Make or Break: Analyzing the Miami Dolphins’ Matchup with the Buffalo Bills

The Narrative:

This game will be a turning point. Not only for the Miami Dolphins as a team, but also for plenty of individual players and coaches. This game will go a long way towards deciding the fate of Joe Philbin, facing a team he has gone 2-4 against in his three seasons. It will be a good gauge for the progress of Ryan Tannehill, attempting to operate the offense through Rex Ryan’s complex blitzes and coverage schemes. It will be a test for the defensive line to see if they can rise to the occasion and play up to ability of Mario Williams and the Bills’ unit, which happens to be one of the best front-fours in the league. Basically, this game will be as important as any game this early in the season could be.

A win against Buffalo is critical for Joe Philbin’s team. The Miami Dolphins’ season desperately needs energy. Even if the team is 1-1, it feels much worse than that. Much like a college team emerging from non-conference play and entering games against their rivals, the team could perform up to their opponent. For the Miami Dolphins, the time is now; the divisional debut and home opener against the Buffalo Bills could provide the team with a huge amount of energy. It’s time for the Dolphins to show us what they’re made of.

Key Matchups:

Jarvis Landry VS. Stephon Gilmore

(Correy Perine/AP)

(Correy Perine/AP)

The Miami Dolphins will have to call plays that allow for Ryan Tannehill to get rid of the ball quickly if they want to counteract the Bills’ pass rush. As we all know, Jarvis Landry has become Tannehill’s favorite and most reliable target. If the team is going to be able to release the ball quickly and slowly move up the field, Jarvis Landry will have to free himself from the coverage of Stephon Gilmore.

Last season, Landry caught ten passes in his two games against Buffalo. I will concede that he was not technically the number one option in last year’s group, but now he will get looks early and often. He might need to have ten catches in this game alone for the Dolphins to have a chance. Tannehill has confidence looking Landry’s way, and he knows that he can squeeze the ball into tight windows and allow Jarvis to make plays. The game-plan will certainly include plenty of short routes and underneath throws that will help slow down the pass rush and create long drives to fatigue the Bills’ defense. Last weekend Julian Edelman was targeted nineteen times against the Bills, and ended the day with 11 catches for 97 yards. The Dolphins should look closely at what he did to slip Stephon Gilmore, as Landry will need to have a similar performance for the team to have long, sustained drives.

Ja’Wuan James & Co. VS Mario Williams 

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Mario Williams has owned the Miami Dolphins. Since he arrived in Buffalo (the same year that Tannehill arrived in Miami) he has given our team fits. There isn’t really much to say about this one, except that Ja’Wuan James cannot do it alone. We will need to use Jordan Cameron, Lamar Miller, and even other offensive linemen to help James fend off Williams.

If Miami lets Mario Williams rush Tannehill as freely as he has in the past, this game won’t be a contest. Williams has registered 8.5 sacks of Tannehill since he joined Buffalo. That number is simply unacceptable (granted Dallas Thomas did give up plenty of those, as seen above). The Dolphins will need to commit plenty of resources to chipping Mario Williams and slowing down his path to the quarterback. I say slow down because it really isn’t possible to stop. The team just has to try to get in the way for long enough so that Tannehill can find Landry on the aforementioned short passes.

Dolphins’ Linebackers VS. Lesean McCoy

LeSean McCoy

While Lesean McCoy is still afflicted by a lingering hamstring injury, he is still Lesean McCoy. The Dolphins struggled to stop the ground and pound Redskins offense, and will have to prepare for a rush-heavy assault from the Bills’ duo of McCoy, Boobie Dixon, and Karlos Williams. I have a feeling that the Buffalo interior o-line will make it tough on Dixon and Williams, both of whom are power backs. The team will be focused on stopping the Bills from the inside, but I am more concerned with what happens when McCoy gets going.

The Dolphins have showed very poor tackling in the team’s first two games. Well that’s just awesome considering we are facing one of the shiftiest backs in the NFL on Sunday. Rex Ryan is committed to his running attack (novel concept), and he will continue to let McCoy loose until he breaks a long run. The Dolphins’ linebackers need to be ready for McCoy, because when he gets past the second level it is all over.

Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi will have to work themselves to the bone this week to understand the Bills’ blocking schemes and attempt to predict their play calling. Kelvin Sheppard will just have to stay out of his own way. Seriously, it’s almost worse when he tries to make plays as he ends up getting pancaked or taking a bad angle while the runner explodes through a gaping hole in the defense. The team will have to make sure that linebackers are prepared to stop McCoy about 2-5 yards into his runs, because after that it really is no-man’s land trying to bring him down in the open field.

Cam Wake & Olivier Vernon VS. Cordy Glenn & Seantrel Henderson:

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Tyrod Taylor is not a multi-dimensional quarterback. He is coached very well, and can manage games when he is allowed to use his mobility. What Miami has to do above all else is force Taylor out of his comfort zone. Ironically, forcing him out of the zone involves keeping him inside of another one: the pocket.

Taylor’s mobility could give Miami fits. If he can establish the play action rollout as a viable threat, then the Dolphins’ linebackers will struggle the entire day. The team needs to stop the run, and establish themselves on the edge to keep Taylor in the pocket. He struggles mightily throwing over the middle and between linebackers when confined to the pocket, so if Miami can keep him there then we might have a chance.

The name of the game is keeping an offense dynamic. If the team can keep Taylor contained, the pass wont be as much of a threat. This would allow them to focus on the run and avoid getting into uncomfortable situations with third-down rollouts. Keeping the Bills’ offense one-dimensional would allow the team to have success in a similar way that Jacksonville had success against us: if they can’t use one phase of their offense, they become predictable.

What Miami Needs to Do to Win:

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Win. Up. Front. It really comes down to the Dolphins’ ability to do two things: stop the run, and limit pressure on Ryan Tannehill. Force Tyrod Taylor to push the ball down field, and it’s going to be a tough day for Sexy Rexy. The team cannot afford to allow the Bills’ ground game to develop, because then they’ll get burned by the play action as well.

On offense, Tannehill needs to make sure that he doesn’t turn the ball over and that he gets passes off quickly. He won’t have four seconds to hold the ball. It’s going to be a very long afternoon also if Miami can’t establish a ground game. Tannehill needs opportunities to roll out and make plays on the run, and he cannot do that if teams don’t believe that we will actually run it. It will come down to the line’s ability to open up holes, and Tannehill’s ability to strike quickly and lead long drives.

Time of possession and forcing turnovers will be key. Miami doesn’t need 400 yards of offense to beat Buffalo, they just need to control the clock and make the Bills force the ball downfield.

The Skinny:

The Buffalo Bills scare me as much as any team on Miami’s schedule. They matchup extremely well with the Dolphins, and have given us fits for years. Now, Joe Philbin will face the team that has given him the most trouble in a game which could make a world of the difference for the entire team.7769384

This game also marks the homecoming for two ex-Dolphins: Richie Incognito and Charles Clay. Clay shouldn’t have a bone to pick with the Dolphins, as their split was amiable and came down to money. The Incognito homecoming won’t be as friendly. He has said on several occasions that he doesn’t blame the Dolphins organization for their decision, but it doesn’t mean he isn’t going to want to beat the pants off of the guy lined up across from him in aqua and white.

It felt like a new era heading into this year, and so far it has hardly lived up to the loft expectations. Heading into the first game at Sun Life Stadium 2.0, could Miami christen the new renovations with a win? It seems tough against a team that is equipped to handle us as well as the Bills are. This is a very difficult game to predict, and really should come down to the wire. The Dolphins could cleanse their pallet of the inefficiency and sloppy play with a win against Buffalo. This team will need to bring their A-game to compete with Rex Ryan’s group, as he will give Miami headaches via the Bills’ pass-rush and persistent running attack. Now, it’s time for me to start my personal game prep.

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Prediction: 24-21 Bills*

The outcome of this game could be swayed by a light breeze. This is one of the hardest games I can remember having to predict, and I genuinely hope that those numbers are reversed come Sunday evening.

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