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Lacking speed receiver, Bills need run, screens to stay out of Dolphins' wake

1. Kiddie corps

Lee Evans' season-ending ankle injury means Stevie Johnson will be counted on even more than usual to carry a receiving unit that includes undrafted rookies David Nelson, Donald Jones and Naaman Roosevelt. While Nelson and Jones have shown promise, it remains to be seen how they'll fare in more prominent roles. The same goes for Roosevelt, who'll see time as the fourth receiver. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick says he trusts the youngsters, so he'll have to resist the urge to lock onto Johnson, who figures to see more double coverage. Fitzpatrick also needs to get the tight ends and running backs more involved. The Dolphins rank sixth in pass defense, but have allowed seven completions of 40-plus yards. The question is, who will the Bills count on to replace Evans as their primary deep threat?

2. Wake up

In his first season as a starter, Dolphins OLB Cameron Wake has emerged as a premier pass rusher. He leads the NFL with 14 of his team's 35 sacks. Wake, who usually rushes from the left side of the defense, will be a handful for Bills RT Mansfield Wrotto. You can expect the Bills to double team Wake, so the Dolphins need to find more pass rush elsewhere. Excluding Wake, their other linebackers have four sacks in the past seven games, and the defensive line has just four in that stretch. Without Evans to worry about, Miami might use more press coverage to delay receivers' routes to give the pass rush a chance to get to Fitzpatrick, who may have to use his mobility to gain yards or buy time in the pocket for someone to get open. Don't be surprised to see screen passes if the Dolphins rushers get too aggressive.

3. Caged Wildcat

The Dolphins gave defenses fits when the Wildcat formation was introduced three years ago. But with almost every team in the NFL adopting some form of it, defenses have learned how to stop it. That's part of the reason Miami hasn't been as effective with its version. Whether the Dolphins use the Wildcat or not today, look for them to feature RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams a lot because the Bills' run defense continues to have spells of inconsistency. The Dolphins need a solid rushing attack today because they don't want to put the game in the hands of QB Chad Henne, whose struggles have sparked talk in Miami that the team should consider drafting another quarterback of the future.

4. On the run

The Bills' rushing attack has gotten progressively better since they began featuring RB Fred Jackson more. He has topped 100 yards in three of the last four games and is now 225 yards shy of a second straight 1,000-yard season. Rookie C.J. Spiller is starting to figure out how to run in the NFL and should get more touches, but the running game will continue to revolve around Jackson. The Dolphins have a stout run defense with NT Paul Soliai and ILBs Karlos Dansby and Channing Crowder providing a tough interior triangle. Any yards Jackson and Spiller can muster would help the Bills establish some ball control.

5. Extra points

Last Sunday's 10-6 win at the Jets continued an oddball trend for the Dolphins: They're now 6-1 on the road, but only 1-5 at home and have been outscored, 141-98, at Sun Life Stadium. ... The Bills have been notoriously slow starters, allowing the opponent to score first in nine of 13 games. The Bills might be able to control this game if they can establish an early lead because the Dolphins tend to press and make mistakes when playing from behind. ... K Dan Carpenter might be the Dolphins' offensive MVP. His 28 field goals, including a team-record 60-yarder, are second-most in the NFL. ... The Dolphins are 30th in kickoff coverage and have allowed two returns for touchdowns, statistics Spiller surely has made note of.

Prediction

Buffalo would love to spoil Miami's slim playoff hopes. Bills, 19-17.