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2016 Miami Dolphins: Reclaiming the AFC East, Buffalo Bills Edition

The Miami Dolphins are 13-23 in the last 6 years in the AFC East. How can we construct our team in free agency and the draft to match up better with our division rivals? This segment looks at how we can take down the Buffalo Bills.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The "Reclaiming the AFC East" series will delve into our AFC East rivals, and how we can escape building our roster in a vacuum, and measuring up to how our AFC East foes have constructed their rosters. We play the AFC East 38.5% of each season, and it's prudent to see how we stack up: the Dolphins must do better at constructing the roster to capitalize on other AFC East teams' weaknesses and masking their strengths. Today, we'll look at the Buffalo Bills.

43. That's not the number of beers I have to drink to drown out a Dolphins loss OR the number of primates Alpha has trained for his late-night missions, that's the number of combined points the Buffalo Bills beat the 2015 Miami Dolphins by - the largest number of any AFC East opponent. I happened to be in the 4th row of the tilt at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2015, and I saw firsthand how ugly it was. The Dolphins have a lot of work to do.

Key Stats in the Home Game in Week 3:

  • The Dolphins were down 27-0 at halftime.
  • I won't even post stats, Tyrod Taylor destroyed us.
  • Tannehill was sacked twice, threw 3 INT's (1 of which was returned for a TD) in the first half.
  • Buffalo was 7-13 on 3rd down; Miami was 4-13 on 3rd down.

Key Stats in the Away Game in Week 9:

  • Buffalo ran for 266 yards; Tyrod Taylor threw 12 passes all game. Despite those 12 passes, Taylor put up a 98 QBR which was the highest Bills total in the last 10 seasons. The 2nd highest total was against the Dolphins in Week 3 of 2015.
  • Of those 266 yards, 171 yards came before contact.
  • The Bills ran 12 times for 102 yards and 2 TD's outside the tackles, the 2nd most yards of this nature in Bills history in the previous 10 years.
  • The Bills had 9 rushes of 10+ yards, which was the most in the NFL at that point in the season.
  • The Bills had 2 100-yard rushers (McCoy and Williams), and a 100-yard receiver (Watkins).
  • Buffalo was 8-13 on 3rd down.

The Bills ran for 417 yards on the Miami Dolphins in 2 games in 2015; they won the turnover margin by a significant amount, established early leads, made more big plays, and converted on 15 of 26 3rd downs. That's a recipe for disaster, and that's exactly what happened to the Miami Dolphins in 2015.

Positional Group Strengths on the Offense: RB, QB

Tyrod Taylor, to a little surprise by this author, made the Pro Bowl - but his performances against the 2015 Dolphins were highlight reel material. The Bills rushing attack of LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams destroyed the Dolphins front 7.

Individual talent: Richie Incognito (Guard) made an example of his former team, and combining with Cordy Glenn at LT, opened innumerable lanes for Bills RB's to pick apart the Dolphins defense and kept Tyrod Taylor safe to sling the ball at will. Sammy Watkins abused our secondary, specifically Brent Grimes, in the week 9 matchup @ Buffalo.

How can we mask their strengths on offense? To me, it starts with DT and LB. The Bills ran up the middle, to the outside, and used their TE (I'm sure you remember Clay making us look silly on a couple of plays). Taylor scrambled for first downs, and used his pocket protection for big plays. Jordan Phillips and Earl Mitchell teamed up to be the 2 worst run defenders in the NFL in 2015, in both ranked and unranked players per PFF. Matching either of those 2 against an All-Pro caliber guard in Richie Incognito, with a vendetta against us, proved to be too much. Luckily, Buffalo is not in the best salary cap terms, and both Incognito and Glenn are free agents this year. At any rate, we need more out of Jordan Phillips, or to offer him competition by signing or drafting a DT. The volatility at DE is a concern, with the possibility of Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby not coming back, and a subpar Cameron Wake a possibility as well. Depending on the front office decision at DE, an investment in DE may be paramount to keep up with the Buffalo Bills' construction of their roster. We will need to win the trenches to match up better with the 2016 Buffalo Bills.

Perhaps the best way of masking the Buffalo Bills' strengths on offense is LB. Kelvin Sheppard was terrible, and the other LB's were average at best. A better LB corps not only helps us stuff the run and eliminate the yards before contact, but also helps us to match up better with Charles Clay, cover the RB's out of the backfield, and QB spy on Taylor. Remember, the Bills killed us on 3rd downs in 2015 - and the ability to spy on Taylor in the backfield as a passer/runner will help us get off the field and get the ball back in the offense's hands.

Positional Group Strengths on the Defense: CB

Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore formed a top-10 CB duo, per PFF.

Individual talent: Although Branden Albert was hurt in the first game against Buffalo and Ja'Wuan James hurt in the 2nd game, Jerry Hughes provided consistent pressure against Ryan Tannehill. Marcell Dareus also got a sack, provided pressure, and stuffed the run against anemic Dolphins guard play. Dareus penetrates our line regularly, and Mike Pouncey doesn't seem to help much.

How can we mask their strengths on defense? The same way we'll beat other teams: improve the interior line play and be able to run the ball. We'll be able to understand better how to attack their defense when we get to their weaknesses, but their strong CB's playing at the line of scrimmage hampers our WR screen game - and we used it to dismal effect in 2015 against the Bills - they dared us to throw it deep. We put up yardage in garbage time, but we showed an overall inability to matriculate the ball down the field with big plays, as a result of quick pressure to the QB and the inability of WR's to get open. A more concentrated effort on RB screens, a running game, misdirection, and play action will help mask the strengths of the Bills' defense.

Positional Group Weaknesses on Offense: RT, WR

Sammy Watkins in the week 9 game accounted for an astronomical weight of passing game production. Seeing it firsthand, Brent Grimes is a mismatch. Tony Lippett's size will allow him to match up with Watkins, ceding Grimes to the Bills' #2, which is anybody's guess at this point. Again, the Dolphins' DL will dictate how we can take advantage of the Bills' weakness at RT, also considering what happens with Glenn and Incognito at LT and LG, too. Considering Buffalo's propensity to run, a mobile QB, and a lack of perimeter threats - a quality DL is paramount.

Positional Group Weaknesses on Defense: LB, S, Nickel Corner

The Buffalo Bills' LB corps was almost as weak as the Dolphins, but we didn't attack them in nearly the same fashion. Our WR screen game was negated by their quality CB play and press coverage; we didn't attack them deep, run the ball, use our TE's, or utilize play action. Play action, a run game, usage of TE, and RB screens will all be the key to schematic success against the Bills in 2016.

We will need to out-draft and out-"free agency" the Buffalo Bills in 2016, but with an emphasis on interior line play, LB play, and play calling (all 3 of which will be popular themes in this series), we will show better production against Buffalo.

How do we get control of the AFC East, namely against Buffalo? Let's hear your thoughts!