The Buffalo Bills’ offense usually looks ugly against the Miami Dolphins, who have beaten the Bills in six of the last eight meetings between the teams.
The Bills’ offensive players know they face a physical challenge Thursday night against a Miami defense that ranks eighth in the NFL in points allowed and fifth in rushing yards allowed.
“They’re a very good front seven,” said Bills guard Kraig Urbik. “They have very good linebackers. Their D-line is playing at a high level. They have big guys to plug the holes. They bring a lot of different looks on blitzes. We’ve got to be on our game.”
In four meetings against Miami over the past two years, the offense of Bills coach Chan Gailey has averaged just 14.5 points a game, 3.35 rushing yards a carry and 14 percent conversions on third downs. Last season, the Bills went 0 for 23 on third downs in losing by 35-8 and 30-23 to the Fish.
Miami’s defense is dominant up the middle, with 355-pound Paul Soliai and 305-pound Randy Starks at defensive tackle and hell-on-wheels tackler Karlos Dansby at middle linebacker. Are the Dolphins a bad physical matchup for the Bills?
“I don’t think it’s a bad physical matchup,” Urbik said. “I think we match up pretty well with them. They have a physical team. But we’re also a physical team. I think it’s going to be a good game.”
“I can only speak for us up front, and I know they’ve been able to stop the run pretty effectively against us,” said center Eric Wood. “They have a good front seven. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast. That’s a good recipe for a front seven. I think as of late we’ve matched up better against them, hopefully this year will be better.”
The Bills’ running game is averaging 5.3 yards a carry, second best in the league. Miami is holding foes to 3.8 yards a carry, fifth best.
The Bills figure to spread Miami out with three-receiver formations, so Soliai may play only a third of the snaps. Starks is a nine-year veteran brought to Miami in 2008 from Tennessee. He is one of the more versatile and underrated defensive linemen in the league.
“Soliai is about as stout as it gets, and Starks has been really good for years,” Wood said. “He’s real crafty and he’s got some power and some speed. The thing that sticks out the most is the way he uses your momentum against you at times. He’s real good with his hands.”
Most teams don’t try to pound their heads against Miami’s wall. The Dolphins have faced the most pass attempts in the league — an average of 42 a game. As a result they’re 28th in passing yards allowed. The Dolphins haven’t forced a lot of turnovers. But they have pass-rush talent. Cameron Wake has 8.5 sacks, and his 30 quarterback hurries are fourth best in the league, according to Profootballfocus.com.
Wake will face Bills rookie Cordy Glenn.
“You have to stay even-keeled about it,” Glenn said. “They have great talent, just like everybody else has. We just have to follow our game plan and be ready.”
Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said new Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has brought more of a blitzing scheme to the Dolphins. Coyle served the previous 11 years under Bengals respected defensive chief Mike Zimmer.
“They’re all over the place,” Fitzpatrick said. “A lot of different pressures. On third down they can get fairly exotic in what they do. The coordinator is a Cincinnati guy. I was there with him. It’s a lot of the same stuff. Tough to prepare for, especially in a short week. They’ll throw a lot at us, and it’ll be difficult. They’ll send pretty much everybody, depending on what formations and looks you’re in.”
Can the Bills run well enough to stay out of third-and-long situations? Will Miami’s blitzing force the Bills into a lot of dink-and-dunk passes? That’s essentially what happened in Miami’s win at Buffalo last year. Fitzpatrick passed for 316 yards, but threw three interceptions and Miami led, 23-7, in the fourth quarter.
“They’ve given some quarterbacks fits with their pressure looks,” Wood said. “We’ll definitely have to put the time in before Thursday night.”