We are now two days away from a huge divisional matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins, which will kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday. To help us get mentally ready for the game, Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider answered five questions about the team he covers.
Ryan Tannehill and EJ Manuel had remarkably similar output in Week 1 in big wins for their respective teams. Is the hope for Dolphins fans, like it is with Bills fans and Manuel, that he'll simply be "good enough" as Miami makes a playoff push? Or are expectations higher?
Nogle: Fans have high expectations for Tannehill, and they rightfully should. He's a top ten draft pick coming into his third season in the NFL, and being put into an offensive system that should work perfectly with his skill sets. Fans expect to see a lot out of Tannehill this year. There are plenty of fans out there who already feel like Tannehill is a bust and the Dolphins need to move on to their next quarterback. That being said, I do think Tannehill will take that next step this year - especially if the offensive line is able to keep him upright to the point that he can take a step, something that did not happen last year. At the end of the day, however, even if Tannehill's performance this season is just good enough to make the playoffs, I'm fairly certain Dolphins fans will rally behind him and be happy with a winning season and a postseason berth.
How will the rep split between Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno work? Which runner should the Bills expect to see on the field more on Sunday?
Nogle: Moreno should be the workhorse. He was injured for much of the preseason, but once he got on the field, he looked good. Then last week, he exploded for 134 rushing yards on a 5.6 yards per carry average. He entered this week as the NFL's leading rusher, something I do not think any Dolphins fan would have told you had a chance at happening. Miller struggled in the preseason, but also had success last week, gaining 59 yards on a 5.4 yards per carry average, and the Miami offensive line was dominating the Patriots' defensive line in the second half. It really is not something Dolphins fans are used to seeing - an actual running game. I would expect about the same ratio as we saw last week for the running backs, with Moreno getting 20-25 carries and Miller in the 10-15 range.
The story of the offseason in Miami was their re-tooling of the offensive line. How are things progressing up front with Branden Albert, Ja'Wuan James, and Daryn Colledge in the lineup?
Nogle: Surprisingly well. Any performance which keeps the Dolphins off of a pace to allow 58 sacks, as they did last year, would have been progress, but this offensive line, with five new starters this season, allowed one sack and opened up rushing yards for Miami to gash the Patriots for 191 yards on the ground. It was a great way to open the season for the offensive line, and hopefully it will continue. To specifically look at James, who many said was a reach for Miami to select at No. 19 overall, he has not allowed a quarterback hit or sack as a professional - preseason or regular season. He's been dominant. He had one bad moment last week, with a third quarter holding penalty taking a touchdown off the board, but he has really been impressive. He will probably have his hands full with Mario Williams this week, but he practices every day against Cameron Wake, so that has to at least have him somewhat prepared for this weekend.
What, exactly, is the Dolphins' linebacking corps going to look like on Sunday?
Nogle: Great question, and I wish I had an answer. The three starting linebackers, Dannell Ellerbe, Koa Misi, and Philip Wheeler, are all injured. Ellerbe is now on injured reserve, Misi has an ankle injury that forced him from the Patriots game in the first quarter, and Wheeler was out last week and has been limited all week with a thumb injury. It looks like Miami will have to replace all three linebackers this week. I would suspect Jason Trusnik to take the role as the middle linebacker, with Jonathan Freeny and Jelani Jenkins on the outside. Undrafted free agent Chris McCain will likely see playing time, especially after his blocked punt and a sack performance last week, though he has been ill this week, so that could slow him down as well. Miami's reserve linebackers have looked solid when they have taken reps with the first team, but it will be a concern entering the game with all three positions being manned at the same time by the reserve players. The Dolphins had questions at linebacker entering this season, with everyone healthy. Now, it's a giant neon-sign question mark sitting right in the middle of the defense.
On a side note, the Dolphins broke out a 5-2 defensive front last week in the second half, something that after the game reporters said the team had been working on in practice before the injuries started piling up. It worked really well, with defensive tackles Randy Starks, Earl Mitchell, and Jared Odrick in the middle, and Wake and Olivier Vernon standing up as pass rushing linebackers who could drop into coverage. The move allowed Miami to get extra playmakers on the field along the line, while taking the need for linebackers from three every play to just two during the formation. It was a smart move by defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, and it is something I would expect to see again this week.
The Dolphins, like the Bills, will be as good defensively as their defensive line can be. We're well aware of the abilities of Cameron Wake; who would you consider the guy, behind Wake, that is most important to contain for opponents?
Nogle: Vernon is a really talented pass rusher on the opposite side from Wake, and he is not someone who gets as much notice because Wake is so absolutely dominant. The strength of Miami's defense is clearly the defensive line, and it is probably the middle of the line even more than the outside rushers. Starks, Mitchell, and Odrick all can generate pressure up the middle and know how to get to the quarterback. Mitchell did not get his name called a lot last week, but he seemed to be in the backfield nearly every play, and Starks is a two-time Pro Bowler who just disrupts everything an offensive line tries to do. That said, Starks is battling a turf toe problem and has been walking around in a walking boot this week. There's a chance he could miss the game, which would be a blow to Miami's depth, though Mitchell and Odrick should be able to handle the load, while rookie Anthony Johnson gets a chance to prove the flashes we saw this preseason are really indicative of his skill. Miami routinely generated pressure against the Patriots with four-man, and sometime three-man, pass rushes. These guys know how to get it done. If you can't tell, I am high on the Dolphins' defensive line, and really think it could be the best unit on the team, offense or defense. I think every team they face this year could struggle to figure out how to shut down the sheer number of players the Dolphins have up front.