for the season, having recorded six interceptions and six fumbles taken-away this year, while they have given away just two of each.
What does Miami have to do to beat Buffalo?
Keep the J-Train rolling
Last week, Jay Ajayi broke out with a 204-yards rushing performance, surpassing his previous career high for a game, which was 48 yards. While another 200-yard performance is not likely, keeping Ajayi in the game and productive will assist in taking the heat off quarterback Ryan Tannehill and get the team into manageable second- and third-down distances. The Bills are going to stack the box and try to force Miami to abandon the run, but the Miami offense works better when they are committed to the run and can use play action to set up the pass. If they give up on the run early, it could be a long day of picking Tannehill up off the dirt.
Offensive line harmony
Last week was the first time the Dolphins started their actual starting offensive line, using Branden Albert, Laremy Tunsil, Mike Pouncey, Jermon Bushrod, and Ja’Wuan James (from left to right). Actually getting all five starters back on the field was a huge step forward for the offense, and that has to continue in Week 7. Opening the running lanes for Ajayi is important, but against a team that is second in sacks on the year, where your team has allowed the fourth most sacks this year, it is probably more critical to get the pass protection up to par.
Control the former Dolphins
Prediction time. Mike Gillislee, Reggie Bush, Dan Carpenter, Richie Incognito and Charles Clay will be the captains for the Bills this week. If he is active, you could even see Justin Hunter, who was briefly with the Dolphins this year, show up at midfield. It is a Rex Ryan move to always make former members of a team who are now Bills serve as the captains for any games against their former squad. Ryan will also likely look to get all three of those players involved in the game plan early and often. Clay, the former Miami tight end who, in a bidding war and a transition tag battle ended up with the Bills, was limited in practice this week, but he is expected to play. He has 22 receptions for 239 yards this season, but could be a major target this week as Ryan looks to continue his habit of using players in “retribution” type of games.
Play Rex Ryan’s game against him
The Dolphins defense features two former Bills players who need to come up big in this game. Defensive end Mario Williams and linebacker Kiko Alonso will both be relied upon to make impact plays this week, and they need to step up. Williams has to get pressure on - and contain - quarterback Tyrod Taylor while Alonso has to fill gaps and tackle whichever running back is coming at him (starter LeSean McCoy has an injured hamstring and is a “game-time decision” which could mean even more opportunities for Gillislee and Bush). Williams said earlier in the week he is more concerned about playing well than getting revenge on Ryan, but there is no reason he cannot have both.
Last week, the Dolphins seemed to discover a secret about their defensive line: Cameron Wake is pretty good. Maybe it is time to keep using him like a Pro Bowl defensive end. Wake started last week and played 75 percent of the defensive snaps. He recorded a half-sack and a tackle, but was constantly getting into the backfield and disrupting Ben Roethlisberger/Landry Jones. Wake may not be the young, every snap player he was a few years ago, but his Achilles injury from last year appears to be fully behind him now and, while he may not be great against the run, neither is the rest of the team. Let Wake get on the field and get after Taylor, and Miami could have a chance in this game. Williams from the right (or Andre Branch, who started last week and appeared to please the coaching staff with his efforts), Wake from the left, and Ndamukong Suh up the middle is the best defensive line the team has, and it is time to use them and get Taylor thinking rather than just playing.