When: Today 1:00 p.m. EST
Where: Ralph Wilson Stadium- Orchard Park, New York
TV: CBS, DirecTV channel 705
Radio: SIRIUS: 91 Dolphins, 130 Bills. XM: 108 Bills
Commentators: Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker
Game Line: Miami: -3
Weather: Cloudy, Mid-60's
It's back ladies and gentleman. The magical feeling of opening day is in the air. It's Christmas morning for every die-hard NFL fan. Of course, the optimism won't last long for 16 teams out there. Half of us are going to go home losers after all. But half us are going to start the new year off on the right foot, and get off to a 1-0 start the Dolphins haven't experienced since 2005.
We have already previewed just about every aspect of this game. We know the Dolphins are almost unanimously the favorite, but the Bills are never a team you can take lightly. I wouldn't be surprised the least bit if the Dolphins go up to Orchard Park and lay and egg. If they can just get their running game going like they are capable of against a sub-par front seven, limit big plays on defense, and first and foremost protect the football, they should win this game though.
Feel free to post your predictions for this game in the comments.
For the pregame speech, welcome in the one and only Al Pacino. If this doesn't get you ready for some football, there's really nothing that will.
If your pulse isn't pounding with excitement as we now stand less than 48 hours away from the first game of the season, either (a) you have no pulse or (b) you are merely a casual fan. We welcome all sorts here at Phins Phocus, but chances are if your reading this post, you bleed aqua and orange.
As the anticpation mounts, it's a good as time as any to outline the keys to a Dolphins' vicory, with most football fans busy watching the exciting slate of college action tomorrow. If you've been around much this week, you would know by now that I consider Buffalo very capable of winning this football game.
After all, the Dolphins haven't won a game in Ralph Wilson Stadium since 2003. And I know the 2000's were one of this franchise's worst decades, but the Bills haven't had a playoff team since 1999.
At least September is ideally when the Dolphins would want to make this trip, with December typically being the month the scheduling committee likes to slot this game. Considering all the negativity that has been flying around the web in the last few weeks, and the schedule the awaits the Dolphins starting in Week 2, ending this five year losing streak (Dolphins beat Bills in Toronto in 2008) is more crucial than you may think.
1. Run Ronnie and Ricky, run
Getting the running game going will probably be a key to victory every week considering that's this offense's identity. But against the Bills, it's magnified even more so because their pass defense is solid but their run defense projects to be one of the league's worst.
We've heard they still don't have the personnel to effectively run the 3-4, which should bode well for the Dolphins' running game. If we don't see Ronnie and Ricky combine for at least 120 yards, it may be a long day for this offense if they have to put the ball in Chad Henne's hands more than they want to in difficult situations against statistically one of the better secondaries in football.
2. Get after Edwards
We were hoping the secondary would be ready to make huge strides this season. Based on what we've seen so far, and the fact that Jason Allen is starting, improvement may have to wait. That means Mike Nolan's blitz happy scheme needs to compensate.
No, Edwards hasn't proven to be a quality starting quarterback in the regular season yet, but this defense isn't good enough to allow any quarterback all day to throw. Cleo Lemon or John Beck could probably dissect this secondary given adequate time in the pocket.
Cameron Wake needs to provide pressure all day long from the weakside, Koa Misi needs to begin to flash some pass rushing ability, Karlos Dansby and Tim Dobbins need to collapse the pocket when Nolan calls their number, and the safeties and corners better get there quick considering the secondary will be covering with one less man.
3. Contain the edge
Based on his eye popping preseason, and the health of his counterparts, C.J. Spiller should get at least a good 10-15 carries. When defending speed and quickness of Spiller's caliber, one mistake is all it takes to give up a touchdown and possibly lose a game.
The Dolphins can't get caught over-pursuing their angles because Spiller has the lateral quickness to cut on a dime, and the accelaration to get to full speed in a blink of an eye. And even more importantly, the outside linebackers need to do a great job of containing the edge.
Cameron Wake has obviously been improving against the run, but he needs to diagnose the play almost immediately, and begin to set the perimeter before Spiller gets into the secondary.
On the other side, I expect Ikaika Alama-Francis to get the bulk of the action on running situations. He definitely has the strength to shed blocks, but he needs to flash the quickness to beat Spiller to the edge.
If Misi is in the game, he has the athleticism to get over there, but he better not get pushed around and concede too much ground, or it's going to be yards in chunks for the Bills and their running game.
Tuesday we previewed both the Dolphins' and Bills' rushing attacks and their run defenses. Today, we turn our attention to the passing game. Getting the run going early and often may be first priority for both teams, but whoever can stretch the field and keep the defense honest has the potential to completely dominate on offense considering how dynamic both backfields are.
Judging by how impressive Trent Edwards looked in the preseason and how much potential Chad Henne has with a go-to threat like Brandon Marshall, the sky is really the limit for both quarterbacks on Sunday. The only difference is, one secondary was second against the pass last year, and one finished 24th, has no proven free safety providing help over the top, and is starting a former first-round pick at corner who has been nothing short of a bust in his first four seasons.
Bills passing attack vs. Dolphins secondary
While one of the Dolphins' promising young corners appears to be coming into his own on one side of the field, the other just received a demotion that should trouble even the most optimistic of fans. Unless you take the Dolphins' word for it when they say Jason Allen has arrived. Personally, I have to see it before I believe it. Sparano praised Allen's performance in training camp, but I also read media reports that claimed Allen was consistently getting burned by roster fringe receivers.
Fortunately, for Allen, though, he's likely going to be matched up against Steve Johnson, who has also yet to prove that he's a starting caliber player. In two seasons with Buffalo, Johnson only managed 112 receiving yards, but was thrown into the starting spot vacated by Terrell Owens' departure. Vontae Davis, on the other hand, is going to have his hands full with Lee Evans. Evans' has always given Miami trouble, particularly on the deep ball. Davis is a physical receiver, but likes to gamble on occasion, and sometimes gets caught with his eyes in the backfield. Look for Trent Edwards to test Davis with a few deep tosses to keep the secondary on it's toes and a little less aggressive in run support.
On passing downs, I'm intrigued by the Benny Sapp/Nolan Carroll-Roscoe Parrish match up. Parrish is finally settling in as a quality slot option for the Bills, and Sapp or Carroll need to prove to the fan base that they are good enough to warrant the front office putting Will Allen on the IR. The big wildcard in all of this, though, is the Dolphins' pass rush, which will now feature Mike Nolan's exotic blitz packages. We should see pressure coming from everywhere, and because the Bills don't have tape on it in Miami, they really don't know what's coming or how to prepare for it. Considering how bleak the Bills' tackle situation appears according to Joe Pinzone from Bills Win, at the very least, the Dolphins should force Edwards to make some hurried throws.
Dolphins passing attack vs. Bills secondary
Yes, the Bills gave up the second fewest yards through the air last year, and I'm not saying they don't have a very good secondary- they do- but teams really didn't have to throw the ball because they were so bad at stopping the run.We may not even see extensive work from Henne this Sunday if the Dolphins have success pounding the rock over and over with Ronnie and Ricky like they are intending. Last year, the Bills, and every other defense for that matter, went into the week with stopping the run being number one priority and not really having to game plan for any of the Dolphins' receivers.
Now, obviously, the stakes are different. Brandon Marshall drastically changes the way defenses can approach stopping this offense. I think you still have to force Henne to beat you, but it's just too dangerous to throw the kitchen sink at the run with a weapon like Marshall on the outside. And when the Bills secondary gives Marshall all the intention, things are going to open up for Davone Bess and Brian Hartline to make some plays and keep drives alive.
Still though,this is speaking on purely potential, nothing that we've seen first hand. The greatest mystery on this football team, and what is for sure the deciding factor on how good they can be, is if Chad Henne can take the next step as a quarterback. He now has all the weapons he needs to do so, and the Bills' set of quality defensive backs will be a great test for Henne and the Brandon Marshall led receiving corps on Sunday.
However, durability concerns, the huge contract, and Joe Berger winning the starting job this preseason, were obviously the motivating factors in letting him go. Cory Procter, meanwhile, is likely being re-signed to back-up Berger, even though he spent the preseason at guard. no comments
In what I hope becomes a weekly tradition here at Phins Phocus, my goal is to get together with a blogger that represents the team the Dolphins are scheduled to play every week for a little Q&A exchange. To kick things off, I had to look no further than the Bloguin network to find a great Buffalo Bills blog called Buffalo Wins. A big thank you to Joe Pinzone for his participation. Also, be sure to check out the questions I answered for him right here.
1) How is the running back situation coming along? Will Fred Jackson be ready to go? We saw C.J. Spiller make a few explosive plays in the preseason, but what kind of workload do you expect him to get against the Dolphins?
The running back depth chart for the Bills is arguably the strongest part of the team. Before training camp, my assumption would be that Fred Jackson would be getting the bulk of the carries, while CJ Spiller would be used more in situational plays, like on 3rd down. As for Lynch, I really didn't have a feeling on when they would play him, and since he was hurt for most of the preseason, I'm still not sure.
As for CJ Spiller, the dude has been a highlight reel type of player for the Bills. Just today, the Bills named Spiller atop the depth chart. I think his showing in the preseason and being Chan Gailey's handpick running back had something to do with it. Look for him to get maybe 14-18 touches against Miami. The guy is a game-breaker.
2) The Bills took a little bit of heat for not addressing the offensive line with a buzz worthy free agent signing or high round draft pick in the offseason. How has the unit performed thus far?
You think the Dolphins have had bad luck in finding the next Dan Marino? Try finding a decent left or right tackle to play for the Bills. Now, before I get into my disdain for the tackle situation, the Bills have actually developed a nice interior line with Andy Levitre, Geoff Hangartner and Eric Wood. The trio can play and a guy like Wood brings a nasty edge to the field.
As for the tackles..well, you have one guy who can't stay healthy and is extremely raw in Demetrius Bell. Then you have Cornell Green, a free agent tackle from the Raiders, who has looked dreadful in run blocking and pass protection during the preseason. Overall, the inside unit is fine, but if you really want to put pressure on Trent Edwards, blitz on the outside.
3) Trent Edwards had an impressive preseason. Is there anything that makes you believe things will be different this time around and he is finally ready to step in and be a quality starting quarterback?
Yes, Edwards has shocked a lot of fans with his preseason play by having a passer rating of 102.3. He hasn't looked this good since the Bills were 5-1 during the 2008 season. he's been reading defenses better and is stepping into the pocket, instead of trying to check it down to a running back to avoid the rush. He's also developed the long ball with Lee Evans, going deep for 40 and 70 yards on passing plays during the preseason.
However, it was still only the preseason.
Overall, I think Edwards will be better with the tutelage of Chan Gailey, but to say he's ready to step in and be a quality NFL starter is a little to early to tell. If I had to place a bet, i would say the Bills franchise quarterback isn't on this roster.
4) We already know the Bills have a strong secondary, but how has the front seven looked in the new 3-4 scheme?
Frankly, they have been the sh!ts. I've been saying all summer that Bills fans won't be seeing the benefits of changing to a 3-4 until 2012. They just don't have the personnel to make it work, especially at the linebacker position. Overall, the linebackers can't cover or rush the passer. You guys don't want to see what Chris Kelsay looks like when he's dropping back into coverage (Actually, you do, because he stinks at doing that). During the preseason, the Bills defensive starters have given up 6 touchdowns. Preseason or not, that's not a good sign.
As for the defensive lineman, all three starters can play well against the run, but they aren't the type of defensive lineman who are going to put constant pressure on the quarterback. Now, the Bills are tinkering with playing a 4-3 defense, as they did against the Lions last week. So, don't be surprised if they give the Dolphins different looks.
5) Okay, who do you see winning Sunday and why?
As bad as the Bills have been over the last 10 years, they actually have Miami's number when it comes to playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium (Not the sh!t hole in Toronto). The Dolphins haven't won at Ralph Wilson stadium since 2003, and the average beating has been by 14 points. Heck, Trent Edwards best day came against the Dolphins in 2007, when he threw for 4 touchdowns.
Of course, that's the past.
I think this is going to be a high scoring game. I think Miami's secondary is ripe for the pickings and they are going to have difficulty in stopping the Bills passing game. On the other hand, the Dolphins should have their way with running Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams down the Bills throats. In the end, I think the home field advantage becomes a factor and the Bills just beat the Dolphins.
Smith followed up his Pro Bowl two touchdown 08' season, with an NFC leading 29.1 yards per return last year. To make room for Smith on the 53-man roster, the Dolphins were forced to cut offensive lineman Joe Reitz, who was picked up off the waiver wire on Sunday.
-Jake Long participated in limited work in practice today, which all but locks him in as good to go against Buffalo.
-Channing Crowder missed another practice this morning, and the newly acquired Bobby Carpenter got some time with Karlos Dansby on the first-team.
-Vontae Davis looked just fine in practice today after media reports suggested he was walking around the locker room with a limp on Monday.
-The Dolphins have resigned offensive lineman Andrew Hartline and a mystery tight end to the practice squad, and have cut 7th round pick Chris McCoy.
-No time to post now, but be on the lookout for a Q&A segment I did with Joe Pinzone from Buffalo Wins a little later this afternoon.
In preparation for Sunday's opener against the Bills, it's time to hit the film room for a little study session. Okay, so I don't have the time or resources to put together the kind of film NFL teams evaluate week in and week out. But with a little trip to YouTube, we can revisit the two Dolphins-Bills games from last season, as well as check out some Bills highlights that showcase some of the things the Dolphins should probably be worried about.
2009 Week 4: Dolphins 38 Bills 10- An example of what the Dolphins are capable of if they can get the running game going early and often, avoid turnovers, and force a few takeaways on defense.