It's a familiar opponent this week for the Bills. But it's an unfamiliar situation. The Bills are going for their fifth straight win and they haven't done that in 12 years. They're headed to Miami for the 101st regular season matchup against the Dolphins. Here are the top seven storylines for the Bills-Dolphins game this week:
1. TWO STRONG RUNNING BACKS GOING HEAD-TO-HEAD
The Bills bring the NFL's top ranked rushing attack to Hard Rock Stadium this Sunday. They're number one in rushing yards per game and in average yards per rush. And they're ahead of the pace they set last year when they led the league in rushing.
LeSean McCoy is the second leading rusher in the league and averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Miami's Jay Ajayi is coming off a 200-yard rushing day against the Steelers last week and he's averaging 5.7 yards per rush.
The difference is, McCoy and the Bills have been consistently strong in the running game especially in the four-game win streak. Miami has just found its rushing game in recent weeks. Once their banged up offensive line returned intact last week against Pittsburgh, the Dolphins found the key.
2.**BILLS FINDING CREATIVE WAYS TO MOVE THE BALL
With four games under his belt as offensive coordinator and play caller, it's evident that Anthony Lynn has made a difference for the Bills. Against San Francisco last week, the Bills hit big plays in the running game using unbalanced lines, and shifting tackles Cordy Glenn and Jordan Mills to the opposite side.
"I think we are doing a lot of creative things when we do run the football," Rex Ryan said this week. "Multiple formations, personnel groupings, tackles over, unbalanced lines, all kinds of things—direct snaps, options. So you're getting the whole gambit."
- FAMILIAR FACES ON THE DOLPHIN DEFENSE**
There's Mario Williams on the defensive line for the Dolphins, after he spent four years in Buffalo. Williams had productive seasons for the Bills, but he only played 13 snaps in Miami's win over the Steelers Sunday. He's got one sack this season.
There's Kiko Alonso, the Bills second round draft pick in 2013. Kiko had a great rookie year for the Bills before injuring his knee in the offseason of 2014. He spent last year with the Eagles and now he's a solid starter for the Dolphins at inside linebacker. He's got two fumble recoveries this season and he's third in the NFL with 55 total tackles.
Longtime Bills offensive lineman Kraig Urbik is now on the Dolphins line as a backup. He started their game three weeks ago at Cincinnati.
4. NFL'S NEW SACKMASTER
It's one of the unlikeliest of stories in the first third of the NFL season. Bills LB Lorenzo Alexander, a bona fide pro football journeyman, is the leading sack-man in the NFL. He's got eight—with at least a ½ sack in each of the Bills first six games.
Alexander is a former defensive lineman and a premier special teamer. But with a total of nine sacks in his first 9 seasons in the league, his sack explosion qualifies as a shocker.
'Zo credits health and a chance to be on the field for his production in pass rush. Playing opposite Jerry Hughes has to be a factor as well.
5. TANNEHILL'S LEAST FAVORITE OPPONENT?
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill will line up against the Bills for the ninth time in his five-year NFL career. And he hasn't had much success against Buffalo.
Tannehill has two wins and six losses in his first eight games against the Bills. His eight-game total: 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He's got a quarterback rating of 75.6 against the Bills in his career.
Tannehill is coming off a solid performance in Miami's win over the Steelers last week. He completed 24 of his 32 attempts for 252 yards.
6. PRACTICE WORK FOR DAREUS AND LAWSON
Whether they play against Miami is still in question. But veteran Marcell Dareus and rookie Shaq Lawson should be worked back into the practice routine this week. Rex Ryan was not sure either one of them would be healthy enough to play in the game.
Dareus has missed the last two games with a hamstring pull, after missing the first four serving his suspension. He's approaching the point of losing the first half of his 2016 season.
Shaq Lawson is eligible to practice with the team now as he remains on the Physically Unable to Perform List. He could be added to the active roster at the end of the week, or the Bills might choose to wait another week or so.
"I don't know if he can say this week," Rex Ryan said this week when asked about Lawson's status. "But I think moving forward he can get in there and spell some guys and then maybe play in the sub team."
Buffalo's defense has played so well in the last month there's little pressure to bring Dareus or Lawson back to game action prematurely.
7. A SERIES OF STREAKS
Long time Bills fans will never forget the Bills decade-long ineptitude against the Dolphins. The Bills were oh-for the seventies, 20-consecutive losses.
So Buffalo is still trying to make up ground in their AFC East series against the 'Fins. The Bills swept the series last year and they've won six of their last eight matchups against Miami.
The Bills are 1-1 in the AFC East this year and hoping to challenge the Patriots for the top spot. That means they'll need to take care of business against the Dolphins and the Jets.