One week at a time. It's a mantra that the Bills overlooked a bit a month ago, when they escaped Miami by the skin of their teeth with a 13-10 win over the Dolphins. Truth be told, that is a game that the Bills should not have won - it took 11 fourth-quarter points to pull out that win. Miami had the Bills' number that day; that can't happen again tomorrow.
The situation has not changed much: the Bills enter this game at .500, just as they did a month ago (they were 4-4 at that time), and the Dolphins remain winless. But there has been change: these two teams feature rookie quarterbacks leading banged up teams. With a win, the Bills have a chance to sneak closer to a playoff birth; they also have a shot at finishing above .500 in the AFC East, with sweeps over both Miami and the New York Jets. Here's what Buffalo has to do to win a game that, by all accounts, they should easily control:
Offense: Grind, Wear and Tear
Part of the reason that the Bills struggled so mightily in Miami was, simply put, that Miami imposed their will on them. Miami's offense was able to run very effectively early, leading to a controlled passing game, plenty of first downs, and an almost comfortable lead early. That, folks, is exactly what you can expect to see the Bills try to do offensively tomorrow.
Miami's defense is aging and has struggled to stop the run (they're ranked last in the NFL surrendering 150 rushing yards per game), so expect to see heavy doses of Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. Lynch, if he does end up playing, will likely be eased back into action and used in conjunction with Jackson throughout the game; this could go a long way toward making this Buffalo's most productive rushing effort this season. That will take a lot of pressure off of Trent Edwards and especially Steve Fairchild, who can properly calculate when to take shots down the field with Edwards. It's the ideal offense of Dick Jauron, and there's a chance the Bills can execute it very well this week. It may not, however, allow the team to start quickly - something they need to do to avoid yet another early deficit.
Players to Watch: QB Trent Edwards, RB Fred Jackson, WR Josh Reed
Defense: Keep Making Plays
Jesse Chatman - who racked up 124 rushing yards and was very effective in the November meeting between these two teams - is questionable, but likely out for this game, meaning that journeyman Samkon Gado would be next in line to start. He and Lorenzo Booker would see some time in the backfield; with neither of those two likely to establish much of a running threat (the Bills are coming off of a game in which they limited Clinton Portis to 50 yards), the focus then becomes stopping quarterback John Beck and his favorite target, Ted Ginn.
The Bills were able to beat the Redskins last week by forcing some timely turnovers, putting the offense in position to methodically bring the team back from a 16-5 deficit. Playing in front of a home crowd against the league's worst team which features a rookie quarterback, that absolutely has to continue to happen. The Bills need to force the issue by blitzing Beck, jumping routes and making plays. That's how they'll rattle Beck and keep the Dolphins' score minimized; it's also how they'll put Edwards and the offense in position to finally help them out. Expect Perry Fewell to dial up exactly that game plan - this is Beck's fourth start, and while there are parts of his game that have been impressive, Miami has not scored an offensive touchdown while he's started.
Players to Watch: DT Larry Tripplett, LB Angelo Crowell, CB Terrence McGee
Special Teams: Keep It Neutral
Let's face the music, folks: Buffalo's special teams isn't quite what it has been in recent seasons. The unit has been hammered by injuries and inconsistency from its new players; they have, however, done a fairly solid job of limiting the success of its opponents. That's a tribute to the excellent coaching of Bobby April. April will have his hands full this week with Ginn, however - the rookie is the NFL's fourth-leading punt returner (Roscoe Parrish is first), and he remains one of Miami's few big-play threats. The rookie absolutely needs to be contained on returns - the Dolphins can't be afforded any freebies.
Don't expect to see a lot of Roscoe Parrish in this game. If you do, then Cam Cameron deserves to be bashed; it was Parrish, if you recall, that set up Buffalo's game-winning field goal in Miami with an excellent punt return. Speaking of excellent field goals, keep an eye on Rian Lindell as well. Buffalo has trouble scoring touchdowns (obviously), so Lindell has been the main point-scorer in recent weeks. He's like our Michael Jordan, to an extent. It's likely he'll be a big factor once again in the point-scoring department for the Bills.
Players to Watch: K Rian Lindell, PR Roscoe Parrish, WR Sam Aiken