Things To Watch For:
1.) Can the Bills offensive line control the line of scrimmage?: When the Bills offensive line gave Willis McGahee and Anthony Thomas running room and protected JP Losman in the first half of last week’s game, the Bills were in control of the game. When they stopped opening holes for the running game and allowed the Patriots to pressure JP Losman, the game turned. It’s going to be hot in Miami and the Bills must be able to run the ball effectively against a tough Miami defense to keep their defense off the field. The offensive line must give the Bills running game a chance to control the ball and JP Losman and his receivers time to throw the ball deep against a vulnerable Miami secondary. This is a must and likely the key to the outcome of the game for Buffalo.
2.) Will the Bills be able to limit the number of mistakes and penalties that they commit?: The Bills committed three critical penalties in the 4th Quarter against the Pats that prevented them from having an opportunity to take the lead late in the game. They muffed a punt and allowed a safety and two other sacks. They missed tackles all over the field. Those are the kinds of mistakes and penalties that a young team cannot afford to commit when they are playing on the road against a good football team. The Bills must find a way to limit their penalties and avoid making mistakes at critical times in the game if they are going to have a chance to win this game. It’s that simple, but it is what makes the difference being able to win on the road and losing.
3.) Can the Bills’ defense tackle better, stop the run and get off the field?: While the Bills did not give up as many long runs in the second half of their game against the Patriots, they allowed the Pats to run the ball effectively enough to control the ball and the clock. As a result, with their offense stalled, the Bills defense wore down and was unable to get the ball back for the offense at the end of the game. The Bills defense cannot afford to stay on the field for long stretches in the south Florida heat on Sunday, so they must prevent the Dolphins from controlling the ball with their running game. And, to do that they absolutely must do a better job of shutting down the cutback lanes and tackling. They cannot afford to miss tackles or let Ronnie Brown or any of the Dolphins get away when they get to him.
4.) Will the Bills’ secondary be able to control the explosive Miami passing game?: Last year Miami WR Chris Chambers caught 15 passes for 238 yards and the winning score as the Dolphins came back to beat the Bills 24-23 as the Bills’ secondary collapsed. With all of the weapons that the Dolphins have Miami has the ability to put up a lot of points very quickly. As a result, the Bills defense cannot allow Daunte Culpepper and his receivers to get into a rhythm in the passing game. CBs Nate Clements, Terrance McGee, Jabari Greer and Kiwaukee Thomas must help the Bills’ rookie starting safeties by doing a good job of covering the Miami wide-outs.
5.) Can the Bills defensive line put pressure on Daunte Culpepper all game long or will it wear down in the 4th Quarter?: The Bills’ defensive line was able to put good pressure on Pats’ QB Tom Brady and harass him into one of the worst efforts of his career as a starting QB in the first half of last week’s game, but wore down in the second half as the Pats ran the ball more and made adjustments in their blocking schemes. It will be much hotter in Miami on Sunday, but the Bills’ defensive line will need to get pressure on Daunte Culpepper consistently in order to help their secondary control the Miami passing game and give the team a chance to win this game.
6.) Will JP Losman continue to improve and finally put together a good performance in both halves of this game?: JP Losman had a good first half against Miami last year, tossing 3 TD passes to Lee Evans in the 1st Quarter, and a very good first half last week against New England. Losman has shown a lot of improvement over last season, but to win a road game against a quality opponent like Miami, the team needs to have Losman take the next step and play a complete, mistake-free game for four quarters, finding his receivers and keeping control of the ball whenever the running game stalls. While Losman is dependent on his offensive line to protect him, it is up to him to make the plays the team needs when they do.
7.) Will Lee Evans be able to adjust to the double-teams and find ways to get open in spite of them?: Evans, who had three TD catches against the Dolphins in Miami last season, admitted that he struggled s bit with the double-coverage that he faced against the Patriots. Evans can expect to see the same kind of coverage from Nick Saban’s Dolphins. For the Bills to be successful throwing the ball, Evans must find ways to get open and beat the double-coverage that he is going to see this season. Evans is Losman’s favorite target and his success is important to the success of the Bills’ other receivers, so it is essential for his to step up in this game, especially since the weakest part of the Miami defense is its secondary.
8.) Can the Bills’ coaching staff make better and more timely adjustments than the Miami coaches?: Last season, Mike Mularkey’s coaching staff for the Bills was terrible at making in-game and halftime adjustments. Last week, the Bills got off to a good start in the first half, but Bill Belichick and his coaching staff made some good adjustments at halftime, using more three step drops on offense in the passing game, taking advantage of the Bills’ struggles stopping the run by running the ball more often, and adjusting the play of their defensive line and linebackers to bring more pressure on JP Losman. Dick Jauron’s staff was able to make halftime adjustments that cut down on the number of yards that the Pats were getting on their runs, but were unable to anticipate or counter the adjustments that the Pats made. With five rookies likely to play significant minutes on defense for the Bills, may be limited in the adjustments that they can make during the game and at halftime, but they must do a better job of making adjustments and countering the adjustments that Miami makes than they did against the Patriots last week.
9.) Can the Bills rookies play well enough on defense to give the Bills a chance to win the game with their offense and special teams?: Donte Whitner, Ko Simpson, Kyle Williams, John McCargo and Keith Ellison played quite well in their rookie debuts last week against the Patriots. But, with Troy Vincent on IR, Matt Bowen questionable and unlikely to play, Takeo Spikes nursing a hamstring injury and unlikely to play much, if at all, and the Bills needing to rotate their defensive tackles more frequently in the Miami heat, the Bills are likely to have all five of these rookies on the field at the same time even more often than they did against the Pats. The Bills will be counting on these rookies to play major roles on their defense and the rookies are going to have to continue to improve and play even better this week than they did against the Pats for the Bills to have a chance to keep this game close and perhaps come away with a win.
10.)Will Miami OC Mike Mularkey try to out-fox the Bills with his play-calling and end up out-foxing himself and the Dolphins instead?: Mularkey’s play-calling, which far too often relied on trick plays and gimmickry in crucial situations, drove his players and Bills fans crazy when he was running the Bills offense as their Head Coach. While most of the blame for the loss fell on Culpepper, Mularkey’s play-calling for Miami showed the same tendencies, with the same results down the stretch. Bills fans and, in all likelihood, certain Bills players would like nothing more that to have Mularkey call one of his patented gimmick plays in a crucial situation in this game and see it blow up in their favor the way they saw so many go against the Bills during Mularkey’s stay in Buffalo.
There is no team that the vast majority of Bills fans want to see their team beat than the hated Dolphins. That is especially true this season with Miami having playoff expectations and possible Super Bowl pretensions while virtually every major media outlet is disparaging their beloved Bills. Nothing would be sweeter for Bills fans than to see their young, rebuilding squad go into Miami and deal the Dolphins a second consecutive loss to begin their season—and a division loss at that!
But, as last week’s game against the Patriots showed, winning on the road in the NFL is tough, particularly for a very young, inexperienced team like the Bills. Young teams have to learn how to win tough games on the road like the one that they played last week and the one that lies ahead for them on Sunday in Miami. As many Bills players pointed out after last week’s loss to the Pats, you don’t get anything in the NFL for moral victories—you either come out of the game with a win or with a loss, that’s all. Still, it is by losing tough games like the one the Bills lost last week and bouncing back, learning from the mistakes that were made in losing, that young teams learn that most valuable lesson of all: how to win tough games on the road in the NFL. The Bills have a chance to learn that lesson this week against their division rivals the Dolphins.