Dolphins vs. Bills NFL Week 16: 5 Must-Watch Matchups
Dolphins vs. Bills: 5 Must-Watch Matchups
Although Sunday's victory over the New England Patriots might have been the franchise's most significant win in several years, it's time for the Miami Dolphins to forget about it for now. Their Week 16 trip to western New York to take on the Buffalo Bills should now be treated with the same amount of importance as last week's game.
Miami could potentially still qualify for its first postseason berth since winning 11 games in 2008 with a loss to Buffalo on Sunday, but it would be a major disappointment if it gave up control over its own destiny. With a win over the Bills, all the Dolphins would need is a win over the New York Jets in Week 17 to assure themselves the AFC's sixth seed.
The Dolphins are considered the favorite on Sunday for good reason. They've won four of their last five games while the Bills have stumbled to losses in five of their past seven games. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been taking the league by storm with his most productive and efficient play to date while Thad Lewis will make the fourth start of his career at quarterback for Buffalo.
The odds are stacked in the Dolphins' favor, but they must avoid a mistake-plagued effort like the one that allowed the Bills to upset them at home in Week 7.
Let's take a look at five must-watch matchups for Sunday's game.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.
5. Tyson Clabo vs. Mario Williams
Two fourth-quarter sacks, one of which forced Tannehill to fumble, led to the Bills' come-from-behind win over the Dolphins in Week 7. Tyson Clabo was beaten badly by Mario Williams on both occasions, which led to his benching after Miami traded for Bryant McKinnie. Clabo was given his starting gig back in Week 9, however, when Jonathan Martin left the team, and his play has significantly improved since the last time he faced Williams.
Williams, meanwhile, has only produced two sacks since he brought down Tannehill twice in Miami. But he will be looking to get back on track against the right tackle he dominated two months ago. This game will serve as an excellent opportunity for Clabo to show just how much he's turned things around.
After giving up eight sacks in the first six games, Clabo has only allowed three in his last seven starts. He may not be a long-term solution at right tackle for the Dolphins, but he's a big reason why they've played so well down the stretch.
4. Jelani Jenkins vs. Scott Chandler
With wide receiver Stevie Johnson expected to miss Sunday's game, the Bills' most difficult cover may be tight end Scott Chandler. He ranks second on the team with 569 receiving yards, after all, only trailing Johnson by 28 yards. The Dolphins will likely use several defenders in coverage on Chandler, including Philip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe and Reshad Jones, but it's rookie linebacker Jelani Jenkins who could be assigned with the task on many obvious passing downs.
Jenkins played more snaps at weakside linebacker than he previously had all season during Sunday's win over the Patriots. He played 29 defensive snaps; 20 of which he dropped back into coverage. On those 20 coverage snaps, Jenkins was only targeted by Tom Brady twice and didn't allow a single reception. Meanwhile, Wheeler only played 64 percent of the Dolphins' defensive snaps -- his lowest percentage of the season.
Given his success versus New England, Jenkins should continue to steal playing time from Wheeler on Sunday. Continuing to do so could enable the Dolphins to contain Chandler and the Bills' passing game.
3. Cameron Wake vs. Erik Pears
Star defensive end Cameron Wake only played 22 of the Dolphins' 68 defensive snaps the last time Miami and Buffalo did battle. Thad Lewis didn't have to fear the presence of one of the league's most explosive pass rushers on the majority of plays. He won't have that comfort on Sunday as Wake is now back to his old form after a knee injury slowed him down earlier in the season.
Over the past two weeks, Wake has produced two sacks, seven additional quarterback hits and seven hurries. He's now Pro Football Focus' second-highest graded 4-3 defensive end. Wake will be matched up against Buffalo right tackle Erik Pears on Sunday afternoon.
Pears ranks as the league's 48th most efficient offensive tackle of 78 eligible players at the position by Pro Football Focus, but his grade has mainly been depleted by porous run blocking. Pears has actually been pretty reliable in pass protection, having given up a mere four sacks in 14 starts. But an elite rusher like Wake is certainly capable of abusing him.
2. Mike Wallace vs. Leodis McKelvin
Mike Wallace is nearly on pace to register the third 1,000-yard season of his career after producing 82 or more yards and a touchdown in three of his last four games. He's finally getting into sync with Tannehill despite the two's inability to consistently connect on the deep ball. He may have a difficult time continuing his late-season surge on Sunday, however, as Buffalo's No. 1 cornerback Leodis McKelvin has been solid in coverage all year.
McKelvin is currently ranked as Pro Football Focus' 17th overall corner out of 109 eligible players at the position. Only Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nolan Carroll (yes, Miami's Nolan Carroll) have allowed a lower completion percentage in coverage than McKelvin has in 2013. Wallace did manage five catches that totaled 76 yards back in Week 7, though. He'll look to have an even bigger impact on Sunday's game.
1. Bryant McKinnie vs. Jerry Hughes
Despite a limited role, outside linebacker Jerry Hughes ranks second on the Bills with nine sacks in what has been a breakout season for the former first-round pick. Over the past seven games, Hughes has actually been Buffalo's most productive pass rusher with an average of one sack per game over that span. He'll have the opportunity to rush against Dolphins left tackle Bryant McKinnie on Sunday.
McKinnie has provided stability on Tannehill's blindside since Miami traded for him following its loss to Buffalo in Week 7. He's only conceded five sacks in eight starts, which has been an upgrade from the seven sacks Jonathan Martin gave up in his seven starts. Hughes might be a handful for McKinnie in Buffalo, however. Keeping Hughes in check could go a long way in the Dolphins giving Tannehill time to throw against the league's top pass rush.