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Dolphins and Bills clash in AFC East matchup
(SportsNetwork.com) - Ryan Tannehill and the NFL schedule-makers might not be the best of friends this weekend.
The second-year Miami quarterback has been under hellacious pressure through five games - thanks to the absence of a consistent running game - and has been sacked an NFL-high 24 times, putting him on pace for a league-record 76 by the end of the season.
Inconveniently enough, heading into the Dolphins' home at Sun Life Stadium this week are the Buffalo Bills, who just happen to be third in the league with 21 sacks.
Miami opened the season amid high optimism with three consecutive wins, but headed into last week's bye with losses at New Orleans (38-17) and home to Baltimore (26-23). Still, a defeat of the Bills would provide their first 4-2 start to a year since 2003, when they finished 10-6 under Dave Wannstedt.
Tannehill connected on 66.4 percent of his passes through the three victories, compiling 827 yards and four touchdowns, but has dropped below 60 percent and thrown three interceptions to just two TD passes in the two losses.
"It's hard to function offensively when you're going backward," coach Joe Philbin said. "We're going to fix the problems we have. We're not going to sweep them under the rug."
Tannehill split two meetings with the Bills as a rookie and was sacked five times while going for three TDs and throwing two INTs. This year's Buffalo team has already gotten eight sacks from big-ticket defensive end Mario Williams, who had 10 1/2 all last year after arriving from Houston.
The Bills got to Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton three times and pushed the Bengals to overtime last week after rallying from a 14-point deficit. Still, the game ended in a 27-24 loss - Buffalo's second in four home games. The Bills have lost both their two road games in 2013.
"You could always say, 'Yes, it's tougher to win on the road,' there's no doubt about that," coach Doug Marrone said. "But it's tough to win in general."
Though the pass rush has been successful, the Bills have nonetheless struggled on defense as a whole. They're tied for 27th in the league in total defense - 395 yards per game - and are fifth from the bottom in stopping the run, 124.2 yards per game.
Miami gained just 22 yards on the ground last week and is averaging 69.6 yards per week, good for 29th in the league and on pace for the worst mark in franchise history. The Dolphins made just 11 rush attempts against the Ravens and have carried just 45 times in the last three games,
Lamar Miller had seven runs for 15 yards against Baltimore and is the team leader with 211 yards on 58 attempts, with two TDs.
"We want to be able to run the ball," Tannehill said. "We don't want to be one-dimensional. It's something that we'll keep working at, and hopefully be better."
Buffalo will again go with journeyman Thaddeus Lewis at QB after Marrone said rookie starter E.J. Manuel will miss at least four more weeks with a knee sprain. The Bills signed Matt Flynn this week after he was released by the Oakland Raiders.
Lewis was 19-of-32 against Cincinnati in his second career start and had two fourth-quarter TD passes.
Running back C.J. Spiller (ankle) and wide receiver Stevie Johnson (back) are considered probable against the Dolphins. Spiller has carried just 18 times in two weeks thanks to the ankle problem. In his last three games against Miami, he's gained 320 yards overall and 5.7 per carry. Johnson has three catches for 18 yards in the last two games.
"You've got to be confident in this league," Lewis said. "If I was nervous in any way, shape or form, Cincinnati would've ate us up."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The comfort level of Lewis. Buffalo's novice QB was often harassed against the Bengals, but never looked out of his element and was quite good in leading the Bills back to overtime against one of the AFC's division leaders.
He's only keeping the seat warm for Manuel, but he seems light years better than some of the pretenders -- Pat White, Dennis Dixon and Matt Leinart among them -- that the team has auditioned in recent weeks and months.
The verticality of Tannehill. As outlined earlier, a key element of Miami's success has been keeping its QB off the ground. Significant to that success is some semblance of a running game, which the Dolphins have sorely lacked. However, the Bills are not exactly the '85 Bears when it comes to stopping teams on the ground, so it may be the right place for Miller to get his legs going and for Tannehill to keep his under him.
The records are a half-game apart, and both teams have shown flickers of both quality and mediocrity at varying points this season. The wild card for this one seems to be Lewis, who seemed to add something to a Buffalo offense that was without its two best players -- Spiller and Johnson -- at full speed last week.
Put them back into the mix at something approaching effectiveness and the Bills may have upset possibilities.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bills 26, Dolphins 25
10/18 09:49:34 ET