The Buffalo Bills need a great deal to go their way over the next couple of weeks if they have any hopes of making it to the playoffs in 2016, but there is a very clear first step: to take care of their own business.
The Bills are up against the Miami Dolphins in a rematch of the most disappointing game of the 2016 season for Buffalo. The Bills went down to Miami on a four-game winning streak, with a 4-2 record, and had a big lead in the fourth quarter, only to blow it in a season-defining game. At the time, the Dolphins were 2-4, and seemed destined for a down season.
Including that game, the Bills have lost five of their last eight games, while the Dolphins have won seven of their last eight. Can the Bills reverse their fortunes in Buffalo on Saturday?
Five things to watch for in the Bills - Dolphins matchup:
1) The Dareus Difference
- We all remember what happened the last time the Bills played the Dolphins. Miami established their rushing attack with Jay Ajayi, and ran all over Buffalo to tune of 214 yards — his highest output of the 2016 season. Since that day, Ajayi has rushed for over 100 yards only once in the last seven weeks, and over the last four weeks, hasn’t gained more than 61 yards in a single game. So what’s changed for Miami? For starters, injuries to the offensive line aren’t helping them at all, which leads us to the single biggest reason for Bills optimism in this one: the return of Marcell Dareus. Last time the two teams played, Kyle Williams was forced inside to nose tackle more than they would have liked, which negated his penetrating style. With lesser players on the outsides — and not to mention, some extremely poor tackling — the Dolphins ran wild in Week Seven. This time around, Dareus is back to clog up the middle, and when he has the opportunity, to shed blockers and take out the runner himself. These are winnable matchups for both players, so while I do expect Ajayi to have some degree of success, I don’t think Miami will have anywhere near the type of day that they did in October.
2) Dolphins offensive line can be had
- A lot of that has to do with the play of the offensive line for Miami this season. Injuries and inconsistent play have really taken their toll on the Dolphins, and the best lineman they’ve had all season has been right tackle Ja’Wuan James. Every other position has struggled — particularly the interior — which has allowed for defensive opportunities. Against both the run and the pass, I believe the Bills have a clear advantage in this department and can help limit what Miami does offensively. Another important matchup, when the Dolphins drop back to pass with Matt Moore, is Lorenzo Alexander against left tackle Branden Albert. The normally solid Albert has had his fair share of struggles in 2016, and with how quick Alexander is getting off the snap and into the backfield, there presents some opportunity to either bring down Moore, or to force him to step up into the pocket. There, the Bills hope either Marcell Dareus or Kyle Williams will be waiting for him with open arms.
3) A much different Bills rush attack than Week Seven
- The Miami game was incredibly frustrating for many reasons, but one that really sticks out was how hellbent the Bills were in trying to force LeSean McCoy the ball in the first three quarters of the game. McCoy, who had injured his hamstring earlier that week in practice, was clearly not 100-percent and it showed all game long. The Bills refused to acknowledge it in the game, neglected the fact that they had a healthy and motivated Mike Gillislee ready to take over at a second’s notice, and kept bashing their head into a wall with McCoy. This time, the Bills have nothing to worry about with their star running back. McCoy is as healthy as ever, and is having an incredible amount of success this season. The Dolphins run defense has been horrid all year long, which presents a humongous opportunity for the Bills to do what they couldn’t do in Week Seven, and that’s to control the whole game with McCoy and their rushing attack.
4) Beware of Jarvis Landry
- The Bills have their work cut out for them in stopping Miami slot receiver Jarvis Landry. His combination of size, speed, run after the catch, and route running makes him close to a total package at wide receiver. He was held to only five receptions in the last meeting due to an overabundance of successful rushing plays, but still racked up 78 yards in the process. Whether it’s Kevon Seymour or Nickell Robey-Coleman lined up against him, I expect the Dolphins to try and force-feed Landry the ball and to minimize Moore’s time in the pocket, and to give him some higher percentage throws. Landry is the X-factor in this game, and someone that could potentially swing it into the Dolphins’ favor if he goes unchecked.
5) Get Jordan Mills some help against Cameron Wake
- Last week against the Cleveland Browns, the Buffalo Bills didn’t have to worry much about pressure off the edges against starting tackles Cyrus Kouandjio (left) and Jordan Mills (right). This week is a different story, and the main matchup to keep an eye on is defensive end Cameron Wake working against Mills. Even at the age of 34, Wake has still put together a double-digit sack season and continues to be a force off the edge. His quickness may not be the same as it was in his prime, but it’s still much faster than Mills’ speed to get off the snap and into his kick-slide. Kouandjio, who will likely be filling in for Cordy Glenn again, will be working against the speed rusher Andre Branch for most the game. Branch lacks the killer instinct as a pass rusher, but has the clear ability to push his man back with speed, which then forces some quarterbacks to panic. With Tyrod Taylor’s penchant to panic when the pass rush gets anywhere near, that’s something to monitor as well.
OUT: OLB Lerentee McCray (concussion)
DOUBTFUL: LT Cordy Glenn (back)
QUESTIONABLE: DL Kyle Williams (back), WR Sammy Watkins (foot), TE Charles Clay (knee), RG John Miller (hip), FB Jerome Felton (foot), ILB Preston Brown (foot), DL Jerel Worthy (shoulder)
OUT: QB Ryan Tannehill (knee)
DOUBTFUL: CB Byron Maxwell (ankle), LB Jelani Jenkins (knee/hand)
QUESTIONABLE: S Isa Abdul-Quddus (ankle), LB Kiko Alonso (hamstring/hand), CB Bobby McCain (knee/hand), DE Mario Williams (ankle)
Prediction: Bills over Dolphins
- The Dolphins have been on a roll over their last eight games, and the win over the Bills in Miami has certainly served as a catalyst to get their acts together. However, with all the injuries they have suffered over the course of the season, they are currently playing above the talent that they’re putting out there. The offensive line has not been good, and their run defense has been poor all season long. Mix in some key injuries in the secondary, and the tendency to overrun plays by the linebackers — and you’ve got a team that is entirely beatable. I believe the Bills — as the two teams are presently constructed — are the more talented team. With Matt Moore under center for the first time last week, the Dolphins were fortunate to play the hapless New York Jets. I think the Bills are going to win this game led by the efforts of LeSean McCoy, to at least do their part in Week 16 to stay alive in the playoff race.