DOLPHINS AT BILLS (-1, 45)
An AFC East showdown takes the Thursday night spotlight when the Miami Dolphins visit the Buffalo Bills. We break down both sides in our tale of the tape:
The Dolphins, who average 105.8 yards on the ground per game, tried to spark their rushing offense last week versus Tennessee but mustered only 54 yards on 15 carries including a fumble from RB Reggie Bush. Miami has rushed for only 78.3 yards per game over its last three contests, and hasn’t done much to relieve the pressure on rookie QB Ryan Tannehill, who was intercepted three times in Week 10.
The Bills will be without RB Fred Jackson (concussion) Thursday, leaving the offense to lean on backup C.J. Spiller. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Spiller averages 7.3 yards per carry this year – best in the NFL – and seems to make big plays whenever he touches the football. Buffalo put up a solid fight versus New England last Sunday, scoring 31 points and boasting a franchise-record 35 first downs. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick passed for 337 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.
Miami has looked to its defense to keep it in ball games this season, allowing just 20.7 points per game – eighth lowest in the NFL. The Dolphins front seven has done a great job plugging up the ground game, giving up 94.2 yards an outing, but that number must be taken with a grain of salt because of how bad Miami is at defending the pass. Opponents are putting up 278 yards through the air each time the Dolphins take the field. Those same opponents are averaging 11.7 yards per completion.
The Bills haven't been doing themselves any favors defensively, allowing at least 35 points in four of their last six games overall. They're giving up a whopping 6.4 yards per play on the season, and have been particularly poor against the run, allowing 5.5 yards per rush. On a positive note, the Dolphins don't appear poised to exploit that weakness, as they're averaging only 3.8 yards per rush. Buffalo has been fairly consistent in terms of its pass rush, averaging 2.7 sacks per game here at home.
The Dolphins return game has been a big positive this season, as they're averaging well north of the league average at 12.3 yards per punt return, and 27.3 yards on kickoffs. Kicker Dan Carpenter has had a bit of an off year, converting on only 13 of 17 field goal attempts. With a sputtering red zone offense, Carpenter could certainly be a factor on Thursday night.
Buffalo has been even better returning punts, one of the league's best teams in that department, averaging 19.5 yards per return. The problem is, they've had a tough time defending punts, giving up 15 yards per return. On kickoff returns, they've been nothing more than average at 26.3 yards per return. Veteran kicker Ryan Lindell has made good on 9 of 10 field goal attempts.
Word on the street
"When you play like that, we need to make some corrections. We need to make improvements, even though we're in a semi-time crunch.'' Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin on the team's quick turn-around following Sunday's 37-3 drubbing at the hands of the Titans.
"As an offense, we're definitely going to miss him because he brings so much to our team. But this is familiar territory for me.'' Bills RB C.J. Spiller speaking about the injury to starting tailback Fred Jackson.