Miami Dolphins: 5 Keys to Victory in Week 16

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Miami Dolphins: 5 Keys to Victory in Week 16

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The postseason doesn't begin for another three weeks, but if the Miami Dolphins want to be there, they'll need to treat the final two weeks of their regular season like playoff games. Step No. 1 will be traveling to Ralph Wilson Stadium in western New York and besting a competitive Buffalo Bills team.

The Bills may be 5-9, but they've been one tough team to beat at home in 2013. With wins over the Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens and narrow defeats to the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo isn't a team Miami should take lightly, especially when playing it on the road. The Dolphins should look no further than their two-point loss to the Bills at home back in Week 7 as evidence it can't overlook this game with a potential postseason berth looming.

The matchup suggests that the Dolphins are in for a dogfight. The Bills rush the passer better than anybody and feature a productive rushing attack. Meanwhile, the Dolphins have had difficulty protecting Ryan Tannehill and tightening the screws on their run defense all season. Miami is definitely the more talented team, but a win is far from imminent.

With a win, the Dolphins would be either in the playoffs or as close as they've been to clinching a trip to them in five years. Let's take a look at five keys for the Dolphins to emerge victorious in Week 16.

Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.

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5. Establish the Run

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Buffalo's three-man defensive line is as stout as they come, as nose tackle Marcell Dareus and defensive ends Kyle Williams and Alan Branch each rank near the top of their positions in run defense efficiency according to Pro Football Focus.

Still, if the Dolphins' offensive line, particularly Mike Pouncey and Sam Brenner, can consistently block into the second level, running back Lamar Miller could be in store for some big runs. I would mention Daniel Thomas as well, but an ankle injury could sideline him for the second time of the year.

The Bills allow 127.3 rushing yards per game, which ranks 26th in the NFL. The Dolphins ran for 120 yards on 4.8 yards per carry versus Buffalo back in Week 7. A similar effort would strengthen their chances of leaving western New York with their ninth win of the season.

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4. Protect Ryan Tannehill

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The 49 sacks that the Bills' defense has produced is the most in the NFL. The 51 sacks the Dolphins' offense has conceded is also the most in the NFL. That's what you call a one-sided matchup.

Miami only allowed two sacks versus Buffalo in Week 7, but those were two of the most detrimental sacks of the season. Mario Williams swallowed Ryan Tannehill whole on the first and forced him to the fumble on the second. The Dolphins are probably 9-5 right now without those two sacks. Earning their ninth win on Sunday afternoon will likely require more reliable protection.

Williams isn't the only rusher the Dolphins' offensive line will need to account for. Jerry Hughes has come on strong as of late with seven sacks in his past seven games, and Buffalo's interior rush is one of the league's most lethal, as Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus have combined to sack the quarterback 16 times in 2013.

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3. Force Thad Lewis to Make Plays

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There's a huge misconception circulating that quarterback Thad Lewis, making his third start as a pro, beat the Dolphins back in October and will look to beat them a second time in Week 16. That couldn't be any further from the truth.

Lewis didn't do enough to lose the game for the Bills (he did throw one interception) and he made a few solid throws that kept possessions alive, but the Dolphins beat themselves on that day for reasons we'll get to later. Miami must do a better job of forcing Lewis to make plays in order for Buffalo to pull off the upset.

Stuffing the run and scoring enough offensively would put the game in Lewis' hands, and that's where the Dolphins want it. Lewis wasn't overwhelmed by the opportunity during his first three starts with the Bills this season. He was thrown for 652 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, but he's yet to prove he can out-duel an opposing quarterback.

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2. Contain C.J. Spiller

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

One play is all it takes to change a game, and if the Dolphins find themselves in a tightly-contested battle on Sunday afternoon, they'll need to account for Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller's big-play ability. Spiller has the speed to give a Bills offense that will be missing its starting quarterback and No. 1 receiver a much-needed spark against a Dolphins' front seven that has struggled to consistently bottle up opposing rushing attacks all year.

Miami is currently allowing 117.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks 22nd in the NFL. Spiller, meanwhile, averages 4.6 yards per carry, which is the 10th-highest figure in the league. With Stevie Johnson expected to be held out and Thad Lewis starting at quarterback, expect the Dolphins to stack the box with an extra defender more often than usual in order to key in on Buffalo's fourth-ranked rushing attack. If they can contain Spiller and his counterpart Fred Jackson, there's no reason why Kevin Coyle's defense shouldn't dominate this game.

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1. Don't Give it Away

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Dolphins' inability to protect Tannehill down the stretch in their first meeting with the Bills was a big reason why they were upset. But, Miami should have never been in that position to begin with. If the Dolphins would have taken care of the football early on, they would have likely been killing clock with a comfortable lead during the time in which those sacks occurred.

Tannehill threw a pick-six on the Dolphins' first possession and another interception in the first half when the Miami was in the red zone. Those two interceptions put the Dolphins in a hole it shouldn't have had to dig out of, and were arguably the two worst decisions of Tannehill's career. He'll have the opportunity to show his growth firsthand on Sunday against the same defense that forced him into making those mishaps two months ago.

Protecting the football should be a major priority for every team every week. But that especially becomes the case when taking on an inferior team. Make no mistake, while the Bills are competitive, the Dolphins are the clear-cut superior squad. They should improve to 9-6 on Sunday if they avoid costly turnovers. The forecast is calling for rain throughout the day, so ball security will be crucial.


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