Here's a STINKIN' FISH scouting report by Mike D.

The Dolphins really haven't wowed anybody this NFL season with astounding plays that have been repeated over and over on NFL highlight shows. But after eight games, they had quietly amassed a 6-2 mark and would have had homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. That's pretty good. Of course, after a 24-0 thrashing to the Jets, they lost that advantage, though it's still up for grabs.

 

Anyway, the talk in Miami is that the Dolphins have yet to reach their full potential, however. The running game featuring Lamar Smith had been stagnant in recent weeks with Smith only gaining 179 yards on 81 carries (2.2 yard average) from Oct. 14 to Nov. 11. And Miami was among a league-worst minus-9 in turnover differential, with teams such as Detroit, Buffalo and Arizona. Still, Miami has been good enough to overcome those struggles. The others haven't.

 

Dolphins on offense

The Dolphins are a multi-formation offense that is based on running the football. Lamar Smith will run behind fullback Rob Konrad in an I-formation or he'll be in the one back with two wide receivers and two tight ends or three wide receivers and a tight end. The same goes for rookie running back Travis Minor, who occasionally comes in to spell Smith. Minor seems to play as the lone setback more than Smith does. The Dolphins like to spread the field for Minor to run. He had a beautiful 56-yard touchdown run on a right sweep vs. the Colts Nov. 11.

Quarterback Jay Fiedler is simply asked to smartly manage the ball game – not take too many risks and not turn the ball over. Turning the ball over, however, had been a problem for the Dolphins. After eight games the team had 21 turnovers, tied for fourth-worst in the NFL. Fiedler had a couple of horrible interceptions vs. the Colts.

The Dolphins will roll Fiedler out, but he doesn't seem to throw very well when he's on the run.

Oronde Gadsden was the Dolphins' leading receiver after eight games with 32 catches for 455 yards and a touchdown, but rookie wideout Chris Chambers had been coming on in recent weeks. He had his best game against the Colts when he caught three passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Chambers has the ability to go up in traffic and come down with the ball. Gadsden is most formidable underneath. James McKnight has been steady with 29 catches and he is quick, but he's been limited to short to intermediate gains.

Tight ends Jed Weaver and Hunter Goodwin don't catch many passes. Goodwin is utilized more as a blocker.

The offensive line had done the job in protecting Fiedler. He had only been sacked seven times. Run blocking remains a problem. Right tackle Todd Wade was nicked with a left MCL sprain, though he missed no time. Right guard Todd Perry has struggled too. Perhaps this is a chance for left end Erik Flowers and left tackle Shawn Price to shine.

Key matchup: Bills defensive backs vs. Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler. Fiedler has been prone to making poor throwing decisions. He had been intercepted 12 times. Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements need to take advantage of these situations and catch his balls when they come to them.

The way to win: Crowd the line of scrimmage. Miami won't test a team deep too often. It excels at chewing out short yardage. Buffalo can take that away by playing eight or nine up front and making sure tackles. Buffalo cannot afford to miss any tackles this game because the Miami offense really isn't that good.

 

Offensive player to watch

RB 26 Lamar Smith

Ht.: 5'11" Wt.: 224

Smith is still the Dolphins' most valuable weapon on offense. However, after eight games, he had only scored three rushing touchdowns. More alarming is that most recently against the Colts' 25th-ranked defense, Smith could only must 53 yards. And his longest run this season was 18 yards. Backup rookie running back Travis Minor had a 56-yard touchdown run vs. Indy, but Dave Wannstedt said he'll continue with Smith. Teams have been successful in shutting down Smith and the Dolphins' offense by stacking the line with players, not fearing the possibility of being burned deep. It's a similar tactic to what the Bills offense faces each week.

 

Dolphins on defense

The Dolphins had the No. 5 defense in the NFL, allowing just over 300 yards per game after eight games. The interceptions are down with Miami only collecting six. Usually at this time of the year, right corner Sam Madison, left corner Patrick Surtain, free safety Brock Marion and strong safety Brian Walker collectively have their unit near the top of the NFL interception list. Those four accounted for 22 of the Dolphins' 28 interceptions last season. This year, that group is on pace for just eight interceptions.

Walker had missed the Nov. 11 game and would probably miss the Nov. 18 game, but he should be back for the Bills game.

The pass rush for Miami is also down slightly. The team averaged 2.75 sacks per game through the first eight games, compared to three sacks a game last year. Miami did lose third-down pass rushing specialist Trace Armstrong in the off-season, which has hurt.

Right tackle Daryl Gardener and left tackle Tim Bowens, though both have battled injuries this season, are still dominant bodies in the middle. Gardener had four sacks. Left end Kenny Mixon is an underrated end who can get up field with a combination of power, leverage and good hands. Lorenzo Bromell is brought in mostly during pass rushing situations as well as during some of the regular line rotation. He had two-and-a-half sacks.

Of course, the Dolphins have middle linebacker Zach Thomas, who is the sideline-to-sideline maniac Miami counts on to make every tackle he can. The big line up front allows Thomas to steer clear of traffic and pursue plays. He's the "hit man." If Thomas is not leading the Dolphins in tackles, there is a problem. Because that's what the defense is designed for him to do.  He had a team-leading 43 tackles and two interceptions – one for a touchdown.

In recent weeks, the Dolphins have brought more pressure by blitzing. The Bills can expect to face that again because Buffalo rarely burns opponents who do that and something good nearly always comes out of them – such as knocking Rob Johnson out of the game, for instance.

Key matchup: Center Bill Conaty and RG Corey Hulsey vs. left tackle Tim Bowens. Hulsey and Conaty will be facing one of the biggest, yet athletic, tackles in the league. Bowens has had a knee problem, but that only kept him out one game. If he dominates Conaty and Hulsey, the Dolphins defense won't have any problems.

The way to win: Take advantage of opportunities. Miami had turned the ball over nearly three times a game. When Buffalo's offense is fortunate to get a short field, it must utilize those chances because it's not going to have too many 80-yard scoring drives vs. Miami.

 

Defensive player to watch

RE 99 Jason Taylor

Ht.: 6'6" Wt.: 260

After eight games, Taylor led the Dolphins with five sacks. He is among the quickest and fastest defensive ends in football and he is sure to give the Bills tackles problems. Additionally, Miami has flip-flopped him from side to side, which will only add to the confusion. Taylor suffered a dislocated right ring finger vs. the Colts. Nov. 11. But that didn't take him out of the game. Taylor, a throwback to the days when NFL players were warriors on a battlefield, however, finished the game. Last season, Taylor had three sacks at Buffalo and one sack when the teams played in Miami. Considering the decline of the Bills line this year, Taylor is poised to for a huge day.

 

Special teams

Olindo Mare was 13 of 13 in field goal tries through eight games. He is still a Pro Bowl kicker with a strong leg. On kickoffs, Mare was third in the NFL with 10 touchbacks. He consistently kicks to inside the three. Opponents had an average drive start at the Miami 27.1. There is room for kickoff coverage to improve. On punt coverage, the Dolphins only allowed 6.1 yards per return – third in the NFL. Punter Matt Turk had a 37.2-yard net average, which was in the top-10. Punt returner Jeff Ogden had a 10.3-yard average, which was also top-10 among returners with 15 or more returns, but he had fumbled three times. Rookie  Chris Chambers had a 25.5-yard kickoff return average, which was sixth for returners with more than 20 kickoff returns.


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