The Miami Dolphins come to Orchard Park this weekend to renew their rivalry with the Buffalo Bills. The teams are currently on opposite ends of the success spectrum, with Buffalo holding the second-best record in the AFC at 4-1 and Miami bringing up the rear at 0-5.
In a year where Miami is clearly rebuilding, and more likely “Tanking for Tua,” this game seems like one where the Bills should cruise to a victory. However, all of the players here are professionals, and they all will play as hard as they can. For Miami, pride is on the line. For Buffalo, it’s really the same thing—the team needs to take pride in coming off its bye week to show that it belongs among the league’s elite. A blowout victory may seem like a foregone conclusion, but Buffalo has struggled to put its opponents away this season. Doing so this week would be a step in the right direction.
While all of the Dolphins’ players will look to avoid a fourth loss by at least twenty points this season, here are five who we think will have the greatest impact on the game.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Of course the former Bills quarterback will be a focal point, as the veteran returns to the stadium where he experienced the greatest sustained success of his professional career. Fitzpatrick understands how rowdy New Era Field can be, and he stands a better chance at being productive than second-year man Josh Rosen would have against a tough Buffalo defense. If Fitzpatrick can avoid the interception-plagued ways of his alter-ego, Ryan Fitztragic, then perhaps he can inspire a bit of the old Fitzmagic on Sunday. If he can hit on some quick slants over the middle, it could put him in a rhythm, and when he’s in rhythm, look out.
WR DeVante Parker
Miami’s best wideout is a big-bodied, solid pass catcher who will be a tough mark for Buffalo’s smaller corners. While he only has 13 receptions this season, those catches have gone for 229 yards and two touchdowns. If he can use his size (6’3” and 216 lbs) to box out Buffalo’s corners, he could have himself a day. The Bills will need to shut Parker down if they expect to win comfortably. In his last four games against the Bills, Parker has 16 catches for 196 yards and one touchdown; that includes a three-target, zero-catch game to close out the 2018 season.
LT Jesse Davis
This one confused me for a minute, as Davis is listed almost everywhere as a guard, but when I saw him listed as the team’s starting left tackle on their official depth chart, I did some digging. Davis has played nearly everywhere along the offensive line in his career. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2015, and he was rewarded with a three-year contract extension this season. While the team initially thought about playing him at right tackle this season, the Dolphins have been playing him at left tackle even though his skill set is closer to that of a right tackle. The speculation is that the team is allowing him to become comfortable on the left side so that next year, when left-handed Tua Tagovaiola is playing quarterback, Davis will already be accustomed to playing left tackle. While this may be great for next year, Buffalo has a chance to beat Davis with their top-end pass rushers this weekend.
DE Taco Charlton
The former first-round pick signed with Miami after the Dallas Cowboys cut him while he was still on his rookie contract. In his two seasons with the Cowboys, Charlton had four sacks and 11 quarterback hits in 27 games. In only three games with Miami, Charlton has two sacks and three quarterback hits. While an increase in playing time certainly has an effect there, it’s also a sign that the young defensive end is improving. Miami’s opponents have only attempted 142 passes, so Charlton has had far fewer pass-rush snaps to work with than most players, as well. The Bills will need to neutralize him in order to keep Josh Allen clean this week.
CB Xavien Howard
Miami’s top corner is struggling this year. Through four games, He has 16 tackles and one pass breakup. That’s it. Pro Football Focus has graded Howard at a 45 this season, which is far below the standard he set for himself with his prior play. Last year, Howard’s overall grade was a 77.3, but the drop can’t all be put on him—as the Dolphins are clearly tearing down the roster, they have struggled to rush the passer, putting pressure on the secondary to cover for longer periods of time. If the Bills can take advantage of Howard’s early-season struggles, they can finally put together the kind of explosive offensive effort that they need.