Miami Dolphins vs Buffalo Bills Preview: Keys to the Game and Matchups to Watch

The Buffalo Bills are hosting the Miami Dolphins after a much needed bye week that allowed a handful of key players to get healthy and return to the field. Both teams are sitting at 3-4, and in a wide open AFC, the playoffs are still in the picture for both teams. In Week 3, Buffalo demolished the Dolphins by a score of 41-14, but following the firing of Head Coach Joe Philbin, Miami has looked like a new team—one that plays with the energy and physicality that Interim Head Coach Dan Campbell personifies.

In addition to the returns of Tyrod Taylor, Karlos Williams, Sammy Watkins, Seantrel Henderson and John Miller to the Buffalo offense, Leodis McKelvin will likely see the field for the first time since suffering a gruesome ankle injury against, you guessed it, the Dolphins, last season. There’s been speculation that McKelvin will see time at safety, due to injuries to Corey Graham and Aaron Williams, in addition to stellar cornerback play by rookie Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore.

After several Bills’ defensive linemen were vocal about their displeasure with the amount of coverage responsibilities Rex Ryan asked of them, Mario Williams was the lone member of the “Front Four” with a coverage snap against the Jaguars, in a game where they ran more of the 4-3 Over and Under fronts that made the unit so successful over the last two seasons. Hopefully, Coach Ryan used the bye week to evaluate the issues within the defensive scheme, and makes the necessary adjustments to allow his defense to perform up to expectations.

Bills Offense vs Dolphins Defense

After suffering through two weeks of second and third stringers on offense, Greg Roman gets his playmakers back which will allow him to be more diverse and aggressive in regards to play-calling. Tyrod Taylor, who completed 70.1% of his passes for 1,097 yards at an 8.0 yards-per-attempt average, tossing nine touchdowns to just four interceptions, adding another 187 yards and two score on the ground.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Miami’s pass defense is pretty poor, allowing 15 touchdowns and 255 yards-per-game through the air. Brent Grimes is a high-caliber cornerback, but Jamar Taylor who plays to the right side has been dreadful, allowing 64.3% of passes to be caught against him (43rd) for 342 yards (39th) while giving up two touchdowns and allowing quarterbacks to post a 105.5 passer rating when targeting him. He’ll see most of his snaps against Sammy Watkins.

Charles Clay should have another big day against his former team, after racking up 82 yards and a score on five catches in their first meeting. On the year, Miami’s defense has allowed opposing tight ends to catch 32 passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns, so incorporating Clay into the game-plan should be a priority for Greg Roman.

The game will ultimately be decided in the trenches, where the Bills’ inconsistent offensive line will battle with Miami’s improving defensive line. Despite the loss of Cameron Wake for the remainder of the season, Derrick Shelby was already splitting snaps with him at the left defensive end position and his 15 QB pressures ranked 21st among 4-3 defensive ends. He’ll see Seantrel Henderson, who’s really struggled this year.

Ndamukong Suh has finally hit his stride after getting off to a slow start with his new team, and now 19 tackles, four for a loss, two sacks, and four pass deflections. After generating just one QB hit and nine hurries in his first four games, he’s racked up two sacks, five QB hits and eight hurries in his last three. He’ll likely see a lot of double teams by Eric Wood and John Miller, who’ve both had their share of struggles this year. Miller’s 15 pressures allowed are 23rd in the league, and ProFootballFocus has him graded as the No. 78 offensive guard of 80 qualifying players.

Left tackle Cordy Glenn will see Olivier Vernon—a player he’s struggled mightily against, surrendering two sacks, four QB hits and four hurries in their last three meetings.

With offensive line coach Aaron Kromer back from suspension, he’ll need to make sure that this unit can not only protect Tyrod Taylor, but also provide a push in the running game.

Bills Defense vs Dolphins Offense

hughesThe Bills’ defensive line has destroyed Miami’s offensive line for the past three years, racking up 20 sacks, 29 QB Hits and 74 hurries in the last five meetings. In Week three, Buffalo hit Tannehill 11 times and hurried him another 18 times. Guards Dallas Thomas, Jamil Douglas and Billy Turner have been atrocious, combining to allow nine sacks, 10 hits and 22 hurries. Despite the absence of Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Corbin Bryant should be able to exploit this obvious mismatch on the interior.

With Miami’s right tackle Ju’Wuan James out for the game due to injury, Mario Williams will likely face reserve tackle Jason Fox– who surrendered seven pressures and was flagged twice against Jerry Hughes in Week Three– or Dallas Thomas, who’s never played tackle before. This could be a bloodbath.

Jerry Hughes will line up opposite Branden Albert who’s still not 100-percent while nursing an ankle injury, so look for Hughes to exploit this with speed rushes to the outside as well as inside moves or stunts.

Miami’s passing game generally flows through the middle of the field, where Ryan Tannehill is 81-for-106 (76.4%) for 1,027 yards (9.6 YPA) and 7 touchdowns. His favorite target is slot receiver Jarvis Landry, a physical, yet shifty and savvy route runner that consistently moves the chains. On the outside, Rishard Matthews is developing into a quality receiver. He’s caught 33 passes for 500 yards (15.2 yards-per-catch) and four touchdowns on the year. He’s recorded seven catches of 20+ yards, despite being targeted just 46 times. He’ll have his work cut out for him against two of the best cornerbacks in the league, Stephon Gilmore and rookie Ronald Darby.

Darby has made a legitimate case to be a defensive rookie of the year candidate, as he’s allowed 28 receptions on 58 targets (5th most), a 48.3% completion rate (4th), recorded two interceptions, broke up 14 passes (1st) and is allowing a 48.6 passer rating (4th best).

The Dolphins have looked to establish the run more in recent weeks, with Lamar Miller leading the way with 434 yards and three touchdowns on 79 carries, a 5.5 yards-per-carry average. He’s added another 20 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown as well. The Bills have been stout against the run, allowing a 3.8 yards-per-carry average and are allowing just over 91 yards-per-game on the ground, the sixth-best total in the league. However, they’ve struggled to cover running backs in the passing game, allowing 319 yards and a touchdown on 26 catches.

Final Thoughts

In order to win this game, Rex Ryan must let the defensive line pin their ears back and get after Ryan Tannehill. That recipe worked in Week 3, and the way Miami’s offensive line has played in recent weeks, it should work again. With the front four providing pressure, the pressure on the depleted safeties will decrease as well.

On offense, the Bills need to prove that they can dictate the pace of the game, and that starts with the running game. LeSean McCoy has looked fantastic the past two weeks and the return of Karlos Williams should provide a boost to that. The Bills have the skill players to out-match Miami’s secondary, but it’s up to the offensive line to give Tyrod Taylor the time to make plays.


Dolphins- 24