The front line of Miami's 3-4 defense was tweaked over the offseason. Out is veteran Vonnie Holliday. In are a batch of young guns — Phillip Merling, Kendall Langford, Rodrique Wright, Tony McDaniel and Lionel Dotson. Remains to be seen whether the Dolphins will miss Holliday's hold-the-point-of-attack strength on the edge.
Coaches hope Merling breaks out. The first pick in the second round last year only had one sack in 16 games. As this article points out, Miami is counting heavily on Merling taking a leading role.
In the middle, Jason Ferguson keeps plugging away. At 34 years old, he remains an immovable boulder. Not many tackles in today's game create traffic jams quite like Ferguson, who was beckoned to Miami as part of the raid of Dallas Cowboys players/coaches. Bill Parcells was right. Ferguson still has some football ahead of him. Last season, he was the point man on the league's 10th best rushing defense.
Buffalo upgraded with Aaron Maybin on the edge, but he's still not anywhere near St. John Fisher. Until Maybin inks a deal, reports to camp and proves he is a legitimate weapon, Miami's three front linemen remain superior. New center Geoff Hangarter has signed strictly to neutralize guys like Ferguson.
The Edge: Miami.
Downright robbery. This is why the Dolphins reeled in the Big Tuna — Bill Parcells pillaged the Washington Redskins. Last summer, the Dolphins dealt unhappy Jason Taylor to the ‘Skins for a second-round pick in 2009 and a sixth-rounder in 2010. With that second-rounder, Miami plucked dynamic quarterback Pat White for its Wildcat offense.
And now Taylor is back in Miami.
After flaming out in Washington (3.5 sacks in 13 games), he was released. The Dolphins signed him back, and now boast the game's best 1-2 pass-rushing punch…if Taylor rekindles his old form. Joey Porter, for all of his MTV-like yapping off the field, is downright scary on the field. He terrorized the Bills last season for four sacks in two games amid constant Krzyzewski full-court press-like pressure. Porter finished the season with 17.5 sacks.
With Taylor on one edge of the 3-4 and Porter on the other, Miami has the tools to give Buffalo's two new tackles headaches.
Joey Porter made life miserable for Buffalo in two games last year.
On the Bills' side, Paul Posluszny is a fan favorite. With his wavy golden locks, UFC neck, and hardnosed attitude, The Poz will be the cornerstone of the defense for a long time. But outside of him, there's not much else. Kawika Mitchell is undersized. Keith Ellison is a backup, not a starter. Nic Harris is probably a year away. And Pat Thomas couldn't hack it in Kansas City. Next…
The Edge: Miami
Before his laughable run-in with the cops, Ko Simpson took a step backwards last season. As a result, he's on the outside looking in at training camp. Bryan Scott, meanwhile, is the type of mistake-proof safety the defense has lacked most of this decade. Scott got the early nod over Donte Whitner at strong safety after holding his own against tight ends in man coverage last season. Antonio Gates only had four receptions with Scott shadowing him. In run support, the 220-pound Scott is an extra linebacker, too. His 69 stops ranked fourth on the team.
Whitner is the frontrunner at free safety, especially with Jairus Byrd sidelined. If Byrd recovers quickly, though, don't be surprised to see the rookie snatch the job. He's a pure playmaker. Whitner, though solid and a nifty fill-in at cornerback, hasn't done quite enough to verify Marv Levy's decision to draft him over Jay Cutler.
At cornerback, the Bills lost Jabari Greer in free agency but have no reason to panic.
Terrence McGee was a warrior last fall, fighting through injuries and taking his game to another level. McGee broke up 18 passes last year, consistently battling opponents' No. 1 wideout. Lining up against Terrell Owens every day will only help him. At one practice earlier this week, McGee went Elmur on T.O., giving the matchup nightmare little room to breathe.
Over the past few years, McGee's closing speed has improved drastically. So many return specialists flop at a full-time position. McGee has flourished.
The guy that replaced him in the return game isn't too shabby, either. Leodis McKelvin should be a linchpin in Buffalo's defense for a long time. Because speed kills. The Troy product doesn't waste motion in the return game. He finds a seam and glides. In brief action as a regular on defense last season, it's clear his speed translates to cornerback.
On a defense lacking game-changers, McKelvin is a flicker of hope.
The Dolphins back line isn't nearly as solid. Miami allowed 228 passing yards per game last year, 25th most in the NFL. First-round pick Vontae Davis could help, but he's raw and has character concerns. Trent Edwards shouldn't have trouble locating his bevy of weapons if he has time.
The Edge: Buffalo
Buffalo sizes up fairly well against the division champs. Given protection, Trent Edwards could pick apart Miami's young secondary. With a healthy Edwards, Buffalo probably would have upset Miami in Toronto last season. The Dolphins are not an overwhelming bunch. But the Bills need to figure out how to slow down the Dolphins' dizzying Wildcat offense. With Pat White now in the mix (Thanks, Dan Snyder), Miami surely added new wrinkles.
Look for these two teams to split home games this season. Unlike the NBA-ish atmosphere in Toronto, Buffalo gets the Fins at home on Nov. 29 this season. With a solid ground game, Buffalo has the ammo to win in the blizzard-like conditions that you'd hope encase the Dolphins when they come up.
Tyler Dunne is Publisher of BuffaloFootballReport.com and also writes for the Buffalo News, Olean Times Herald and the Packer Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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For the premium-only Part I, click here.