Buffalo Bills (5-1) at Miami Dolphins (2-4)
Four key matchups and who wins them
The Buffalo Bills are set to square off in Miami with the Dolphins this coming Sunday as the Bills look to open the divisional portion of their schedule with a bang. In anticipation of the rivalry game, Matty I of The Phinsider along with yours truly have gotten together for a little debate about four of this game's key personnel matchups.
Here's what each of us had to say about the four matchups we decided to break down. Surprisingly, there wasn't much differentiation of opinion between the two of us; still, it's good for a little debate on a Friday at work. Take a gander and have at it in the comments section.
MATCHUP 1: Dolphins OLB Joey Porter vs. Bills' O-Line
Brian Galliford: The Bills struggled early in the season in pass protection; they gave up 16 sacks in the team's first 5 games. Coming off of the bye week, however, the Bills faced a pretty stiff Chargers pass rush - including the underrated Shaun Phillips - and Trent Edwards wasn't sacked once. In fact, he wasn't even hit. Jason Peters appears to be fully restored to prominence after an off-season holdout, and when at full strength, pass blocking has always been this line's strong point. Joey Porter is an excellent player having an outstanding season, but I don't think he's going to get too many opportunities to hit Edwards. Advantage: Bills
Matty I: While the Bills offensive line did a much better job protecting Trent Edwards last week, I'm still not sold on them. They've still given up the 9th most sacks in the league despite shutting down the Chargers' pass rush and Football Outsiders ranks Buffalo's pass protection 24th in adjusted sack rate - which is a stat that takes into account the number of sacks allowed per pass attempt while considering things like opponent, down, and distance. I think Joey Porter is going to be moved around a little bit more than usual - especially if Jason Peters is having a good game, which would mean Porter would have some pass-rushing opportunities against RT Langston Walker. And I'd be shocked if Porter doesn't at least pressure Edwards on a consistent basis. Advantage: Dolphins
MATCHUP 2: Dolphins DT Randy Starks vs. Bills C Duke Preston
Brian Galliford: Look, I'm as down on Buffalo's centers as anyone. Duke Preston hasn't played much at the position, and Melvin Fowler has struggled mightily throughout his tenure in Buffalo. Fowler is a smart guy, but he's simply lacking physically. Preston is a bit bulkier, but he struggles at the point of attack as well. With that in mind, we know all about Randy Starks - we heard bad things about him this past off-season. Twice, actually. He's playing out of position this week, to boot. Considering that Preston and his interior line mates just kept San Diego's Jamal Williams under control, I'm not particularly concerned about Starks. Advantage: Bills
Matty I: With it looking more and more likely that Jason Ferguson won't be able to play on Sunday (and if he does, wouldn't be at full strength), Randy Starks has to step up. He'll be playing out of position and he didn't play particularly well last week. His inability to take on blockers and free up Miami's linebackers really hurt the Dolphins' ability to stuff the run. And though Marshawn Lynch doesn't have great numbers, he's still a good back. Luckily, neither Melvin Fowler or Duke Preston are particularly good centers. But Preston, with help from the guards, did a surprisingly good job on Jamal Williams last week. The Dolphins' coaches will be hoping for a Jay Ratliff type of performance from Starks - who had little to no experience as a NT last year in Dallas when he filled in admirably for Ferguson after Ferguson went down with an injury. But I'll be honest: I'm a bit worried about this matchup heading into Sunday. Advantage: Bills
MATCHUP 3: Bills WR Lee Evans vs. Dolphins CB Will Allen
Brian Galliford: Evans has been excellent this season. I doubt he's ever going to be a guy who dominates a game from start to finish, as guys like Owens and Moss have proven themselves to be, but he's explosive. He's killed the Dolphins, too - much like former Dolphins WR Chris Chambers routinely killed the Bills. Evans was dominant this past weekend with Antonio Cromartie on his hip; I highly doubt Will Allen will fare much better. Advantage: Bills
Matty I: Ugh. Just the mention of Lee Evans sends chills down my spine. He's the epitome of a Dolphin-killer. In just 8 career games against the Fins, Evans has 8 touchdowns (averaging a TD every 3 catches against Miami) and averages 22.2 yards per catch. While Trent Edwards doesn't throw the deep ball as good as J.P. Losman (at least, form what I've seen), he can still sling it and is more accurate on those intermediate throws. On the positive side, Will Allen has shown that he can defend the smaller, faster receivers better than the taller, more physical ones. And Allen has had at least a little success against Evans, like when he held Evans to just 2 catches for 19 yards in their first meeting back in 2006. Even still, though, you have to imagine the Dolphins are not going to leave Allen alone on Evans. Look for safety help over the top. Advantage: Bills
MATCHUP 4: Bills SS Donte Whitner vs. Dolphins TEs Anthony Fasano/David Martin
Brian Galliford: The Bills generally struggle defending big targets. They were able to contain Antonio Gates last week by lining up reserve safety Bryan Scott on him and throwing double teams at him; Gates still caught 4 passes for pretty sizeable chunks of yardage. I doubt Whitner will see most, if any at all, of his time on these guys; CB Ashton Youboty is unlikely to play, so Whitner could be spending some time at corner. Clearly, Fasano and Martin aren't Gates, but they're a formidable duo that have been performing fairly well, from what I can tell. This is going to be a point of emphasis for the Bills, I believe - shut down the run and attempt to contain Fasano and Martin, who are very obviously two of Pennington's most cherished targets. For now, though... Advantage: Dolphins
Matty I: Tight ends are a big part of a Dan Henning offense and we've seen that this season - with Anthony Fasano and David Martin combining for 33 catches, 467 yards, and 3 touchdowns. More importantly, they seem to be the only players who can consistently get open - which is why they've combined to receive 25% of Chad Pennington's total targets. This is important to note because, from all I've see and read, the Bills have a tendency to surrender yards to opposing tight ends. For the Dolphins, it's important to get these 2 involved in the offense early. Doing so could potentially open things up more for the receivers outside, as the Bills would have to make the necessary adjustments if Fasano and Martin are active in the passing attack right from the get go. Advantage: Dolphins