105.5 THE TEAM – A week that was supposed to be centered around first-round pick Shaq Lawson returning off the physically unable to perform list, was overshadowed by the mid-week hamstring injury to the league’s current No. 2 rusher LeSean McCoy.
There’s no denying that without McCoy the Bills offense becomes a little less dynamic, but numbers wise this matchup with Miami still works in their favor. For starters, the Dolphins run defense is abysmal. Buffalo doesn’t need McCoy to move the ball on this group.
There’s not much that stands out offensively from the Dolphins either, outside of a break out rushing performance from Jay Ajayi last week.
Still, if you overlook the Dolphins they’ll knock you down a peg – just ask the Steelers. This Bills team has proven over the last few weeks that they won’t underestimate any opponent, good or bad. That should be reassuring. If they’re as dialed in as they have been during this four-game win streak they’ll be fine, even without McCoy.
Here’s three things they must do to earn a W…
1) Whether McCoy can play or not, make running the football a priority
For the second straight week the Bills offense will line up opposite the NFL’s 31st ranked rush defense. Before Week 6 the Dolphins run defense was actually dead last in the league but because Buffalo piled up 312 rushing yards against San Francisco, Miami jumped up a spot. Whether they’re 31st or 32nd doesn’t really matter. The Dolphins have yielded an average of 147 rushing yards per game, which plays right into the Bills strength. They’re averaging 166 rushing yards per game, respectively. LeSean McCoy said he was “very limited” at Friday’s practice, leaving his status for Sunday very much up in the air. He’ll be a game-time decision but regardless if he plays or not the Bills can still run the ball successfully using a mix of Tyrod Taylor, the next man up Mike Gillislee, and company. They gotta stick to what they do best and it should result in a fifth straight win.
In their second meeting last season the Dolphins torched Buffalo badly with some big screen plays. They ran eight screens in total, to the tune of 89 yards and the most successful attempts came on those dumped off to former running back Lamar Miller. He caught four of the screen passes, picking up 26, nine, 21 and 27 yards respectively. Those last two increments actually came on back-to-back plays early in the third quarter. Now obviously the 2015 Bills defense was a catastrophe. In comparison, this year’s unit is much more sound. With a new head coach, Adam Gase, who knows if they’ll look to incorporate screens into the gameplan again, but the fact that Buffalo had some problems defending them last year it’s something to watch for.
3) Lock up Jarvis Landry
Quietly, Dolphins wideout Jarvis Landry resides in the top 10 for receiving yards this season with 494 (9th). He’s caught seven or more passes in five of their first six games this season – including a season-high 10 against New England – gone over 100 receiving yards twice, and averages 9.5 targets a game. His blazing speed makes him very valuable to Miami’s offense and they’ll surely look to get him the ball, as they have through the first six weeks of the season. Where he doesn’t get much love is in the red zone. He’s only been targeted three times inside the opponent’s 20. He’s also only scored one touchdown this season. Last week RB Jay Ajayi helped the Dolphins run for over 200 yards on the ground against a Steelers defense that was missing some key run stoppers. That was an anomaly. Before last week they were averaging 72.4 rushing yards per game and had gone over 100 yards only once. It’s hard to imagine they’ll have the same success they did in Week 6. That means more involvement for Landry. Fortunately the Bills have the corners to slow him down.
Key Stat: Through six games the Bills defense has already accumulated 20 sacks – the second most in the league – a season removed from accumulating 21 of them in 16 games. Headlined by Jerry Hughes and the NFL’s surprising sack leader Lorenzo Alexander this pass rush has been impressive, and now they add rookie Shaq Lawson into the fold as well. Look out Miami. The Dolphins offensive line has been worked to the beat of 17 sacks and 42 QB hits so far this season. Both those figures rank among the bottom five teams in the league. This could get ugly.
Injury Report: As expected all eyes are on RB LeSean McCoy and the severity of his hamstring injury. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind surrounding Shady the last few days. First ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported he was out, then John Wawrow and the Associated Press said he was a game-time decision and finally on Friday Rex Ryan confirmed that he’d be listed as questionable. Depending on how he’s feeling Sunday McCoy may play. However, as Ryan, OC Anthony Lynn and even McCoy himself all emphasized “being smart” with managing the injury is crucial. Don’t be surprised if the Bills err on the side of caution.
In all honesty, Robert Woods foot injury should be a little more concerning at this point. He’s listed as doubtful, but considering that he didn’t practice all week and was in a walking boot it’s hard to imagine he plays. That means the Bills top receivers are Marquise Goodwin and Justin Hunter. There’s certainly more inspiring duos in the NFL.
Marcell Dareus is also listed as doubtful and didn’t practice all week, as he nurses a nagging hamstring injury of his own. Chances are he sits out another week. The only Bill that has been ruled out at this point is T Seantrel Henderson.
Six other players join McCoy as questionable this week, they are: TE Charles Clay (ankle), FB Jerome Felton (back), T Cordy Glenn (ankle), C Patrick Lewis (knee), CB Kevon Seymour (shoulder) and DT Kyle Williams (neck). All those guys were limited at practice on Friday. Hopefully TE Charles Clay can play because he could be the x-factor in the passing game this week.
Storyline to keep an eye on: I’ll save the Mario Williams’ narrative for his return to Buffalo in Week 16. Instead, I’m interested in how the Bills have owned Ryan Tannehill. Considering what happened the last time we talked about Rex Ryan owning an opposing quarterback, lets hope this isn’t the kiss of death. The numbers are telling though. Through his four seasons in the NFL, Tannehill is 2-6 against Buffalo. In those eight games he carries a sad 58.10 completion percentage, a 75.6 quarterback rating, has thrown 11 touchdowns, eight interceptions and been sacked 27 times. Last year’s Week 8 contest between the division foes was the first time he’s amassed 300 yards against the Bills in his career; the final score was 33-17, Bills. Will the trend continue? Or will Tannehill get the monkey off his back? We’ll find out.
My Prediction: With or without LeSean McCoy in the lineup it’s honestly hard to imagine the Bills losing this game. Just like San Francisco, the Dolphins rushing defense is putrid and making matters worse they just lost Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones for the rest of the season. Obviously Shady’s unique abilities make him irreplaceable and Buffalo would prefer to have him out there, but Mike Gillislee is plenty capable of carrying the run game, especially behind a peaking offensive line. There’s a reason his teammates call him TD-Mike. When he burst onto the scene late last season off the practice squad he ran for three touchdowns in five games. He scored his first of the 2016 campaign just last week. I’m also interested to see how Tyrod Taylor rises to the occasion without McCoy’s presence. This could be a moment of truth for him. Really though it’s defense that I’m most confident in. This Bills pass rush should terrorize Miami’s struggling offensive line, disrupt the run game and keep Tannehill off-balance. The absences of McCoy and Robert Woods will make things interesting, but the Bills offense will do enough to win, backed by a dominant defensive performance. Bills win their fifth straight, 24-17
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