Scouting Report: Bills at Dolphins

Top 3 Individual Matchups

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Photos of Bills pass rushers sacking and pressuring opposing QBs during the 2014 season.

1 – Mario Williams vs. Dallas Thomas** – The Dolphins have had to make some moves up front and Thomas will be making his first career start at offensive tackle Thursday night. He draws a tough assignment in Williams, who now has at least one sack in six straight games.

2 – Aaron Williams vs. Charles Clay – Miami's H-back has victimized the Bills in the past and comes into Thursday night's game hot with 12 receptions over his last two games for 110 yards and a touchdown. Buffalo has to be wary of Clay working the middle of the field.

3 – Robert Woods vs. Cortland Finnegan/Jamar Taylor – Finnegan sustained an ankle injury Sunday so if he's unable to go the advantage shifts to Buffalo if Taylor has to step into the lineup and draw Woods as an assignment. Woods has nine receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown in his last two games.

Bills Top 2 Advantages

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Good advantage – Field position** – Buffalo has been solid all season in creating a field position differential that puts their offense in good drive start position and hands their defense long fields to defend. The Bills have the best average starting field position in the league in away games (own 33.8-yard line) and the third-best opponent starting field position in away games (24-yard line). That combined with a top five punt coverage unit could make a difference.

Best advantage – Pass rush – The Dolphins pass rush is formidable in its own right and will have the benefit of crowd noise, but Buffalo's ability to get to the quarterback has been downright fierce of late. They've posted 15 sacks in their last three games and Marcell Dareus has been unblockable.

Bills Number 1 Must

Win red zone battle

Buffalo has slipped all the way to the bottom of the league in red zone touchdown efficiency at just better than 41 percent (41.2%). Working in their favor is their defense has allowed the fewest red zone possessions in the league (21) and the Dolphins have struggled in the red zone (46.5% TD efficiency). The Bills offense has to cash in on at least half their red zone opportunities with touchdowns and hope the defense can hold Miami to just a couple of red zone possessions in the game.

Scouting Eye

The O-line shuffle

The season-ending knee injury to left tackle Branden Albert has prompted a multi-position shuffle by the Dolphins in a short week, which is far from ideal. Rookie RT Ju'Wuan James has flipped over to left tackle to replace Albert and Dallas Thomas will make his first career start at offensive tackle in place of James on the right side. Left guard could have their third different player in as many weeks. Thomas started there last week in place of an injured Daryn Colledge, but if Colledge cannot return from a back injury it'll be Shelley Smith. One other note is Mike Pouncey is now in the lineup at right guard after returning from injury. He did not play in the first meeting with the Bills.

Quietly opportunistic

While the Bills have had their share of takeaways this season on the defensive side of the ball they'll be meeting their match in the Dolphins. Miami is tied for the Bills in takeaways with 19 on the season, which puts them in a tie for second-most in the NFL this season. Where the Dolphins have been superior to the Bills is in turning those takeaways into points. Miami ranks second in the league in points scored off takeaways with 74 off 19 turnovers. Buffalo has managed 53 points off takeaways this season.

Nicked up backfields

The Bills aren't the only team with beat up running backs. Miami already lost Knowshon Moreno for the season, and feature back Lamar Miller played sparingly last week through a left shoulder injury. Whether he can turn around in the span of four days and play again is a big question mark. Miami elevated practice squad RB LaMichael James to the active roster for depth behind Daniel Thomas and Damien Williams in the event that Miller cannot play.

The Dolphins secondary is also nicked up. Starting CB Cortland Finnegan suffered an ankle injury and could not finish last Sunday's game. If he can't go Jamar Taylor is expected to start in his place.

Tannehill trending up

The Bills have had Ryan Tannehill's number for most of his career. He's got just a 1-4 record against Buffalo. Tannehill has managed a completion percentage of just over 52 percent with seven touchdowns against five interceptions, but he averages just 4.75 yards per attempt and has been sacked 18 times and a passer rating of 67.

Since his first meeting with the Bills in Week 2 this season his play has seen a sharp increase. Tannehill has completed better than 65 percent of his passes (65.5%), he's averaging better than seven yards per attempt (7.12) and has 12 touchdowns against five interceptions. His passer rating is over 94 and he has 10 plays of 25 yards or more.

Problems punching it in

While the Bills offense sits dead last in red zone touchdown efficiency, the Dolphins are not far behind. The Miami offense ranks 28th in red zone touchdown percentage (46.5%). Perhaps even worse is the Dolphins touchdown efficiency in goal-to-go situations, which sits at just 50 percent, the worst success rate in football and almost 25 percent below the league average (73.3%).

Part of that problem stems from a pair of turnovers in goal-to-go situations. In fact Miami has the second-most giveaways in the red zone this season with four.

Jordan is back

Dolphins former first-round pick DE/LB Dion Jordan returned to the team a month ago from a league suspension after a positive PED test. He missed the first game against the Bills. The pass rusher however, has been used in a variety of roles and has served mainly as a situational player. He's seen time as both a pass rusher and has drawn some coverage assignments on passing downs. He'll rotate in for starters Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon.

Buffalo Chips

Quote of the Week

"The whole thing of having a short week doesn't bother me at all. We've just got to look back at the times we played them here. I feel like we were pretty dominant the first time we played them and I don't see why we can't be dominant the second time."

--S Aaron Williams

Stat of the Week

Since 2012 in the five meetings between the Bills and Dolphins, Buffalo's defense has logged the highest total of sacks (18) and turnovers (10) against Miami (28) than any other AFC East opponent over that span [NY Jets (24), New England (14)].

Milestones in reach

DT Marcell Dareus (10) needs one sack to break the single-season franchise sack mark for defensive tackles set by teammate Kyle Williams last season (10.5).

DE Jerry Hughes (7.5) needs three sacks to set a single-season career best, which would surpass his 10-sack season in 2013.

RB Fred Jackson (29) needs two rushing touchdowns to tie Cookie Gilchrist (31) for third-most in team history.

Final Note

The Bills will be wearing their white jerseys Thursday night in Miami. Buffalo is 5-1 this season in their white jerseys.

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