AFC East: Miami Dolphins

The Film Don't Lie: Dolphins

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
A weekly look at what the Miami Dolphins must fix:

A position of strength for the Dolphins has now become a position of weakness after two games. Miami’s running back corps suffered a major blow with leading rusher Knowshon Moreno sidelined with an elbow injury. Early reports indicate Moreno could be out approximately one month.

How do the Dolphins fix this issue? It will be up to Lamar Miller and backups Damian Williams and Orleans Darkwa to step up and carry the load. So far that hasn’t been the case when Moreno isn’t in the lineup. On Monday, Miami also signed Daniel Thomas, who was cut by the team before the regular season.

The Dolphins average 5.5 yards per carry with Moreno running the ball this season. The other three running backs are averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Moreno also has more rushing yards (138) this season than Miller, Williams and Darkwa combined (133).

Miami will need more production from this trio to keep the offense balanced.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins botched a lot of plays during Sunday's ugly, 29-10, loss to the Buffalo Bills. But the one set of circumstances people continue to discuss 24 hours later in South Florida is Miami's ultra-conservative play calling at the end of the first half.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
AP Photo/Gary WiepertCoach Joe Philbin took a conservative approach at the end of Sunday's first half as Miami's offense struggled.
Miami trailed 9-0 with all three timeouts and 2:21 remaining in the first half. Instead of putting the ball in quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s hands to see if he could put points on the board, Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin elected to run the ball six consecutive times to run out the clock. Buffalo was more than happy to go into the locker room without Miami threatening to score.

One day later, after watching the film, Philbin stood behind his decision.

“At that point in time I believe we had 45 yards of offense and three sacks in the first half,” Philbin explained during his Monday news conference. “The last thing I wanted to do was go in the half down 16-0. So I told [offensive coordinator] Bill [Lazor] I wanted to run the ball every single play and get to the locker room and make some adjustments and get it to a one-possession game, which is exactly what we did twice in the third quarter. That was the reason we did it.”

Lazor, who deferred to Philbin at the end of the half, also supported his head coach on Monday.

“It has nothing to do with my wishes,” Lazor said. “I thought what Coach Philbin decided to do worked. Because when you think about it, we had our struggles in the first half. He decided to run the football. At halftime we talked. I think we got settled down in some ways. We made a couple adjustments, not that many, and we came out with two straight scoring drives.”

Many disagree with Philbin’s rationale. The Dolphins practice their two-minute drill a lot for those very situations and didn't take advantage. It potentially sends a bad message that Philbin didn’t have enough confidence in his offensive players to get points in that situation.

The Dolphins will see plenty of two-minute situations this season, and it's worth keeping an eye on how Philbin handles it moving forward.

“My job is to give the team a chance to win the game and put the team in position to win the game,” Philbin said. “I’m not pounding my chest, but I feel like in the third quarter we were exactly where we needed to be in that game. We had a chance. ... Somebody else could have a different opinion. That’s OK. I was very comfortable with that.”

Questions emerge for Ryan Tannehill

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
We are two games into an important Year 3 for Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

That presents an important question: How do you feel about the long-term prospects of the third-year quarterback?

Are you willing to say Tannehill is the future of the franchise for the Dolphins (1-1) after Sunday's 29-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills (2-0)? Tannehill threw for 246 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the loss, while falling to 1-4 against Buffalo in his career.


Is QB Ryan Tannehill the Dolphins' long-term solution?


Discuss (Total votes: 4,171)

“We didn’t win so it’s not good enough,” a frustrated Tannehill said Sunday evening. “No part of our offensive performance was good enough. My play, our running game, our passing game, none of it was enough.”

Truth be told, Tannehill is off to a mediocre start this season. In two games he has 419 passing yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He has a 76.1 passer rating and averages 5.2 yards per attempt.

Perhaps the biggest concern for Miami is Tannehill appears closer to a "game manager" than a dominant quarterback. In two-plus seasons, Tannehill has yet to prove he can take over games with any consistency. The previous two weeks provided another strong warning sign.

In Week 1, the Dolphins rushed for 191 yards as a team and Tannehill filled in the blanks. He made a few good throws here and there to help Miami to a 33-20 victory over the Patriots. But there were some concerns with accuracy and his interception, which were masked by Miami's victory.

In Week 2, the Dolphins couldn’t get anything going on the ground. Running back Knowshon Moreno suffered an elbow injury in the first quarter and Miami's offense fell apart. This was a perfect opportunity for Tannehill to take over an important game -- on the road -- with his arm. Yet, Tannehill failed to produce and the lead only increased in the second half.

Questions are starting to emerge about Tannehill – and deservedly so. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin came to the defense of his young quarterback Sunday night.

“I don’t think it’s all Ryan Tannehill,” Philbin said. “I don’t think our offense played well. We didn’t protect him very well, especially in the first half, so we got behind. … I think it’s easy to point to one player, but it was the team.”

The good news is Tannehill has 14 more games to prove he is Miami’s franchise quarterback. It’s still premature to write off Tannehill as the long-term solution entirely after 34 starts. But there are some concerning signs to begin this 2014 season.

Tannehill knows this is a no-excuse year. He admitted as much during training camp.

It’s time for Tannehill to live up to his potential this year before it is too late.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- After the Miami Dolphins looked flat in a 29-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills, Miami head coach Joe Philbin had some explaining to do. Perhaps the biggest mystery was why the Dolphins got ultra-conservative when down nine points at the end of the first half.

Here is the situation: Miami's defense kept the team in the game early by holding Buffalo to three field goals in the first half. The Dolphins were outplayed and, in many ways, fortunate to be down by only single digits.

The Dolphins got the ball back at their 12-yard line with 2:21 remaining and all three timeouts. It was a good opportunity for quarterback Ryan Tannehill & Co. to put together a two-minute drive to get their first points on the board before intermission.

Instead, the Dolphins chose to run the ball six consecutive times -- gaining 20 yards -- to go into the half down 9-0. It was a baffling and passive decision that had many confused.

Here was Dolphins' head coach Joe Philbin's explanation:

"Well, it I’m not mistaken, we got the ball around the 15-yard line and we had, up to that point, 48 or 49 yards of offense. I wanted to come into halftime and give our team a chance to get back into the game. I think we did exactly what I was hoping we would do: Not give them the ball back and get an opportunity to make it a one-possession game. That’s what we did."

Philbin essentially lost confidence in his offense and his quarterback. That sent a poor message to his entire team before halftime.

The Dolphins have practiced two-minute drills constantly since training camp, and it's actually an area of strength for Miami's offense. Even New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick praised Miami’s two-minute offense before their Week 1 matchup.

In a close game, Philbin essentially took a strength away from his own team, and the second half went downhill for the Dolphins.

Reading between the lines, it didn’t appear quarterback Ryan Tannehill agreed with the first-half decision.

“As a competitor you know I obviously want to go down and score, but it is coach Philbin’s call and he wanted to do that,” Tannehill said candidly. “He knew we were getting the ball at the end of halftime. Obviously, as an offense we feel like we want to get going. But we hadn’t done much up to that point to give him any confidence in us.”

We will never know if Miami’s offense could have added points to bring momentum to the Dolphins before halftime. But the issue is Philbin opted not to try and give his team a chance, which proved to be a mistake.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Miami Dolphins and their offense might have to get used to life without Knowshon Moreno. Based on Sunday’s 29-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills, it might not be pretty.

Moreno suffered an elbow injury on his first carry when he fell awkwardly on his left arm. His arm bent the wrong way and the injury was gruesome enough that Moreno was immediately ruled out for the rest of the game.

[+] EnlargeKnowshon Moreno
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins gained just 76 rushing yards after Knowshon Moreno left with an elbow injury.
Now the question becomes: How many games will Moreno miss moving forward?

Although the Dolphins didn't give an official timeline and Moreno didn't speak to reporters after the game, media reports have already indicated Moreno could miss up to a month with a dislocated elbow. That would be a long month for the Dolphins.

The offense looked like a shell of its Week 1 self with Moreno out of the lineup against Buffalo. Miami, after scoring 33 points last week against the New England Patriots, was shut out in the first half and finished with just 10 points against Buffalo.

"Obviously, we'd love to have him, but you have to deal with those things," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "They pop up in football. Injuries happen. So it didn't really impact the game plan. Other guys have to step up. That's football. If a guy gets injured you can't really alter things."

We are about to find out how important Moreno is to this Dolphins team. The free-agent acquisition quickly established himself as the heart and soul of the offense with his energy, intensity and consistent play.

Not coincidentally, the Dolphins lacked energy, intensity and consistency Sunday. Buffalo's defense quickly deflated the downtrodden Dolphins offense, which averaged just 3.9 yards per play.

The Dolphins couldn't run the ball with any efficiency without Moreno. Miami had just 80 rushing yards on Sunday after running for 191 with Moreno the previous week.

"We weren't even close to matching their intensity," Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said. "We did a good job of playing football, but the [Bills'] intensity was so much higher than ours that I think that's why they won the game, honestly."

Wallace explained the mood of the offense when Moreno went down.

"I saw him on the ground. I know it wasn't good because he never really stays on the ground like that," Wallace said. "It was quiet for a little while, but it was early in the game and we had to keep playing. We definitely missed his intensity."

Moreno is just one player. But he brings a certain attitude and toughness to the offense that is hard to replace. The Dolphins will host the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3 and travel to London to face the Oakland Raiders in Week 4. Those are two winnable games before the bye week.

But winning those games will be tougher without Moreno. The Dolphins now will have to rely on Lamar Miller and rookies Damien Williams and Orleans Darkwa.

"As running backs and as an offense we can't really sit there and mope and cry about it," Darkwa said. "We just got to go out and do what we got to do as an offense and as running backs. ... As a group, we got to step it up."
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Miami Dolphins' 29-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills:

Frustration: The overall theme in the locker room Sunday evening was frustration. Nearly every player who addressed the media felt he could have played better to help avoid a blowout loss. The Dolphins were beaten on offense, defense and special teams. “We made some mistakes that we usually don’t make,” Dolphins Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes said. Miami is 1-4 against the Bills in its past five meetings.

Tannehill owns up: Miami starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill owned up to his shaky performance against the Bills. Although the loss wasn’t on one player, Tannehill didn’t do his part and finished with 246 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception. “We didn’t win so it’s not good enough,” Tannehill said. “No part of our offensive performance was good enough.”

No Moreno: One key player who was missing in the locker room Sunday was Dolphins running back Knowshon Moreno. He injured his elbow in the first quarter and never returned.

Rapid Reaction: Miami Dolphins

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 29-10 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

What it means: The Dolphins (1-1) continue their struggles against the Bills (2-0), who have been Miami’s biggest nemesis of late. The Dolphins fell to 1-4 against the Bills in their past five meetings. Buffalo swept Miami last season and is halfway toward doing so again in 2014. The Bills won this game Sunday the same way it won most of the others. Their defensive line pounded Miami's offensive line and at times rattled quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was sacked four times.

Stock Watch: There are several candidates trending down for Miami after this game, but the two biggest culprits are the Dolphins’ offensive line and special teams. Miami's O-line boasts five new starters this year, but it was the same result trying to run and protect the quarterback against the Bills' defensive line. Miami's defense held the Bills to field goals in the first half, but Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller scored the first touchdown of the game with a 102-yard kickoff return in the third quarter to help seal the win. Even Miami Pro Bowl punter Brandon Fields had a tough day. He had one punt blocked and shanked two punts that helped the Bills with field position.

Oh no, Moreno: The Dolphins lost running back Knowshon Moreno in the first quarter with an elbow injury and he didn't return. Moreno fell awkwardly after his first carry, and his left arm bent the wrong way. The injury wasn't pretty, and it makes you wonder if Moreno could miss multiple games going forward. Moreno proved to be the engine of Miami’s offense early this season. He rushed for 134 yards in a Week 1 win over the New England Patriots. The Dolphins' running game isn’t the same without him in the lineup.

Game ball: Miami's game ball goes to linebacker Jelani Jenkins. The second-year backup got the start in place of the injured Dannell Ellerbe, who went on injured reserve this week. Jenkins was active and had the best game of his career. He finished with a career-high 14 tackles against the Bills.

What’s next: The Dolphins will return home to face the Kansas City Chiefs in another important AFC game. Kansas City made the playoffs last year as a wild-card team.

W2W4: Dolphins at Bills

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
Sunday will mark a battle of surprise undefeated teams when the Miami Dolphins (1-0) travel to face the Buffalo Bills (1-0). ESPN's Dolphins blog will be on the road this weekend to bring you all the latest on Miami.

Here are three things to watch in this matchup:

1. Protecting Tannehill: It's well documented that the Bills swept the Dolphins last season. One of the primary reasons the Bills' defensive line dominating the Dolphins' offensive line in the trenches. Buffalo registered nine sacks in two games against Miami. Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn't have much time to throw and is 1-3 against the Bills in his career. Pass protection will be key to determining if Tannehill can overcome this week.

2. Next man up: Miami is thin at linebacker and will be in transition. The Dolphins put starting outside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hip) on season-ending injured reserve Monday. Starting middle linebacker Koa Misi also missed practice all week with an ankle injury and appears to be a long shot. The Dolphins will be relying on backups such as Jason Trusnik and Jelani Jenkins against the Bills' strong running game. Miami is hoping starting outside linebacker Philip Wheeler (thumb) can return this week from a thumb injury.

3. Facing E.J.: The Dolphins will get their first shot at Buffalo starting quarterback E.J. Manuel. The Bills' 2013 first-round pick missed both Miami games last year due to injury. Manuel received a lot of criticism during the preseason and played decent in Buffalo's Week 1 victory over the Chicago Bears. He threw for 173 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Miami Dolphins' final injury report

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
DAVIE, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins (1-0) will travel to face the Buffalo Bills (1-0) on Sunday in a surprise battle of undefeated teams.

Here is the final injury report for both teams:


Out: C Mike Pouncey (hip), DL Terrence Fede (knee), LB Jordan Tripp (chest)

Doubtful: G Billy Turner (foot), LB Koa Misi (ankle)

Probable: RB Knowshon Moreno (shoulder), DE Derrick Shelby (knee), TE Dion Sims (neck), WR Mike Wallace (hamstring), DT Randy Starks (toe), LB Philip Wheeler (thumb), S Walt Aikens (hand), TE Charles Clay (kne), LB Chris McCain (illness)


Out: LB Keith Rivers (groin)

Doubtful: TE Lee Smith (toe), S Jonathan Meeks (neck)

Probable: CB Stephon Gilmore (groin), WR Chris Hogan (ankle), S Aaron Williams (concussion)

Analysis: This game could come down to which team best overcomes its injuries at linebacker. Miami will be with starters Dannell Ellerbe and most likely Misi, who is doubtful on Sunday. Wheeler is expected to make his 2014 debut, and the Dolphins need all the healthy linebackers they can get. The Bills will be without Rivers and also lost stud linebacker Kiko Alonso while training during the summer. Both teams will aim to run the football, which will be a stern test for the healthy linebackers that do suit up for Buffalo and Miami. Other Dolphins who missed practice time during the week, such as Starks and McCain, are expected to play.

Poll Friday: Who wins the AFC East?

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
The AFC East division has been downtrodden the past several years. But early indications are it will be a more competitive division in 2014.

The division was an impressive 3-1 last weekend to open the regular season. The Miami Dolphins (1-0), New York Jets (1-0) and Buffalo Bills (1-0) all picked up victories, while the reigning AFC East champion New England Patriots (0-1) suffered a loss to Miami.

That brings us to our latest poll question: Who will win the AFC East?


Which team will win the AFC East?


Discuss (Total votes: 7,369)

Will it be the Dolphins? Miami last won the division in 2008, which also is the last time the Dolphins made the playoffs. Miami made a big statement by knocking off the Patriots to start the season. It could be a sign that the Dolphins will be a force in the AFC East all year.

What about the New York Jets? Head coach Rex Ryan & Co. finished 8-8 last year but made some improvements via the draft and free agency. The Jets beat the Oakland Raiders last week and look to be a strong defensive team.

Can the Bills surprise the AFC East? Buffalo has the NFL’s longest playoff drought. The Bills haven’t made the postseason since the 1999 season. But Buffalo picked up a quality road win last week against the Chicago Bears in overtime and can make another statement by beating Miami in Week 2. Are the Bills a legitimate threat to win the division?

Finally, will the Patriots win the AFC East? Quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick have ruled the division for a decade. New England is the preseason favorite to win the division but didn’t show it last week in Miami. Will the Patriots get back on track and win the AFC East?

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on which team will win the AFC East. You can share your thoughts in the comment section below or send a message via Twitter @JamesWalkerNFL.

Miami Dolphins' injury report

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins completed their week of practice Thursday before traveling to play the Buffalo Bills.

Here is the latest injury report for the Dolphins:

Out: C Mike Pouncey (hip), DL Terrence Fede (knee), LB Jordan Tripp (chest)

Did not practice: LB Koa Misi (ankle), G Billy Turner (foot)

Limited practice: RB Knowshon Moreno (shoulder), LB Chris McCain (illness), TE Charles Clay (knee), S Walt Aikens (hand), DE Derrick Shelby (knee), TE Dion Sims (neck), DT Randy Starks (toe), WR Mike Wallace (hamstring), LB Philip Wheeler (thumb)

Analysis: The Dolphins’ injury picture is clearing up for Sunday. It appears Misi is unlikely to start at middle linebacker. He missed all three practices this week after injuring his ankle in Week 1 against the New England Patriots. Misi also is in a boot. However, Starks made progress Thursday with a limited practice. He didn’t practice on Wednesday with a toe injury. McCain also returned for the first time this week from his illness and says he will be ready to go on Sunday. The Dolphins will need the depth McCain brings at linebacker and on special teams.
DAVIE, Fla. -- One of the feel-good stories of Week 1 in the NFL took an unexpected turn during the week. Miami Dolphins undrafted rookie Chris McCain, who blocked a punt and recorded a sack on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, got ill soon after as the rest of the team prepared for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills.

However, McCain returned to the team Thursday in good spirits and participated in his first practice of the week.

[+] EnlargeChris McCain and Tom Brady
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyAn illness during the week tempered Chris McCain's breakout first game, but the undrafted Dolphins rookie expects to play Sunday.
"I feel good to be back here and be able to come back at practice," McCain said. "I feel good and preparing for Buffalo this week. It was bad enough to where it held me out of practice. But I'm thankful it didn't hold me out all week. It wasn't too bad, a couple days."

McCain expects to play despite missing practice Tuesday and Wednesday.

"I still need a little bit extra preparation, but I think I'll be ready for Sunday when that time comes," he said.

McCain has an interesting backstory. He was a long shot to make the Dolphins after numerous red flags that included getting kicked out of college at the University of California. In addition, McCain went undrafted with a long road to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. He also had to stay focused and out of trouble with the Dolphins.

But McCain did all the right things since joining the team and let his natural athleticism shine. He was a standout in training camp and during the preseason, which set the table for his Week 1 showing against the Patriots.

The Dolphins are thin at linebacker with Dannell Ellerbe (hip) on season-ending injured reserve and the statuses of Koa Misi (ankle) and Philip Wheeler (thumb) up in the air. They could need a backup linebacker like McCain to step up for the second week in a row against Buffalo's talented backfield led by C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.

"They're very dangerous," McCain said. "C.J. is a very speedy guy, very shifty. Fred is also good. We just have to be ready for the quickness. I believe with our front guys and our second-level guys we'll be able to hold on to whatever we come up against."

Dolphins report: Chris McCain returns

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins (1-0) held their final practice of the week in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills (1-0).

Here are several notes and observations from Thursday's session:
  • Miami rookie linebacker Chris McCain returned to practice following two missed days due to an illness. McCain was an important member of the Dolphins' special teams and defense in their Week 1 victory over the New England Patriots. McCain appears to have a good chance of playing Sunday, despite missing practices Tuesday and Wednesday. Miami has a lot of injuries at linebacker and needs all the healthy players it can get at the position.
  • Speaking of injured linebackers, Dolphins starting middle linebacker Koa Misi did not participate in the portion of practice open to the media. Misi suffered an ankle injury last week against the Patriots and has been in a boot all week. His chances of playing Sunday do not look good.
  • Another player whose status is up in the air is Miami defensive tackle Randy Starks. For the second straight day, Starks did not participate in the portion of practice open to the media. Starks has a toe injury and remains in a boot.

The Dolphins will take the day off Friday and travel to Buffalo Saturday. The game will be played at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.

Ryan Tannehill preps for nemesis Bills

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill owns career wins over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts and even Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.

But, surprisingly, the one team Tannehill has struggled most against throughout his NFL career is the Buffalo Bills. Tannehill is 1-3 against Buffalo, completing just 48 percent of his passes in those four games and averaging only 136.7 yards per contest.

Tannehill’s most recent outing against Buffalo was arguably his worst game. He was 10-of-27 passing for 82 yards in a 19-0 loss to the Bills in Week 16.

Tannehill will get to meet his personal nemesis when the Dolphins (1-0) travel to face the Bills (1-0) on Sunday. Tannehill knows he wasn’t his best in Week 1 against the Patriots but still put together a winning performance. He completed 18-of-32 passes for 178 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

“We left a lot of plays out there. I left a lot of plays out there, personally,” Tannehill admitted. “Location of throws, missing throws, [I] had a couple of dropped passes. Details like that where we left a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns out on the field. ... But you can’t leave that many plays on the field consistently and expect to win week-in and week-out. Definitely, we want to clean those details up this week.”

Tannehill will have to play better this week. Buffalo has found a way to batter Tannehill and force Miami's offense to be one-dimensional in the past. That was especially the case during last season's season sweep when the Bills' defense registered nine quarterback sacks on Tannehill in two games.

Those two contests helped convince Miami to do a major makeover of its offensive line via free agency and the draft. The Dolphins signed veteran left tackle Branden Albert to a $47 million contract, drafted rookie right tackle Ja’Wuan James in the first round and added center Samson Satele and veteran guards Daryn Colledge and Shelley Smith in free agency.

Miami had five new starting offensive linemen in Week 1, and the unit thrived against New England. The Dolphins had impressive balance with 191 rushing yards and 169 passing yards, which caught the attention of Bills head coach Doug Marrone.

“As far as just a unit, in general, they’re working extremely well together and I think that’s the most impressive thing,” Marrone said in a conference call with the Miami media. “They’re knocking people off the ball.”

Both teams enter this game with momentum. That sets up this interesting matchup of surprise undefeated teams where the winner will be 2-0 and in first place in the AFC East.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, 63 percent of teams that start 2-0 since 1990 have gone on to make the playoffs. Whoever wins Sunday will be well-positioned to end a lengthy postseason drought. The Dolphins haven’t made the playoffs since 2008, and the Bills have the NFL’s longest playoff drought dating back to the 1999 season.

“Very important just because we need to get this lead. We don’t need to be playing catch up,” Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said. “We’ve been there before. We need to see how it feels to play as the division leaders the whole time. We can do that. We have the team to do it. We just have to continue to put in the work every single week, every single day."

Dolphins vs. Bills preview

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
Buffalo has been riding high the past week. From word that Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly is cancer-free, to the sale of the franchise to Terry and Kim Pegula, to the Buffalo Bills' overtime win over the Chicago Bears, good news has been flowing in Western New York.

Excitement is also high in South Florida, where the Miami Dolphins used their pressure on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots as a springboard to a comeback win Sunday. With both the Bills and Dolphins sitting at 1-0, and the New York Jets traveling for a tough matchup against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday's game at Ralph Wilson Stadium could decide who has the early lead in the AFC East.

The Bills, who will be in their throwback uniforms for Sunday's home opener, are expected to hold a tribute for former owner Ralph Wilson, who died in March.

ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak and ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker preview the game:

Rodak: James, we saw the Dolphins' defensive line attack Brady in the second half Sunday. Have they brought that sort of pressure all summer and do you think they can keep up the pace against the Bills?

Walker: The Dolphins' pass rush was solid last season, ranking 11th in the NFL with 42 sacks. But the focus this summer was getting more pressure with just four defenders -- and that was the key to beating New England. Miami's defensive line is its biggest strength. Ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon and tackles Jared Odrick, Earl Mitchell and Randy Starks pounded New England's offensive line. The Dolphins rarely brought more than four or five defenders and registered four sacks and six hits on Brady.

The Bills are a different team offensively. They rely on the run much more than quarterback EJ Manuel's arm. Miami's focus will shift to stopping the run first this week. So I don't expect the same pressure on Manuel unless Miami finds a way to get a sizable lead early in this game.

Speaking of Manuel, there were a lot of concerns in the preseason. But Manuel had a winning performance on the road against the Bears. Has he turned the corner?

Rodak: Sunday's win over the Bears was a big step forward for Manuel, but I think it's too early to say if he's turned the corner. There were plenty of encouraging signs against Chicago. He minimized his turnovers -- throwing just one interception -- and was able to hit more downfield throws than he has in the past. His teammates were also fired up by a speech that Manuel gave in a team meeting Saturday night, one where the typically even-keeled quarterback showed surprising fire. There was buzz about the Bills not naming Manuel as a captain, but that was a leadership moment for the second-year player.

On the flip side, we didn't have a large sample size to evaluate. He threw just 22 times, the fewest attempts by a quarterback who played his entire Week 1 game. The Bills leaned more on their running game, and Manuel's receivers, especially Robert Woods, made some impressive catches on less-than-perfect throws.

There has been plenty of talk about Manuel in Buffalo, but what sort of reception has Ryan Tannehill gotten early? Entering his third season, does the team believe he is the long-term solution? How has the change at offensive coordinator helped him?

Walker: Support for Tannehill is not an issue in South Florida. He has the backing of the fans -- his jersey is Miami's top seller -- and the coaching staff and front office are behind him 100 percent. He's shown enough in two years to produce optimism, but that is where it stops. Year 3 for Tannehill is all about proving whether he's a franchise quarterback. He has a lot of weapons and coordinator Bill Lazor is pushing him hard. It's really up to Tannehill on how he responds to the pressure. More than anything, it will come down to wins and losses. Although it's never on one player, another 8-8 or 7-9 season is not good enough for Tannehill.

Dolphins fans are familiar with Brandon Spikes from his days as a Patriot. How much of an impact has he made on this Bills team?

Rodak: From covering Spikes with both the Patriots and Bills, I've noticed a change in the fifth-year linebacker. He seems more upbeat, more accessible and more relaxed. I've seen him in the locker room more this season than I did for an entire 16-game schedule in Foxborough. The relationship between him and Bill Belichick seemed to sour near the end and he feels like he's starting fresh in Buffalo. He was named one of six team captains, something that didn't happen in New England. On the field, he recorded a sack against the Bears but was also flagged for an unnecessary-roughness penalty. That's par for the course with Spikes, who can be overaggressive at times.

The Dolphins' offensive line was revamped this offseason. How did they hold up against the Patriots on Sunday? This is a unit that struggled against the Bills twice last season, even allowing a game-changing strip sack to Mario Williams. Will things be different this season?

Walker: Miami's offensive line is better. Frankly, it couldn't get any worse after allowing a franchise-record 58 sacks last season. The major concern was how quickly this unit can come together with five new starters, and that wasn't an issue in Week 1. I was surprised with how well Miami's offensive line pushed around the Patriots. There were a lot of holes open in the running game, which resulted in 191 rushing yards. I think Knowshon Moreno's physical style also helped. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Moreno had 50 of his 134 rushing yards after contact against New England. The jury is still out on pass protection, which will be tested against Buffalo.

Bills rookie receiver Sammy Watkins wasn't very involved (three catches, four targets) in Week 1. Do you expect that to change?

Rodak: I do. I think Watkins' rib injury was an issue in Chicago; he definitely isn't 100 percent. How long will it take until he's back at full health? It could take a month or more, given the area of the body where he was hit. The Bills leaned more on Woods and their running backs in the passing game in Week 1, although Watkins could've had a big catch in the third quarter if Manuel didn't overthrow him down the left sideline. Defenses still will have to account for Watkins every week, often with their best cover man.