Early scouting report: Buffalo Bills

The Miami Dolphins (3-2) are spending this week doing plenty of self scouting during the bye. This is a team with plenty of issues, particularly on offense.

But in few days it will be time for Miami to turn its attention to its next opponent: the Buffalo Bills (2-3). This is an important home game for the Dolphins on Oct. 20. Miami cannot afford a three-game losing streak if it wants to make a push for the playoffs in November and December.

Here is an early look at the Bills and the challenges they pose for Miami:


Rank: No. 16

Key players: RB C.J. Spiller, RB Fred Jackson, WR Robert Woods, WR Steve Johnson

Analysis: Buffalo’s offensive strength is its running game, which is ranked No. 3 in the NFL. That actually matches up well with Miami’s defense. The Dolphins, on most weeks, are solid against the run. But they’ve struggled mightily defending the pass and has the NFL’s 25-ranked pass defense. Fortunately for Miami, Buffalo is expected to start quarterback Thad Lewis. The former practice-squad player gets his first start Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, and rookie EJ Manuel (knee) is expected to be out for several more weeks. Buffalo’s inability to pass should play well into Miami’s hands. The Dolphins can focus on stopping Bills running backs Spiller and Jackson, and see if Lewis can beat them through the air.


Rank: No. 21

Key players: DE Mario Williams, LB Kiko Alonso, DT Marcell Dareus, DT Kyle Williams

Analysis: Buffalo’s defense is a group that can pose problems for the Dolphins. The Bills’ strength is their pass-rush. They have 18 sacks in five games and are led by Williams’ 7.5 sacks. Pass protection is Miami’s biggest weakness on offense, and it will be up to the coaching staff to figure out a way to fix during the bye. Buffalo has seven different players with at least one sack and blitzes from all directions under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Alonso also looks like a stud in the making. The rookie linebacker leads the Bills in tackles (44) and interceptions (four).

Special teams: The Dolphins will see a familiar face in Bills kicker Dan Carpenter. He kicked in Miami for five years and was beat out in training camp by Dolphins rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis. Carpenter landed on his feet in Buffalo and has made 11 of his 12 attempts this year. It will be interesting to see if Carpenter needs to make a big kick against his former team.

Overall: This is a team Miami should beat at home, although you can never overlook division games. The Dolphins are expected to face a quarterback coming off the practice squad, and that should provide a boost for the defense. Miami's offense could have some trouble picking up Buffalo’s various blitz schemes. But with two weeks to scout the Bills, the Dolphins should be as healthy and prepared as they’ve been since Week 1. Miami has four of its next six games at home and needs to take advantage of this stretch. Beating Buffalo is a must if the Dolphins expect to make the playoffs.