Here are my five takes on Sunday’s game between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium:
1. Get over it! The damage from that emotional tidal wave that came crashing down on the Bills with last Sunday’s 40-32 loss against New England is done. The massive disappointment, after all of the hype from the collective effort of Rex Ryan and many of his players to give what was only a Week Two contest Super Bowl-like importance, must be forgotten. Otherwise, the Bills could easily find themselves with a much larger problem in the form of a second consecutive AFC East loss. This will be a crucial early test of the team’s leadership. It must start with Ryan and his coaching staff having a good feel for the pulse of the players and making sure that through the course of the practice week, everyone has put the Patriots’ game in its proper perspective. Ryan needs to project that the most. Then, it’s up to veteran leaders, such as defensive tackle Kyle Williams and offensive guard Richie Incognito, to make sure their teammates fully grasp that every ounce of their focus must be on the Dolphins. After an even shakier 1-1 start, the Dolphins are looking to this home-opener as an opportunity to make a statement.
2. The defensive front does its typical tormenting of Ryan Tannehill. Sure, the Dolphins will try to copy the tremendous success the Patriots had with spread formations, empty backfields and Tom Brady making numerous quick throws that left his hand before the Bills’ pass rush could get near him. But trying and succeeding are two different things. In six career games against the Bills, Tannehill has been sacked 23 times, including nine last season. Beyond the fact Tannehill isn’t Brady and doesn’t have the same collection of pass-catchers who function exceptionally well in an up-tempo attack, there’s also the likelihood the Bills’ defensive game plan will bear little resemblance to the one they used last week. Don’t expect to see the rush again mainly come from the defensive line in order to maximize the number of players involved in pass coverage. That failed miserably last week, in large part because it is not the identity of Ryan’s scheme. As they proved in their season-opening win against Indianapolis, the Bills are at their best defensively when they are the aggressors by employing Ryan’s full array of exotic blitzes. They must keep Tannehill and his offensive line on their heels and constantly guessing from where or even whether blitzers are coming.
3. Tyrod Taylor isn’t overwhelmed by his first NFL road start. This is an enormous challenge for which the Bills have been devoting a large portion of their practice week. They’ve held workouts under the din of deafening noise to force Taylor to get in as much work as possible on silent counts and other non-verbal communication. But it’s something that’s hard to simulate, and the coaches are well aware of that. A quarterback who has never dealt with the raucous road atmosphere can’t get a true feel for what it’s like until he’s in it. How will Taylor respond? The Dolphins no doubt will follow the Patriot plan of keeping him contained in the pocket and daring him to beat them with is arm. But Taylor must show better poise than he did against the Patriots, who did a good job of rattling him with pressure (he was sacked eight times and at least three were his fault) and confusing him with a variety of coverages and coverage disguises that contributed to his three interceptions. Taylor also needs to get his best playmaker, Sammy Watkins, involved in the offense early and often.
4. Build on the improvement the running game showed last week. LeSean McCoy didn’t look as if he was bothered in the least by a sore hamstring against New England. He ran with good explosiveness and authority. The Bills smartly rested him on Wednesday and limited his work in Friday’s practice, and that could become a pattern, at least until he gets an extended break during the midseason bye. That should allow them to give him a fairly heavy workload, especially in the early going when the goal should be to set a physical tone that quiets the crowd. The game plan figures to include more than a few running plays with lateral movement to force Ndamukong Suh, the Dolphins’ behemoth defensive tackle, to do plenty of running and enhance his chances of wearing down in the intense heat and humidity. It won’t be a surprise if the Bills look to make an in-your-face statement by running directly at Suh, who has been a non-factor through most of the past two games, with McCoy and Karlos Williams.
5. Making special teams actually special. The Bills had one of the best special-teams units in the NFL last season. There is no reason for them to fall short of that this year. And there is every reason to think that they can actually win games because of their special teams rather than having them be a contributing factor to falling into a massive hole from which they can’t escape, as was the case when they trailed the Patriots, 37-13, after three quarters. The Bills committed six special-teams penalties against New England. Most stemmed from a clear lack of discipline, such as personal fouls and off-sides calls. Special teams coach Danny Crossman has spent the week delivering a stern message to the players who block for and cover kicks that the yellow flag fest is over. Now we’ll see if they were actually listening. Meanwhile, the Dolphins, who had 13 penalties in last Sunday’s loss at Jacksonville, are equally focused on avoiding the hankies. Coach Joe Philbin said he went “painstakingly” through each of the call with his players, pointing out “what the end result was. And most of them weren’t very good.”