Game Scout: Bills vs. Dolphins

Buffalo takes on rival north of the border, looking to get back on track...

Miami Dolphins (7-5) at Buffalo Bills (6-6)


KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET

GAMEDATE: 12/07/08

SURFACE: AstroPlay

TV: CBS (Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon)

SERIES: 86th meeting. Dolphins lead series, 50-34-1, not including 1-3 in the postseason. Miami beat Buffalo 25-16 on Oct. 26 by forcing three four turnovers and getting a career game out of second-year receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who had seven catches for 175 yards.

PREDICTION: Dolphins 24-16

KEYS TO THE GAME: Look for the Dolphins to be a bit conservative at the outset with Andy Alleman taking over for LG Justin Smiley. And with Buffalo showing a better pass rush of late, Dolphins QB Chad Pennington will utilize a lot of quick passes. WR Ted Ginn had a career-high 175 receiving yards when CB Terrence McGee was slowed by a groin injury in Miami. Now the Bills are concerned about rookie Leodis McKelvin likely replacing Jabari Greer on the other side.

Home away from home: Instead of below freezing and possible snow in Buffalo, the Bills' home field will be the controlled 72 degrees of the Rogers Center in Toronto. Whatever the conditions, the Bills need Lynch to continue his resurgence. A solid ground game will limit the impact of Dolphins OLB Joey Porter, who had a pair of sacks and forced fumbles in the first meeting. If QB J.P. Losman starts over ailing Trent Edwards, the Bills will sacrifice quick decisions and accuracy for more vertical shots downfield.

Specialties: Dolphins PK Dan Carpenter has converted a franchise rookie record 11 consecutive field goals.

Key Injuries: Dolphins: LT Jake Long (ankle) is still less than 100 percent. Bills: Edwards (groin) is a game-day decision; Greer (knee) and TE Robert Royal (hamstring) are uncertain; DE Aaron Schobel (foot) has an outside chance to play.

Need to know: Pennington needs 119 passing yards to become the third player in Dolphins history to pass for 3,000 yards, joining Dan Marino and Jay Fiedler. ... The Bills have lost their past three games at Ralph Wilson Stadium.



--WR Chris Hannon was claimed off waivers from the 49ers and added to the Dolphins' 53-man roster in place of injured LG Justin Smiley, who was placed on IR. Hannon, an undrafted rookie out of Tennessee in 2006, has bounced around several practice squads, but coach Tony Sparano likes his size (6-3) and speed. He will no doubt earn his stripes on special teams before playing on the base offense.

--K Dan Carpenter was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for making all eight field-goal attempts in five games this month, including the game-winning 38-yarder against the Oakland Raiders. Tony Sparano credited Carpenter's kickoff placements with the recent improved play of Miami's kick coverage units.

--LG Andy Alleman, who was signed in September after the Saints cut the former 2007 third-round pick out of Akron, is expected to make his first NFL start Sunday in place of injured LG Justin Smiley, who broke his left leg in the first quarter of last week's win over St. Louis. Alleman was originally signed to back up C Samson Satele.

--C/G Al Johnson is ready intellectually to start at guard or center Sunday, however, coach Tony Sparano suggested that his recovery from double knee surgery isn't quite complete enough for a starting job. If C Samson Satele continues to struggle against large nose tackles as he has this season, expect Johnson to supplant him.

--OLB Joey Porter, who hasn't spoken to the local media since he put his foot in his mouth when asked about Michael Vick a few weeks ago, has only one sack in his last two games as teams have focused on stopping him. He still has a career-high 14.5 sacks, trailing NFL sack leader DeMarcus Ware by half a sack.


--QB Trent Edwards sat out practice Thursday with a groin injury for a second consecutive day. A decision on his status for Sunday's game against Miami in Toronto likely won't come until just before kickoff, but missing practice time this week could weigh into the decision.

--QB J.P. Losman would get the start Sunday in Toronto against Miami if Trent Edwards' groin injury keeps him sidelined. Losman is 26 of 38 for 313 yards, one TD and one INT in relief appearances this season. He hasn't started a game since November 2007.

--RB Marshawn Lynch was limited in practice Thursday with back spasms. Lynch could barely bend over to pick up a ball, but coach Dick Jauron expressed confidence his top rusher will play Sunday against Miami in Toronto.

--WR Josh Reed has caught a pass in 24 consecutive games, including 10 catches in his past two games. More than 61 percent of his 36 catches this year have resulted in first downs.

--TE Robert Royal, who missed last Sunday's loss to San Francisco with a hamstring injury, did not practice again Thursday. He may still be a game away. He has a career-best 29 catches and the Bills' running game needs his blocking.

--SS Donte Whitner, who has missed two consecutive games and three overall with a shoulder injury, practiced for a second straight day Thursday and is on course to return to the lineup. The Bills play Sunday against Miami in Toronto.

--CB Jabari Greer continues to recover from a knee injury that has cost him his last two starts. He did not practice again Thursday.

--DE Aaron Schobel, who has missed his last seven starts with a foot injury, practiced for a second straight day Thursday and appears on course to return to the lineup. A final decision likely won't come until game time Sunday in Toronto, where the Bills face Miami.

--Bills CB Terrence McGee, who is healthy again and playing well after a knee injury, is eager for Sunday's rematch against Miami WR Ted Ginn Jr. Ginn caught seven passes for 175 yards in the year's first meeting.

--Bills KO return man Leodis McKelvin is second in the league with a 29.4-yard average. He is poised for a big game this week facing Miami's KO coverage unit, which ranks last in the league.



While domes and guns have been some of the topics of conversation in the Dolphins locker room this week, Thursday's center of attention focused on undrafted rookie kicker Dan Carpenter, who has been an integral reason for Miami's turnaround season.

Carpenter, who shockingly beat out veteran kicker Jay Feely -- who was coming off a career-best 21-for-23 season -- in training camp this summer, has proven his wise employers to be as accurate as his leg has been.

He has converted 16 of 18, including his last 11 to establish a franchise record for rookie kickers, and has made all eight attempts this month to earn the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month award. He also happens to lead all kickers in the on-line voting for selection to the Pro Bowl.

The cool, calm kid from Montana could care less about the brouhaha surrounding the Bills giving up an obvious home-field advantage at frigid Ralph Wilson Stadium to play in the cozy, confines of Rogers Centre dome in Toronto (which is part of a five-year, eight-game deal that is netting Bills owner Ralph Wilson a cooler $78 million).

After all, growing up in Helena and kicking for the University of Montana helped prepare him for the blustery conditions of Orchard Park, N.Y., or Alaska for that matter.

"It's nice playing indoors, especially for a kicker," said Carpenter, who has yet to attempt a kick beyond 47 yards.

When asked how he garnered 143,174 votes, he expressed surprise, but did admit at least one person he knows voted for him.

"I'm sure she has," Carpenter said of his mother. "It is surprising, very surprising. There's a lot of great players in this league so to be recognized as one of them is cool.

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano praised Carpenter not just for his major role in recent wins over Oakland and Seattle, but also for the recent improvement of Miami's previously horrendous kick coverage units.

"What has improved first and foremost on our kickoff team would be Dan," Sparano said. "His placement of the ball has allowed us to be able to do some things. ... Where we'll kick it deep and squeeze people into a corner of the field or kind of shadow kick it and be able to recover it without a return. Maybe you're giving them the ball on the 35 but they're not able to run with the ball. His variety has been important."

Although the Dolphins are still ranked 31st in the NFL in opponent's field position, they have not been hurt in the past two games by dangerous kick returners on the Patriots and Rams.

Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni knows that the Bills returners are scary with punt returner Roscoe Parrish ranked fourth in the NFL (14.2 yards average) and rookie Leodis McKelvin ranked third (29.4 average) on kickoff returns. Both have touchdown returns.

"I really think it helps your team when the philosophy of your program, of your team from a special teams standpoint, is when you can't score or kick to score, punt the ball over to the opponent's 30- or 25-yard line, that really helps the defense," Pasqualoni said. "I think that when you're punting and you're kicking and you're covering and you're giving your defense the maximum number of yards each possession to go out there and defend, I think you have a chance to play good defense."


The Bills watched veteran Miami quarterback Chad Pennington complete 22 of 30 passes for 314 yards and a touchdown against them in a 25-16 loss to the Dolphins on Oct. 26. Pennington was sacked just once.

Buffalo knows full well that if it doesn't get more pressure on one of the NFL's all-time most accurate passers, it will be another long day Sunday when the teams meet in the rematch at Toronto's Rogers Centre.

The good news is that Buffalo's stagnant pass rush came alive in last week's 10-3 loss to San Francisco, and Aaron Schobel, the team's No. 2 all-time sack leader who has missed seven games with a foot ligament injury, could make his return to the lineup.

Against the 49ers, backup Ryan Denney notched two sacks and one quarterback hit while Chris Kelsay added one sack and two quarterback hits. They also combined for 13 tackles, including four behind the line of scrimmage.

Denney now has a team-leading four sacks, his most since recording that many in 2005. His career best is six in 2006.

"Personally, you want to have a good game every week, but ultimately it comes down to winning the ball game, so we played better, a lot better than we did against Kansas City, but unfortunately as a team effort, we weren't able to win," Denney said.

It was Denney's fourth multi-sack game. On the year, Buffalo has 21 sacks and is on pace to surpass last year's abysmal total of 26 with four games left, even with Schobel out for two months.

"They say they come in bunches sometimes, and obviously, we haven't gotten the sack numbers we wanted," Denney said. "We've still put pressure on the quarterback and obviously the last few weeks, we've done a better job with that.

"We just have to do our part. We have to keep fighting, it's a team game out there and unfortunately, we didn't play as well as we should have (against the 49ers), and we need to be more consistent and just keep fighting."

Schobel's return would be a big boost for Buffalo's defense, though he won't be in top game shape were he to play. The fact the game is indoors increases his chances of playing as the cold aggravates the soreness he's experiencing in his foot. He's likely a game-time decision.

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