The running game. Last week, the Buffalo Bills imposed their will on a big and physical Cleveland defense. What a difference a week makes. Despite a concerted effort to run the ball on the Miami Dolphins (24 called runs, 29 called passes for Buffalo on the day), Miami was able to limit the Bills to less than three yards per carry. Their longest run was 12 yards by C.J. Spiller. Keep in mind that the run statistics are skewed by good yardage picked up on Ryan Fitzpatrick scrambles. Ron will have a better take on this than me, but it looked to me as if the more athletic Dolphins edge rushers (Cameron Wake, Koa Misi) were able to take advantage of average Buffalo offensive tackles, and squeeze the run game inside. Either way, Buffalo has got to develop a power run game to be a legitimate contender moving forward - and Chan Gailey knows it.
Defending Brandon Marshall. The big Miami receiver was the best player on the field all day. If not for four missed field goals by Dan Carpenter, Marshall's big day would've grabbed the headlines. Marshall routinely abused Drayton Florence and Leodis McKelvin, being mostly unfazed by either corner's physical play or athleticism. With Buffalo worried about the potent Miami ground game, Marshall didn't see much bracket coverage or any other sort of combination coverage. If Buffalo's going to have a chance against Miami next year, they've got to deal with Marshall more effectively.
Intensity letdown. This is the first time we've mentioned this in a negative light. After Stevie Johnson's third quarter touchdown, Buffalo seemed to lower their intensity level a notch. The next three Buffalo drives: 13 plays, 36 yards, and three punts. The four Miami drives after the Johnson touchdown: 34 plays, 189 yards, one touchdown, two missed field goals, and a drive cut short by the clock at the end of the game. Three of the four Miami drives were sustained, with the best starting field position being at the Dolphins 23 yard line. If they don't miss either (or both) of the last two field goals, this is a different ball game. Buffalo is not good enough to take any score on the board for granted.
Arthur Moats. The rookie is developing into an impact player on the defense. Credited with 1.5 sacks, one tackle for loss, two quarterback hits, and causing Jake Long to jump offsides, the youngster from James Madison is thisclose to ending the debate on whom the Bills' starting "Jack" linebacker will be next year. What a great draft choice. Moats is slowly becoming Buffalo's version of James Harrison: a short linebacker with good power and speed that creates havoc on the field.
Run defense. For whatever reason, the Dolphins only ran 19 times. While their average was under four yards per carry, the Dolphins are a team that continues to pound the ball throughout the course of a game. This game, Miami didn't focus on the run, allowing inconsistent Chad Henne to throw 45 times. Maybe an improving Buffalo run defense was the reason behind that decision, or maybe Dan Henning called a bad game. Either way, any game where the Bills hold a good running team to 65 total yards with a long run of nine yards is a keeper.
Compressing the Miami offense. Buffalo's Tampa 2 defense was known as a bend-but-don't break defense (which often broke late in games at the worst possible time). The 3-4 defense under George Edwards was supposed to be a Bullough-Fairbanks defense that played physically, but wasn't a bending-type defense. That's what we saw on Sunday. For as good as Marshall was, his longest reception was 16 yards. The longest Miami play, and only play over 20 yards, was a 23-yard reception by Ricky Williams. Buffalo made Miami work for what they got and took away all big plays. The Bills kept them outside of the red zone and forced field goal attempts - and on this day, that was a very good thing.
For once, Buffalo won a game it should have lost. If you believe in karma, this game is redemption for the Kansas City game. Good teams do that, but only on occasion. This should be a main point that Chan Gailey makes to his young team this week. Buffalo's next opponent, and the team that Buffalo needs to beat in future games to win future division titles, won't make mistakes like Miami did.
Next: A day-after-Christmas game in Ralph Wilson Stadium against a very 2004-looking Patriots team which isn't making mistakes, and is simply punishing opponents for their own gaffes. A win against the Pats would not only end the dreaded streak, but show that Buffalo has indeed made strides this season.