Friday, October 18, 2013
W2W4: Bills at Dolphins
By Mike Rodak
MIAMI -- The Buffalo Bills have yet to win on the road this season. They're also winless against AFC East opponents.
Playing their first division game since Week 3, the Bills can buck those trends Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
The Bills are healthier than they've been at any point this season, with quarterback EJ Manuel the only player expected to be held out Sunday due to injury, giving them a better chance to pull out a road victory.
Here's what to watch for:
Thad Lewis accounted for all three of Buffalo's touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) in the OT loss to the Bengals in Week 6.
1. Thad Lewis' curtain call: While statistically Thad Lewis struggled in place of Manuel last week -- his 16.2 QBR ranked 28th in the NFL in Week 6 -- few would say that Lewis disappointed in his Bills debut. Despite a foot injury, Lewis will start again Sunday, and all eyes will be on how he performs in his second start with the Bills. The injury could limit Lewis' ability to scramble effectively, but as long as his arm strength and accuracy are still where they should be, the Bills will have a chance to win. However, if Lewis regresses, might we see our first Matt Flynn appearance? I think as long as Manuel is out, the Bills are open to all options at quarterback. For right now, Lewis is their best bet.
2. Can Mario maximize Bills' pass rush? Defensive end Mario Williams cropped up on the injury report this week, dealing with an ailing hip. It might help explain his quiet day last week against Cincinnati, but the more pressing question is how it will effect his play Sunday. The Dolphins' offense line has allowed a sack on 11.5 percent of dropbacks this season, second-worst in the NFL behind the Oakland Raiders. The Bills, meanwhile, have disrupted 20.8 percent of opponent dropbacks -- measured by sacks, passes defended, batted balls and interceptions -- the second-best rate behind the Kansas City Chiefs. A healthy Williams would go a long way towrad taking advantage of that statistical trend.
3. Dormant Dolphins runners: Miami has one of the NFL's worst rushing attacks, ranking 29th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (69.6). The Bills' rush defense has been inconsistent this season, so expect defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to keep his unit focused on preventing any surprises from Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, the Dolphins' top two backs. Part of doing that is tackling better. The Bills had issues in that area against the Bengals, especially in the screen game. Given that short passing is a way of protecting their quarterback, expect the Dolphins to dink, dunk and try to match the success that the Bengals had last week in that area.
4. Conditioning critical: Temperatures in Miami are expected to be in the upper 80s on Sunday, with high humidity. The Bills tried to replicate those conditions in their field house during their week of practice, but this will be the first game Buffalo plays this season in high heat. The weather and the Bills' up-tempo offense will test the conditioning of both the Bills offense and the Dolphins defense. It's not intuitive, but the Dolphins actually have performed worse at home than most teams in recent seasons, so perhaps this is a battle the Bills can win.