Tim Graham grades the Bills-Dolphins: Coaching, pass game undermine Miami - The Buffalo News
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Tim Graham grades the Bills-Dolphins: Coaching, pass game undermine Miami

» Grading the Bills


If ever a team can average an inspiring 3.0 yards a carry, then the Bills did so Sunday. Fred Jackson ran 11 times for 36 yards. C.J. Spiller had fewer yards than Tashard Choice, Frank Summers or Thad Lewis. But Jackson’s return after going down with what looked like a bad knee injury was symbolic. The Bills probably don’t win if Jackson doesn’t convert a crucial third down to set up the winning field goal and absorb more time off the clock.


The most frequent adjective to describe Lewis in the Dolphins’ locker room was “decent.” Lewis was just that, completing 21 of 32 throws for 202 yards and no touchdowns with an interception. The Dolphins sacked him four times. He fumbled twice, but the Bills didn’t lose either of them. Spiller has been irrelevant in the pass game, catching three balls for minus-4 yards.


The Dolphins were considered one of the NFL’s weakest run teams, but their running backs controlled chunks of the game. Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller ran 21 times for 103 yards. The Bills’ defense recorded only one tackle for a loss on a Dolphins run play.


The Dolphins allowed the third-most sacks entering Sunday, while the Bills’ defense amassed the third-most. Those trends didn’t intersect until about seven minutes were left in the fourth quarter, but Mario Williams shifted the game with two biggies. His second was a strip-sack that all but gifted the winning field goal. Nickell Robey had a game-high three pass breakups and returned Ryan Tannehill’s first pass for a touchdown.


Dan Carpenter made all three of his field goals, highlighted by his 31-yard winner with 33 seconds to play. But an errant ensuing kickoff and shoddy coverage gave Miami a legitimate chance to win. Brian Moorman netted 41 yards a punt and posted healthy hang times. He boomed a 62-yarder.


The Bills got somewhat lucky with that late takeaway, but their ability to keep the game close allowed them to cash in on their good fortune. Special-teams coach Danny Crossman must shore up deficiencies in kick coverage. For the second straight divisional game, the Bills failed to run out the clock at the end of the first half and gave up a score. The Jets added only a field goal in Week Three, but the Dolphins scored a touchdown Sunday.

» Grading the Dolphins


Only three teams averaged worse than Miami’s 69.6 rushing yards entering Sunday’s game. Miami had 80 with more than 11 minutes left in the second quarter, but that pace slowed down substantially. Miami ran for 40 yards over the final 41 minutes and totaled just five rushing first downs.


The Bills netted a pedestrian 178 passing yards, yet the Dolphins found a way to gain fewer. Tannehill was sloppy early. His first pass was intercepted by Robey in the left flat and returned 19 yards for a TD. Tannehill’s other first-quarter interception was a lofty wobbler into the end zone. He also yielded the strip-sack. Tannehill did throw three touchdown passes, two to Brandon Gibson, and connected with Mike Wallace on a 46-yard play.


Miami dropped Buffalo behind the line of scrimmage four times on run plays. Buffalo’s average of 3.0 yards per carry was its lowest by far this season (3.7 yards against the Ravens in Week Four had been the worst). Spiller struggled, running six times for 11 yards – and he had an 11-yard gain.


The absence of top linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (shoulder) took away some defensive flexibility, but the Dolphins’ pass-rushers still had a striking afternoon. Six Dolphins recorded a quarterback hit; four had a sack. A Jelani Jenkins unnecessary roughness call for knocking off Lewis’ helmet on a blitz extended a field-goal drive. The Dolphins managed to break up just one pass other than Chris Clemons’ interception.


Rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis missed a 51-yard field goal with 5:55 left in the first half, but underrated punter Brandon Fields had a wonderful afternoon, netting 44.7 yards. Fields’ best punt, a 74-yarder that skipped down the sideline, was wiped out when gunner Don Jones was flagged for illegal touching. After a re-kick and a return, the Dolphins lost 40 yards of field position. The Bills scored a touchdown with the short field.


Miami coach Joe Philbin had an extra week to prepare for a home game against Buffalo and its journeyman quarterback. Miami’s offense started the game with an interception for a touchdown, two three-and-out series and another interception before getting some points. Though Miami was in command with the lead, the ball at the 50 on second down and less than three minutes to go, Mike Sherman called a pass play, Tannehill got sacked and they fumbled away the game.

email: tgraham@buffnews.com

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