Rematch at the Ralph: Predictions, Matchups & Key Stats for Dolphins VS. Bills
Do or die. The Miami Dolphins enter Sunday’s game coming off of a brutal 36-7 loss to the New England Patriots. This game was not only frustrating due to the lack of competition, but also because it dropped the team to 0-3 in the division. In the NFL’s playoff system, very few teams can earn a wildcard spot without going at least 2-4 or 3-3 in the division. That being said, Sunday is the definition of a must-win game for the Dolphins.
The team’s second-matchup with Rex Ryan’s team promises to be more physical than the first, as Dolphins’ head coach Dan Campbell enters with a fairly similar mentality to Ryan. After going away from the run too early last week, Campbell and his staff will likely provide Buffalo with a steady dose of rushing attempts to help combat the equally physical style of Rex Ryan’s offense.
There will be big hits. There will be busy running backs. But most importantly, there will be two teams trying their hardest to win the battle in the trenches.
In all likelihood, their playoff hopes depend upon it.
By the Numbers: Buffalo’s Offense
Total Offensive Efficiency:
What do you expect from a Rex Ryan-coached team’s offense? Rushing yards and efficiency.
The Bills are the NFL’s 24th total offense in terms of yards per game. This is not surprising, given Ryan’s tendency to emphasize defensive football. However, what he lacks in offensive prowess he makes up for in determination. Ryan’s team is currently 11th in the NFL for rushing yards per game (123.9), and has the 10th longest average yards per carry (4.0). The Bills’ stats in the passing game are skewed, given EJ Manuel’s struggles, but that is not the strength of Rex Ryan’s teams in the first place. They have the 6th fewest passing yards on the season, but have the 8th highest completion percentage (67.1%). Ladies and gentlemen, Rex Ryan dink and dunk football.
Third-Downs and Play-Calling:
The Buffalo Bills’ offense has the 5th most five-minute drives in the NFL (11 of their 83). The team loves to run the ball and milk the clock. Miami ran into this problem against the Bills last time the teams met. While they may have very long drives, they struggle on third down. They are 27th in the NFL in that area, indicating that they struggle when forced into those uncomfortable situations. This, combined with the fact that they have thrown the 4th fewest passes on first down (making them one dimensional) means that Miami can potentially send Buffalo into third downs, an area in which Ryan’s team struggles.
Scoring By Quarter:
The Dolphins’ defense will need to play a full 60-minutes of football in order to combat the Bills’ offense, given their pattern of scoring. They are 17th in scoring during the second quarter, and 31st in scoring during the third quarter. The problem is that they surge in the fourth quarter and are ranked 2nd in points scored on average during that quarter. Even if Miami enters the fourth quarter with a lead, they will have to be very careful of Buffalo’s offense during that quarter of the game.
By the Numbers: Buffalo’s Defense
Rex Ryan is known for creating a dominant defense wherever he goes. The Bills started out the season as one of the league’s hottest units, but have actually tapered off in their effectiveness as injuries mount and offenses acquire more film. Buffalo ranks 16th in points allowed, which would be fine for most teams, but not for a Rex Ryan group.
While they do rank 4th in rush defense, they struggle against the pass and in key situations. They are 16th in third down effectiveness (holding offenses on 33.7% of their attempts). They have allowed the 9th most passing touchdowns (tied with Miami), and the 8th most touchdowns to wide receivers. They give up the 5th highest percentage of offensive touchdowns in the red zone for opponent’s trips (63.16%). Most surprisingly, they rank 29th in sacks with only 11 on the season.
In terms of effectiveness by quarter, Buffalo’s defense mirrors their offense. They give up the 9th most points in the second quarter and the 4th most points in the third quarter. They then rank 17th in scoring allowed in the first quarter, and allow the 6th fewest fourth quarter points. This is very troubling, given their impressive offensive effectiveness in the fourth, and creates a substantial scoring differential. If you head into the later portion of the game with a lead, beware of the Buffalo Bills.
Reshad Jones VS. Tyrod Taylor:
Tyrod Taylor is not an elite quarterback. He is another example of a player that Rex Ryan’s system can help out greatly, as he can execute efficiently. Miami’s goal will have to be to confuse Taylor in coverage and force him into errors when he takes shots down the field. This job will fall on Reshad Jones.
Jones has been having a career year, and Miami will have to play to the strengths of their defense if they want to generate enough turnovers to beat Buffalo. Rex Ryan’s offense will lure you in with short passes and runs, then strike deep on play action passes. Reshad Jones’ ability to bait Taylor into bad decisions will be key in this game.
Ndamukong Suh VS. Buffalo Interior O-Line:
Interior pressure will destroy young quarterbacks. If Miami can put the heat on Taylor up the middle of the field, they will be able to disrupt his rhythm and close off his throwing lanes. Suh will also have to carry more weight given the injury to Cameron Wake.
Buffalo destroyed Miami on play action in their last game. If Suh can help shut down the run, then the Buffalo offense will be unable to establish a credible threat on the ground. This would render play action passes useless, and would disrupt a substantial part of the Bills’ offense.
Miami Dolphins VS. Themselves:
The Dolphins beat themselves against Buffalo in their first meeting. They tackled poorly, committed penalties on third downs, and called plays with no determination or intent. Miami’s offense could not establish any rhythm in the first game, and it was mostly self-inflicted.
If the Dolphins want to beat Buffalo in this game, they will have to avoid the tragic holding calls that have plagued them this season, show determination in pounding the football on the ground, and make sure that they tackle on defense and stop Buffalo from gaining yards after the catch on the short passes Rex Ryan is famous for.
In all likelihood, they will be their own biggest obstacle in notching a win at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
60-minutes of complete football. That’s all Miami needs. The team needs to avoid penalties, establish the ground game, and make sure that they are relentless from the opening kickoff until the closing seconds. Rex Ryan’s team struggles in the air, so Miami will have to shut down the run early and force Buffalo to throw the ball. On defense, Buffalo struggles against the pass. This means that Miami will have to establish a credible threat of the run so that they can throw the ball and generate time in the pocket for Ryan Tannehill.
The Dolphins know how to beat this team. The only question is execution. This will be the biggest moment of the season for Dan Campbell. This is a must-win game that could either set up Miami for a run in the second half of the season, or could end 2015 at the halfway mark. Regardless of how many wins they notch after this meeting, it will be almost impossible to make the playoffs if they are swept by the Bills and drop to 0-4 in the division.
I do not know if Miami can pull this game off, but I am inclined to bet on Dan Campbell to motivate this team ahead of their biggest game yet. If the team plays sound and physical football, then they will have a chance to knock off the Bills and revive their playoff hopes for the 2015 season.
Final Prediction: 21-20 Miami*
*This game is such a toss up it is not even funny. Basically, just pray.