The NFL returns tonight. The Buffalo Bills return to games that count on Sunday, when they'll take on the hated - yes, hated, Mike Harrington - Miami Dolphins. Now that it's Thursday, and the game is mere days away, we're going to start getting into the details of what is a vastly underrated Week 1 matchup.
Speaking of matchups, that's how we'll start our analysis - by breaking down key personnel matchups within the game. Joining us this morning to help us do exactly that is Matt Infante from the distinguished Dolphins community of SB Nation, The Phinsider. I've already helped break down two key matchups over in enemy territory, and Matt's here to do precisely the same thing for you fine people this morning. I asked Matt to comment on matchups involving two fairly electrifying players.
Marshall will be making his official Dolphins debut on Sunday, and you have to imagine the Dolphins are going to try to get him involved early and often in the passing game. Marshall has historically performed very well against Buffalo. In two career games, he has 15 receptions for 181 yards and a touchdown. McGee was a starter in both of those games (from '07 and '08), and though I'm not sure how many of those completions were against Terrence, I'd have to imagine Brandon got his fair share.
The 5'9" McGee just doesn't matchup well with the 6'4", 230-pound monster that is Brandon Marshall. But really - not many corners do. The Bills will certainly be shadowing a safety in Marshall's direction, but I am still expecting Brandon to produce. The key for Buffalo will be limiting the impact of those receptions as best they can. The advantage, of course, goes to the Dolphins here.
C.J. Spiller vs Karlos Dansby
For the Dolphins, containing the electrifying rookie running back is going to be priority number one. I was a big fan of his heading into the draft - many Dolphin fans were. And like most Fin fans, I was disappointed to see Spiller end up in Buffalo. I don't want to have to face this kind of game-breaking running back twice a year - and that's just speaking the truth. But the strength of Miami's defense is probably their front seven's ability to stop the run. Still, despite that fact and the fact that Buffalo's offensive line has many question marks, I'm still very uncomfortable about this. The truth is that this particular matchup is going to come down to much more than just Dansby - whose greatest strength is dropping into coverage. Pay particular attention to how well Miami's outside linebackers set the edge on runs outside, for example. Their ability to keep containment on Spiller will go a long way towards limiting his effectiveness. Regardless, he's always one touch away from a touchdown - and that's why Buffalo gets the edge here in this matchup.
A Few Quick Thoughts
I brought up Dansby for a particular reason - his strength is most definitely coverage, as Matt says, but he's also the best sideline-to-sideline defender Miami employs by a wide margin. He's the inside linebacker that will be trying to laterally mirror Spiller and using his speed to try to limit cutback runs. It's imperative that Buffalo get a guard on Miami's new ILB, as he's the biggest deterrent to Spiller breaking of long runs.
I've thrown the towel in on Marshall. He's going to catch passes. Buffalo needs to keep him from making huge plays, re-double their efforts in the red zone, and make sure that guys like Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano aren't killing them while they focus on Marshall. Simple scheming can slow Marshall down enough to be effective defensively, but there's a lot to pay attention to when you're defending the Dolphins.