This coming Sunday, the Buffalo Bills escape the cold and snow to travel to Miami and face the Dolphins in an AFC East division contest.
Both teams are coming off low scoring victories from last weekend. This is an interesting game from the standpoint that the Dolphins don't play well at home (1-5) while the Bills don't play well on the road (1-5).
Something has to give.
The Bills are looking for a little revenge as the Dolphins came in to Buffalo to open up the season and beat the Bills 15-10. Things are quite different for the Bills team now compared to that week one contest.
This article will address the strengths and weaknesses of both teams and look at the keys to this game.
The Dolphins upset the New York Jets last Sunday on the road. The final score was 10-6, but what was strange was that Miami scored all of their points in the first quarter, and then was shut out for the rest of the game.
They managed to pick up only six first downs for the entire game, and generated only 131 yards of total offense. Yet they found a way to win the game, so there is something to be said for that.
This past Sunday the Bills copied the blueprint of what the Dolphins did to them in week one.
Very weird how the numbers break out sometimes, but in week one Miami had the edge in first downs 19-9. They held the ball for 36 minutes to the Bills' 23.
Last Sunday, the Bills won the battle of first downs 19-9, and held the ball for 36 minutes to the Browns 23. I don't make this stuff up, but it is rather ironic nonetheless.
Ed Wang is now active for the Buffalo Bills. The first ever Chinese player in the history of the NFL is getting his feet wet in professional football.
He is not alone.
The Bills currently have a staggering 13 rookies as part of their active roster. That number may be on the rise if injured veterans Lee Evans and Geoff Hangartner go to the I.R. list soon.
The 13 rookies are: LB Mike Balogun, QB Levi Brown, DE Alex Carrington, TE Mike Caussin, DT Kellen Heard, OL Cordaro Howard, WR Donald Jones, LB Arthur Moats, WR David Nelson, WR Naaman Roosevelt, RB C.J. Spiller, NT Torell Troup and OL Ed Wang.
That list would be even longer, but these other four rookies are on the I.R. list: LB Danny Batten, LB Antonio Coleman, WR Marcus Easley, and LB John Russell.
Cameron Wake had a head start this year in his race to be the NFL Sack Leader when he had the chance to face the living statue better known as Trent Edwards.
Long gone are the days when Bills fans have to sit and watch the quarterback flip the ball over his head and out of bounds to avoid another sack.
The offense has taken off under the guidance of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick possesses a number of skills that Edwards lacked. He is confidant, mobile, not afraid to take a hit, and is decisive with the ball. Those qualities have continually been on display as the season has worn on.
What is out of Fitzpatrick's hands are all of the losses to his offense.
Roscoe Parrish is on the I.R. and Lee Evans probably isn't that far behind. Marshawn Lynch has been traded to the Seattle Seahawks, and Trent Edwards was released and sits on the bench for Jacksonville.
Starting right tackle Cornell Green went on I.R. and has been released. Eric Wood was hurt for awhile, but is now back and playing center in place of injured Geoff Hangartner. And so it goes.
The Bills needed some live game action to incorporate all of the new schemes on both sides of the ball. Chan Gailey has a much better offense in place than was seen in 2009, and George Edwards seemingly needed the first two-thirds of the season to implement his defensive schemes and learn more about his personnel and how they best fit into his schemes.
This all took time, but the product on the field now is far different than what Miami saw in the season opener.
The Dolphins offense is a little hard to figure out.
They have two running backs that are ranked in the top 30 in the league in Ronnie Brown (28) and Ricky Williams (29). The duo averages 95 rushing yards a game which is a good starting point for any offense.
Then you look at wide receiver where they have a strong duo in Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess. Marshall ranks # 28 in the NFL in receiving yards with 709, while Bess is not far behind (# 32) with 673 yards.
The duo averages 115 yards in receptions per game.
Throw in to the mix quarterback Chad Henne and tight end Anthony Fasano, who hurt the Bills in week one, and you have a pretty strong offense.
Yet with all of the above evidence, Miami ranks as next to last in the NFL in scoring, as they are only averaging 17.3 points a game.
Miami's biggest problem is converting drives into touchdowns, as they have to settle for field goals too often. Kicker Dan Carpenter is second in the NFL with 28 field goals, trailing David Akers of the Philadelphia Eagles by one.
17 points a game does not cut it in the current NFL.
In his third season in the NFL, Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson now is the wily old veteran in the receiving corps.
With the injuries to Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish, the Bills receivers are now a collection of Johnson and three rookies. The rookies are David Nelson, Donald Jones and Naaman Roosevelt. Nelson and Jones have been contributing with some solid production, while Roosevelt is looking to become more involved in the offense.
Due to Evans going down last Sunday, the Bills may be looking to add another wide receiver to their mix.
I wonder if James Hardy is still unemployed? At least he knows the offense.
If any of the Bills' receivers get hurt on Sunday, the option would be to move a tight end into the four receiver sets, or another possibility would be to insert C.J. Spiller as an additional receiver.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills starting QB, has thrown for 21 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions.
He has a streak running of 14 straight games with a touchdown pass, which is second highest total in Buffalo Bills history. His QB passer rating of 85 is good for 19th in the NFL. Fitzpatrick has been sacked a total of 19 times. His mobility was key last week, as he scrambled for over 40 yards against the Browns.
Fred Jackson is the 18th leading rusher in the NFL with 775 yards. He just needs 225 to reach the 1,000 yard plateau for the second straight season.
He will have his work cut out for him this Sunday, as the Dolphins rush defense is ranked # 7 in the NFL, only allowing 98 yards a game. In the season opener, none of the Bills reached 20 yards in rushing, which is a testament to the Dolphins rush defense.
Stevie Johnson is ranked at # 14 in the NFL with 874 yards in receptions. Needing only 126 more yards to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark for the season, Johnson has been an extremely pleasant surprise for the Bills in his third year.
The Dolphins pass defense is ranked # 6 in the NFL, allowing 200 yards a game.
The Dolphins overall defense is ranked # 5 in the NFL. They give up an average of 18.8 points a game.
They don't create a lot of turnovers as they only have created 17 for the season. But, they do boast the NFL Sack Leader in Cameron Wake, who already has 14 for the year.
The Bills patched up right side of the offensive line, Mansfield Wrotto and either Chad Rinehart or Cordaro Howard, will have to know where Wake is at all times.
The Bills will need to run the ball with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller to keep the Dolphins pass rush honest. The young Bills receivers will have to run clean routes and be ready to come back to the ball or break off their routes when they see that Fitzpatrick is in trouble.
Their lack of experience could be a major factor in the game, but their ability to break tackles after the catch could also play a key role as well.
The Buffalo Bills defense has been playing better in the second half of the season, with the exception of the egg that they laid at Minnesota two weeks ago.
The Bills defense shut out the Cleveland Browns in the second half last Sunday. The Browns were able to beat the Dolphins, so this development should offer some further encouragement and raise the confidence of the Bills defensive personnel.
The Bills defense has created seven turnovers in the past two games.
Since the Dolphins are ranked at 13th in the AFC with a minus 7 turnover ratio, the Bills defense should be looking for ways to give the ball back to the offense.
Quarterback Chad Henne is a good place to start.
He has thrown more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13) this season. Henne's poor ratio is one of the main reasons he has a QB passer rating of 76.5, which is 22nd in the NFL.
The Bills rushing defense was better last Sunday, but they will need to step up against the duo of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams if they are to succeed Sunday.
The Dolphins offense is ranked # 22 in the NFL, while the Bills defense is # 23. The Dolphins have the # 17 pass offense, generating 214 yards a game, while the Bills pass defense, is 4th best in the NFL, allowing only 197 yards a game.
The Dolphins rush offense is # 20 with 106 yards a game, while the Bills rush defense is last in the NFL, allowing 165 yards a game.
To me, this is the single biggest factor in the game. Can the Bills contain the Dolphins running game, and keep their offense off of the field?
Bills rookie linebacker Arthur Moats knocked Brett Favre out of the game in Minnesota in week 13 on the third play of the game.
Favre was not able to improve his physical condition over the rest of the past week, and it was decided that he should not dress for the game last night against the New York Giants.
Thus, Favre's record of consecutive starts in his career came to an end. We are glad to see that Arthur Moats was the cause of his streak being stopped, as opposed to Jenn Sterger.
That would have been a tragic way for the record to end.
Arthur Moats continues to make progress each week, and is looking more and more like he will become an integral part of the Bills defense for years to come.
The Bills are still learning more and more each week about playing for Chan Gailey and George Edwards. The coaches in turn are learning more about the players, what they can do and what they can't do.
The Bills three wins have all come against teams with losing records.
To a man, I am sure the Bills want to grab at least one win against a team with a winning record, and avoid going through the 2010 season being swept by all three AFC East division rivals.
The Dolphins are just hanging on to playoff hopes at 7-6. The Bills would love nothing more than to go down to Miami, and send them home for the second season.
This should be a spirited game, and another chance for the young Bills players to show that they belong and will be part of the rebuilding effort.
If the Dolphins shut down the Bills running game, expect to see lots of passes from Fitzpatrick to his quartet of young Bills receivers. How often they make plays with those chances could very well determine the outcome of this game.