Buffalo Bills (5-1) at Miami Dolphins (2-4)
Sunday, October 26, 2008 - 1:00 PM EDT
SB Nation's Dolphins coverage: The Phinsider
The Buffalo Bills are set to square off with the Miami Dolphins in just over a day's time in what will be the first division matchup of the season for the Bills. Many Dolphins fans are working under the delusion that we've chalked this game up as a victory already; at least from my perspective, that's not the case. We're not taking this game lightly, and neither are the Bills themselves. It's tough to win on the road anywhere in the NFL, much less against a night-and-day improved divisional opponent. The Bills are going to have to play sound football in all phases to take out this pesky Dolphins team. Here's what they need to do to win a game that, in reality, they should win...
It's all about Ronnie. To state the obvious, Ronnie Brown is the life and soul of Miami's improved offense. When he's on, he's without question the best running back in the league. He's physical with game-breaking speed, and he has good hands - he's really the entire package. Miami is going to use him everywhere - running back, as a receiver, even as a quarterback in their famed Wildcat formation. Brown can't be shut down. But if the Bills can find a way to contain him and limit Brown's ability to pick up large chunks of yardage on a consistent basis, their chances of victory skyrocket.
Tackle well. This one may seem pretty obvious, but it's going to play an important role against some pretty physical Dolphins skill position players. Even though the Bills swept the Chad Pennington-led Jets last season, Pennington completed 45 of 59 passes against the Bills' defense while taking four sacks. We've seen Pennington; we know how he plays - he's the methodical, efficient leader, and he's killed the Bills in years past while in New York. Like any quarterback, however, Pennington quails under pressure - so look for the Dolphins to throw short and let guys like Brown, Greg Camarillo and their formidable tight end duo of Anthony Fasano and David Martin do the work. The Bills need to wrap up consistently, or Miami is going to have a field day on third downs.
Win the turnover battle. Again, this seems obvious, but this is an objective that the Bills have struggled to meet this season, despite their 5-1 record. Miami knows that in order to beat the Bills - and this is true of any team we face - you can't make mistakes, because the Bills capitalize on them. Meanwhile, the Bills have turned the ball over 6 times in three road games this season. The Bills can't make mistakes themselves, because the Dolphins are more than good enough to make the Bills pay. This has got to be a point of emphasis with the Bills, along with avoiding shooting themselves in the foot via penalty - another area where they've regressed slightly this season.
Control the flow of the game. This is an area that I believe the Bills can control week in and week out (aided by the above key, of course), and one that the Bills executed to perfection in last week's win over San Diego. It doesn't matter how it's done, whether it's Trent Edwards completing short throws and moving the chains, or the combination of Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson doing their thing on the ground. The Bills are at their best when they're in control of the flow of the game - meaning they're methodically controlling the clock offensively and getting off the field on third down defensively. They'll attempt to do it again on Sunday - and if they don't, Miami has the ability to flip this key on them in a hurry.
Keep going to Mr. Evans. Believe it or not, when Lee Evans caught 8 passes for 89 yards in last week's win over San Diego, it was just the seventh time in his career that he'd caught 8 or more passes in a game. Oddly enough, the Bills are just 4-3 in those games. But since Kurupt brings this point up every week, it deserves mentioning again - Buffalo's offense is at its best when they get the ball to Evans a few times early in the game. Evans caught three passes on the opening drive against San Diego, and Brian Moorman ended up punting just once. The Bills are efficient - and, obviously, explosive - when Evans gets involved early. They need to make this happen against a porous Dolphins secondary.
Keep Edwards on his feet. Miami is certain to go into this game with "smack Trent Edwards around" as their top objective defensively. The Bills can't let that happen, because the Dolphins have some vicious hitters in Joey Porter and Matt Roth. Whether it's just straight up good pass protection - as they had against San Diego - or running some short routes, screens and establishing the run, keeping Edwards' jersey clean is paramount. When Trent has time, he can carve up any defense - including this Dolphins defense. Keep Trent upright, and you win the game. Let him take hits, and you're taking a huge gamble, not just on this game, but on the '08 season.
There you have it, folks - keys to a big division victory in Miami. This is going to be a big test for the Bills - it's going to be a chore to go into Miami and beat a solid divisional foe that most people anticipate they'll beat. The Dolphins may be a hated rival, but they also deserve a degree of respect - they're a good football team. Hit on these keys, however, and the Bills should emerge with a win.
Game thread will launch at noon eastern tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing a big crowd out to SQUISH THE FISH.