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  Bills Game is a Must Win Situation
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Venerable Miami Herald columnist Edwin Pope called last week’s game against the Baltimore Ravens a “turnaround game”, his point being that the difference between 3-3 and 2-4 was huge.


How about the difference between 3-4 and 2-5? Or a division best record of 2-1 versus 1-2?


That’s the crossroad the Dolphins face this weekend when they take on the Buffalo Bills at Dolphin Stadium (CBS, 1:00pm ET).


The good guys are probably still shaking their heads over the past two weeks, even though the mandatory 12 hour celebration/lamentation rule has passed. Can we blame them? Houston and Baltimore were both VERY winnable games.


Buffalo is also a winnable game, despite their 5-1 record. And the Dolphins need this game in order to keep pace in the division, but also to re-build some momentum lost over these past two weeks.


‘Who cares?’ moan the naysayers, the same ones whose fannies are missing from the seats at Dolphin Stadium.


It matters because this young Dolphin team will continue to improve and should be playing their best ball during the second half of the season. Their ability to hold up while the learning curve plays out is essential to their chances at a winning season. And, quite frankly, this Dolphins team is ahead of where reasonable expectations would suggest; more should be expected of them.


The offense is in the Top 10 and their quarterback is in the Top 10 with a 97.4 passer rating, which is the best by a Dolphin QB in 24 years (1984, Dan Marino – 108.9). The running game runs hot and cold, but is better than its 17th ranking suggests when we throw out the two pre-Wildcat games.


Yes, the defense has had its struggles, but is still holding teams to less than 100 yards rushing per game, a bellwether stat. With the exception of the blow out loss to the Cardinals, they’ve kept the team in every game thus far.


So one should expect the Dolphins to come out and show a lot better than they did against the Ravens.


The stats say that the Bills and Dolphins are pretty evenly matched defensively. Buffalo is yielding 17.3 yards per game while the Dolphins are at 17.7. Run defense favors the Dolphins at 97.5 yards per game, with the Bills at 107.2 and in the bottom third of the NFL in runs yielded of 20+ yards. However, pass defense greatly favors Buffalo in a shootout situation.


Offensively, the Dolphins are outgaining the Bills per game, 348.8 to 322.5, but trail in points per game, 20 to 24.8.


That’s what a quick glance reveals. But this is, and shall always be, a game of match-ups.


The Dolphins know that the Bills haven’t done a good job of stopping the run, and will likely serve them a heavy dose of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. If the Bills overcompensate for this, Chad Pennington will have an easier time completing passes. And old Jet Pennington knows the Bills defense.


For their part, the Dolphins haven’t done a good job of stopping the pass. This is primarily due to the poor play of their secondary, especially versus big physical receivers. And while Lee Evans and Josh Reed are generously listed in the 5-10, 200lb range (i.e., not the second coming of Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Andre Johnson), they have speed to burn. In Evans’ case, he has “burned” the Dolphins repeatedly since coming into the league. This makes him a bonafide Dolphin killer. On the bright side of things, the Dolphin pass rush is rated in the top third of the league with Joey Porter just a half sack off of the NFL lead (9, DeMarcus Ware).


So this thing figures to end up being a battle of field position, with punters Brian Moorman and Brandon Fields (2 yr net average difference between them) battling it out. And who will win the return battle, Ted Ginn or Roscoe Parrish?


Will NT Paul Soliai make up for his suspension last week and take care of business with the injury to starter Jason Ferguson? Or will Marshawn Lynch have a breakout game?


Will the Bills be able to block Porter, or will Porter get to QB Trent Edwards, who suffered a concussion against the Cardinals earlier this month? Note that the Bills are in the bottom 10 of the league in sacks surrendered with 16.


Can any Dolphin DB (or combination thereof) contain the Bills’ speedy wideouts? They haven’t proven they can in the past.


Can the Dolphins avoid giving up a cheap touchdown on a pick or a kick return? That could be almost fatal in this one.


Can the Bills defend the Dolphin Wildcat the way the Ravens did? Not likely, as their defensive personnel isn’t as good as the Ravens’.


Home field isn’t really much of an advantage for the Dolphins these days, and it figures to be mild by South Florida standards with a high of about 80°F. It will, however, be rainy and that means high humidity which will favor the Dolphins. As always, the removal of the Marlins’ dirt infield was a blessed event!


The stakes are simple. A win against the Bills restores confidence and momentum. A loss puts the Dolphins at 2-5, an almost insurmountable hurdle to a season-ending .500 record. With consequences like this on the table, “must win” is a term de rigueur.

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