Game Scout: Bills/Dolphins

A quick-hit look at today's key divisional clash. Both teams are facing adversity into this one...

Buffalo Bills (1-2) at Miami Dolphins (0-3)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET

TV: CBS (Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots)

SERIES: 87th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead the series 51-34-1. The Dolphins are 1-3 in the postseason with their last meeting coming in a 1998 first rounder won by the Dolphins 24-17 on an 11-yard TD pass from Dan Marino to Lamar Thomas. The Dolphins swept the Bills last year for the first time since 2003 with the second meeting 16-3 in Rogers Centre in Toronto, the first regular-season NFL game ever played in Canada. The Dolphins held the Bills to 163 yards and Dan Carpenter kicked three field goals.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bills are preparing for plenty of Wildcat formations and RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams with Dolphins QB Chad Henne makings his first career start. Henne has thrown just 31 career passes, but has a stronger arm than Chad Pennington and should take a few shots against the Bills' injury-depleted secondary. Buffalo wants to protect that defense, and RB Marshawn Lynch returns from suspension to share the workload with Fred Jackson. The Bills hope to use that tandem to set up Miami's secondary. The Dolphins have yet to record an interception this season and QB Trent Edwards must stretch the field more successfully to WRs Terrell Owens and Lee Evans to open up running lanes.

FAST FACTS: The Bills are converting just 27.8 percent (10 of 36) of their third-down opportunities. ... Dolphins LB Jason Taylor has 17 career sacks against Buffalo.

PERSONNEL

--CB Leodis McKelvin was placed on injured reserve with a cracked fibula in his right leg, ending the 2008 first-round pick's season. McKelvin was injured two weeks ago in a win over Tampa Bay but played last Sunday in a loss to New Orleans. He left the game in the first half and did not return. McKelvin assumed the starting right corner job this season and was poised for another season as a record-setting returned specialist. But the team needed to make room on the roster for RB Marshawn Lynch, returning from a suspension, and felt McKelvin's injury would keep him sidelined too long to carry him on the 53-man.

--CB Drayton Florence, a free agent bust in Jacksonville, will get a second chance to revive his career. He was promoted permanently to starting right corner after Leodis McKelvin was placed on season-ending IR with a broken right leg. He'll start Sunday in Miami.

--RB Marshawn Lynch was officially added to the 53-man roster. The team had been given a three-day exemption after Lynch's three-game suspension ended on Sunday. To make room, CB Leodis McKelvin was placed on IR.

--OT Jonathan Scott will start at left tackle in place of Demetrius Bell (groin). Scott started at right tackle last week for Brad Butler (on IR with a knee injury), but he's the team's swing tackle who has worked both sides. So with Scott going to left, backup Kirk Chambers will start on the right side.

--LB Nic Harris, who was converted from safety to linebacker after the Bills drafted him out of Oklahoma, is taking emergency reps at his old position. Starters Donte Whitner (thumb) and Bryan Scott (ankle) are battling injuries and the team needs Harris to help with depth over the next month.

--TE Shawn Nelson practiced on a limited basis with a sore shoulder but is expected to play. He's listed as probable. The team needs him to help their passing game, particularly in the red zone. Starter Derek Schouman is out for the year with a knee injury.

--DT Kyle Williams nursed a groin injury during the week. The team needs his presence in the middle against Miami's strong running game. Depth is already thin with DT John McCargo questionable with a calf injury. Spencer Johnson is the lone healthy interior defensive linemen.

--QB Trent Edwards could have a much-needed breakout game facing a Miami secondary that is giving up 265 passing yards per game. Edwards needs 73 passing yards to hit the 5,000 mark for his career.

--WR Lee Evans needs one TD catch to tie Bob Chandler for fourth place on the team's career list. Evans has 33 scores. Andre Reed holds the club mark with 86. Evans' 693 receiving yards against Miami is the most vs. any opponent.

Wounded Deep: Call it the Battle of the Beleaguered Secondaries.

The Bills and Miami Dolphins, who meet Sunday at Land Shark Stadium, enter the game with the 28th- and 26th-ranked pass defenses.

Miami's secondary could be what fixes Buffalo's offense that has struggled getting the ball to star wide receivers Lee Evans and Terrell Owens, who have just eight and five catches through three games, respectively. The Dolphins are yielding 265 passing yards per game, giving up touchdown passes of 80 and 48 yards in a loss to Indianapolis and long completions of 30, 47 and 55 yards in a loss to San Diego last week.

Of course, quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers are a lot more accomplished than Trent Edwards. Still, the Bills figure to become much more aggressive attacking downfield against a Dolphins team that loves to play press coverage and man to man. Rookie Sean Smith plays opposite Will Allen at the corners.

The Bills still have to show they can beat one of the 3-4 schemes that are used by all their opponents in the AFC East. Last year, they went 0-6 in the division.

"We have to beat a 3-4 team," coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "I don't know if it's any tougher in the pass game or the run game and I don't know if it's anything scheme wise that gives us problems or makes us nervous but for whatever reason we haven't beaten a 3-4 team and we need to do that."

While Buffalo feasts its eyes on Miami's secondary, the Dolphins will be doing the same when they look at the Bills. Buffalo is expected to start three backups due to injuries. Even with their starters, the Bills were yielding 273.3 yards per game, this despite a strong effort against New Orleans' Drew Brees last week.

Miami looking for big plays: Although coach Tony Sparano is a huge proponent of dominating the time of possession, he would like to get yardage in bigger "chunks." Miami's three opponents have had six passing plays of 30 or more yards to none by the Dolphins.

If something positive came out of Chad Pennington's season-ending shoulder surgery -- which could also be career threatening -- it's that his inexperienced successor, Chad Henne, has a much stronger arm. The idea is that Henne's throwing arm could wake up Miami's comatose vertical passing attack.

Pennington's longest pass of the season was a 27-yarder to running back Ronnie Brown in the loss to San Diego last week, and that was completed only because Brown made a juggling, circus catch along the sideline.

However, Sparano said it's not that he hasn't called for deep passes downfield to speedy receiver Ted Ginn Jr., it's just that coverage has dictated that Pennington check down. He said offensive coordinator Dan Henning has called for about six deep passes in three games to Ginn that had to be changed at the line.

"If (Henne) goes out there on Sunday and he just tries to throw the ball to one guy, regardless of coverage, he's going to come off the field with 10 interceptions and everybody around here is going to wonder, 'what the heck?' It doesn't work that way," Sparano said.

Pennington overthrew an open Ginn downfield on the first play of the Chargers' game. Against the Colts, Ginn got his hands on two long passes that would've gone for touchdowns, including a game-winner in the final minute. With the Bills' secondary limping in to South Florida, including a season-ending fibula break for Leodis McKelvin, safety Donte Whitner's broken thumb and safety Bryan Scott's sprained ankle -- expect Henne to target cornerbacks Drayton Florence and Reggie Corner, while also getting slumping tight end Anthony Fasano into the picture.

The Bills have also been hurt by big plays. They've given up nine pass plays of 20 yards or more, including five going for touchdowns.

"I hope so," Brown said of going deep. "I think Buffalo's going to give us those opportunities and put a few guys in the box and hopefully we could get a few plays down the field and get some big plays on them and hopefully loosen up and spread it out a little bit."

Ginn has 13 catches for 134 yards and no touchdowns, with a 21-yarder his longest reception.

"We all know (Henne) has a stronger arm, but it's not a big difference," Ginn said. "Just go out and make the throws and make the catch. ... I'm just going to go out and continue to play hard and play tough."

Henning took offense when a reporter's benign question about improving the vertical attack was misconstrued as a shot at Pennington's arm strength.

"Let me address this misnomer," Henning said. "There wasn't anything wrong with Chad Pennington throwing the vertical ball. If you saw the first pass of the game (Sunday) he threw that ball far enough. We have other issues to concern ourselves as to whether we get the 'vertical ball.' We better protect before we could throw the ball vertical because we tried to do it we get hit a few times, we just lost a quarterback on a play we were trying to go vertical. And we got Henne sacked on a play we were trying to go vertical.

"It isn't just the quarterbacks ... receiver ... the protection. Sometimes we get the protection we don't get the route. Sometimes we get the route we don't get the throw. Don't think we're not trying to be vertical. We're trying to move the football with the best and prudent methods that we can with the tools we have, and last year Chad Pennington was way over seven yards per attempt. ... We need to get that up.

"It's not easy to do. If it was easy to do everybody would be doing it and they wouldn't be paying me so much money to try and do it."


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