Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills' game against the Miami Dolphins Saturday at New Era Field:
1. Show some fight: Whether it's for Rex Ryan's job or the slim possibility of a playoff berth, the Bills need to perform as if they're fighting for someone or something. Or maybe just for their own sense of pride to avoid making the final home game of the season a lasting ugly memory.
The Bills were clearly engaged for last Sunday's 33-13 pounding of the winless Cleveland Browns, but that doesn't say much. The Browns are as bad as any team ever assembled in the NFL, so beating them by a wide margin isn't that big of an accomplishment.
The Dolphins are different. Not only are they an AFC East rival that rallied from an 11-point deficit late in the third quarter to beat the Bills at Miami on Oct. 23, they have won eight of their last nine games and are very much in the hunt for a wild-card spot.
Several players have said they want Ryan to remain as head coach. It's fair to say that most would prefer he stick around because he maintains a player-friendly atmosphere.
Some have expressed a willingness to convey those thoughts to team owners Terry and Kim Pegula. But the best, if not only, way to speak is with their actions. They need to win out in convincing fashion – regardless of the help they might or might not get to sneak into the postseason – to have a prayer of altering what appears a done deal.
2. Don't let Jay Ajayi tear it up again. There were multiple reasons why he ran for 214 yards on 28 carries, an average of 7.6 yards per rush, against the Bills in October.
The biggest was poor tackling. Ajayi had runs where as many as four defenders missed tackles. That's inexcusable. It was a typically hot South Florida day, with the temperature at kickoff at 81 degrees, but if that was the main problem, then the Bills should be faulted for not being in good enough physical condition to remain strong enough to prevent Ajayi's running to lead the Dolphins' comeback.
Another factor was a bad job of coaching by Ryan and the rest of the defensive staff. The game plan was devised primarily on the basis of what the Dolphins did the previous week in beating the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ajayi took most of his runs to the outside during a 204-yard, two-touchdown performance, so the Bills were determined to have their outside linebackers set the edge and force Ajayi to cut inside. The strategy worked for most of the first half.
However, through the final two quarters, Ajayi would initially run toward the outside, then turn inside and run against the flow of the defense, finding plenty of open space with defenders out of position. Ryan insists that won't happen again, although over-pursuit and lousy tackling were factors as recently as Dec. 11, when Le'Veon Bell ran for 236 yards for the Steelers.
3. Don't get caught up in seeking revenge. It will be tempting, as Bills players continue to fume about the vicious hit Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry placed on Aaron Williams, ending the safety's season and possibly his career.
Whatever contact Bills defenders make with him should be kept within the rules. Vigilante justice usually doesn't work out so well.
If it results in a major penalty or losing a player to an ejection, that could very well cause more damage to the Bills' cause than Landry's or the Dolphins'. Be bigger than that.
The best way to get back at Landry is to prevent him from making game-changing catches.
4. LeSean McCoy finishes on a high note. He's having a brilliant, Pro Bowl season as the best player on the Bills.
He can finish it off in strong fashion with another dominant showing, which should be very doable against the NFL's 30th-ranked run defense.
McCoy is playing with as much effort as anyone on the team. He has gone from a somewhat reluctant Bill to a fairly strong leader, mainly by example. He is healthy and invested, and his performance proves as much.
5. Prevent Matt Moore from feeling comfortable on the road for the second game in a row. He had a fairly easy time against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium last Saturday night. Of course, the Jets and their fans have checked out on the season.
It's fair to say the Bills' fans have done a fair amount of checking out as well, given the many empty seats and mostly uninspired feeling surrounding the Cleveland game. Maybe Miami coming to down on Christmas Eve will generate a different vibe.
Either way, the Bills have to figure out how to rattle Moore, a veteran who can do a nice job of managing the game if he isn't harassed enough in the pocket. This would figure to be an ideal time for the Bills to turn up the dial on their blitzing.