Report card: Ground game overruns no-show Dolphins - The Buffalo News
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Report card: Ground game overruns no-show Dolphins

By Tim Graham


» Grading the Bills


The Dolphins’ obvious strategy was to take away the run. The Bills had their best day on the ground in seven weeks. Fred Jackson played with broken ribs yet notched his first 100-yard game of the season and scored the only touchdown. He averaged 5.8 yards a carry. C.J. Spiller ran for another 77 yards and ripped off a 23-yard run in the fourth quarter to set up a field goal.


Thankfully, backup quarterback Thad Lewis didn’t need to be a star Sunday because he was shorthanded. Already without top receiver Stevie Johnson, the Bills lost Marquise Goodwin to a knee injury in the first quarter. Robert Woods had three catches for 70 yards in the first half, but was ejected for throwing a punch with 10 minutes left in the third quarter. Lewis’ one interception was manageable, and he was sacked just once.


This seemed like an attractive matchup for Miami’s offense, especially given the weather. Buffalo ranked 26th in run defense and 23rd in average allowed per carry. Miami ranked a respectable 15th in yards per carry. Buffalo stoned Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas to the point Miami stopped trying. Miami ran 12 times for 14 yards, with its longest rush going for 3 whole yards.


What couldn’t the Bills do defensively? About the only thing I can come up with was a deep-ball collision between Jairus Byrd and Leodis McKelvin that prevented an easy interception. The Bills tallied seven sacks, a season-high, and 10 quarterback hits. They knocked Ryan Tannehill out of the game briefly. Each of their four first-half sacks happened on third down. The Bills got two interceptions and broke up 10 passes.


In deplorable wind conditions, Dan Carpenter made field goals from 45, 21, 22 and 26 yards. The rest of Buffalo’s special teams were mangy. Brian Moorman had a 13-yard punt to Buffalo’s 49-yard line on its first possession and got knocked down by teammate Jim Leonhard on another kick. McKelvin had a treacherous afternoon trying to field punts and totaled zero yards on four returns.


Whatever coach-speak terms you want to use – focus, discipline, commitment – the Bills did all that despite all sorts of excuses (injuries, weather, out of the playoffs) not to. They dominated on defense and managed the ball incredibly well, keeping it for 13:01 longer than the Dolphins. The Bills committed one turnover and just four penalties.

» Grading the Dolphins


This was the most impotent rushing attack I’ve seen in a long time. No bonus points for even trying because they barely did. Thomas and Miller were healthy, but at halftime they had nine carries for 9 yards. Miami ran only three times in the second half. A third of Thomas’ attempts were for zero or negative yards.


Tannehill didn’t get much help. His offensive line was ravaged by the Bills. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams mauled left guard Sam Brenner to the point the rookie needed to be replaced. Top receiver Brian Hartline had an awful game, dropping critical first-down passes. Tannehill left the game in the fourth quarter, and Matt Moore connected with Hartline for a 50-yard gain, almost half of Miami’s 103 total yards.


Miami was able to string Spiller to the sideline on occasion and recorded three tackles behind the line. But Buffalo’s fourth-ranked rushing attack kept pounding and pounding and pounding away. Miami simply couldn’t withstand the blows. Miami’s worst game against the run was 163 yards. Buffalo gained nearly 25 percent more than that.


Other than cornerback Nolan Carroll’s interception, Miami broke up zero passes. Carroll also had the lone sack. Miami hit Lewis only two other times. Lewis threw for 96 of his 193 yards on three plays in the first quarter, including a 15-yard completion to Scott Chandler on a third-and-9 play.


Brandon Fields was busy and showed why he’s one of the NFL’s best punters. He grossed 50.1 yards and netted 46.2 yards. His shortest punt was downed at Buffalo’s 5-yard line in the first quarter. His 74-yarder in the third quarter was the third-longest in club history. Marcus Thigpen averaged 25 yards on his three kickoff returns but might have been Miami’s best chance to score – all things considered.


The Dolphins had won four of their previous five games and are playing for their postseason lives. Their opponents were using a backup quarterback and were without their top receiver and most productive defensive back. So what did Joe Philbin’s boys do? They turned in their worst game of the year.


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