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DOLPHINS DEFENSE DARES THE BILLS TO ATTACK BY AIR

The Buffalo Bills would like to get off to a fast start Monday night in Miami, and last year's meetings indicate the way to do it is through the air.

The problem is that strategy plays into Miami's desire to control the clock and create big plays on defense.

Just how the Bills decide to attack the Dolphins' outstanding defense figures to be one of the most interesting subplots to the Monday night showdown at Pro Player Stadium.

Will the pass have to open up the run? Perhaps. Miami has two superb tackles in the middle of its defense in Daryl Gardener and Tim Bowens, plus one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL in Zach Thomas.

Furthermore, the Bills successfully passed the Dolphins silly in last year's playoff game in Miami. Doug Flutie threw for 360 yards, and the Bills crossed midfield on nine of their 10 possessions. Five turnovers, however, negated all that marching up and down the field.

"They want you to have to throw the football," Bills quarterbacks coach Turk Schonert said. "They feel they have a pass rush and they've got the cover people."

"I'd love to see us run the ball," Flutie said. "I'd love to see us hammer it down their throat. Whether that will happen or not, we'll see."

Antowain Smith had a good game in the Bills' win over Miami in Buffalo last year, with 82 yards on 21 carries. But in the two losses in Miami, he managed 34 and 15 yards, respectively.

The 15-yard outing in the playoffs was more a case of the Bills choosing to pass against Miami's man-to-man coverage.

The Bills will need Eric Moulds, Andre Reed and either Peerless Price or Kevin Williams to outperform Miami corners Sam Madison, Terrell Buckley and Patrick Surtain.

"No matter who they play, they put the onus on the receivers to beat them," Schonert said. "They challenge the receivers. Their corners don't have help. Their safeties aren't there to help. They support the run game. . . . If you don't run your routes correctly, they're going to be all over you."

"It does open up some opportunities to get some big plays," Flutie said of the Dolphins' safeties in run support. "It makes it more difficult to run the football. They're trying to come up and take away the run."

If the Bills can manage even a semblance of a running game, then their play-action passes and bootlegs figure to be more effective, especially if they can catch Miami's safeties cheating up.

Flutie hit Moulds on a 65-yard post pattern on the first play from scrimmage in the playoff game. Buckley was in coverage with no safety help. But Buckley caught Moulds and forced a fumble from behind, and Miami recovered.

That was the story of the game. The Bills also had a 71-yard march foiled by an interception and a 64-yard drive foiled by the sack and forced fumble against Flutie in the final seconds.

"Not turning the ball over is the bottom line," Flutie said.

In every game Miami has lost the past two years, the opposing team made just two turnovers or fewer.

Miami's defense ranked third overall in the NFL in yards allowed last year, sixth against the run and sixth against the pass.

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