The Patriots extended their lead in the AFC East … by not playing. Both the Dolphins and Bills lost on Sunday with the Pats and Jets at home on bye. Buffalo seemed to show some improvements on defense, but the Dolphins have some questions to answer on that side of the ball after their close loss to the Colts.
What we learned: The defense did look slightly better coming off its bye, but it’s still not good enough, and the offense left many scratching their heads. Buffalo squandered away points in the red zone and could have made this game closer than it was, but let’s start on defense, where the heavily scrutinized unit held Houston to only seven first-half points and a 3.7-yard rushing average for the game (32-118-1). Big plays were still a problem, though. TE Owen Daniels found himself wide open on a 39-yard touchdown catch, and Matt Schaub completed five passes for 18 yards or more. The main issue in this game was on offense, where C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson each had only six carries — Spiller was on the field for only 26 of the 57 snaps, seven fewer than rookie WR T.J. Graham. Buffalo dropped back to pass 41 times and ran it 16 times, and did not get a touchdown on three trips to the red zone. The Texans’ run defense is very stout, but it appeared the Bills abandoned the run too early — they had five carries total in the second half.
What’s in store next: The Bills head into the black hole that is Foxborough for a meeting with the Patriots. On paper, this matchup is very lopsided. The Bills haven’t won in New England since 2000, the Patriots have lost coming off a bye only once since 2002 (last year vs. Pittsburgh) and the Pats racked up 247 rushing yards and 52 points vs. Buffalo in Week Four. The Bills grabbed a 21-7 lead in that one, so they are certainly capable of scoring points, but they can’t afford turnovers (Ryan Fitzpatrick threw four picks in that loss) and need to get the ground game going — a tough task vs. the Patriots’ front.
What the heck? Heading into Sunday, the Bills were seventh in the league in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on 11-of-18 trips. Tim Graham of the Buffalo News charted the red-zone problems on Sunday, when the Bills had eight plays for a net of eight yards and one false-start penalty. Of those eight plays, only two were run plays, and Spiller never got a touch. Chan Gailey is known for being an offensive mind, but the Texans’ stout defense seemed to force the Bills to overthink things, and they couldn’t convert when it mattered most.
What we learned: The Luck vs. Tannehill matchup lived up to its billing, and both teams should be in the wild-card hunt, but Miami has some work to do defending the pass. We all know how good the Dolphins are against the run, and they held the Colts to a 3.7-yard rushing average, but they allowed an NFL rookie-record 433 passing yards to Andrew Luck, and most notably, the third-down defense was a disaster. The league’s top defensive unit on third down let Luck complete 13-of-17 passes for 204 yards — that’s 15.7 yards per completion! These weren’t third-and-shorts, Luck avoided pressure all day and made huge plays to keep drives alive. CB Sean Smith had two opportunities for interceptions that would have changed the game and couldn’t make the play. Luck is the best QB the Dolphins have faced this season, and he raised plenty of questions about a young secondary that hadn’t really been tested much this season. The pass "D" had been aided by the pass rush, but the Dolphins managed only one sack of the elusive Luck on Sunday. On offense, Ryan Tannehill was efficient playing through an injury, but the run game failed to reach 100 yards again, a mark not seen in Miami since Week Three.
What’s in store next: Miami hosts the Titans in a must-win game if the Dolphins are serious about being a playoff contender — good teams beat teams they are supposed to defeat. Tennessee’s defense has allowed 30 points or more in 7-of-9 games, and the Titans’ offense has been turnover-prone (four fumbles last week). The key matchup will be Tennessee’s strength, RB Chris Johnson and the run game, vs. the Dolphins’ run defense.
What the heck? One of the worst-kept secrets in Miami is a desire to get FB Charles Clay more involved in the offense. He was on the field for 34-of-63 offensive snaps, but had only one target — and that was a 31-yard touchdown catch when Tannehill exploited the matchup Clay had with Colts LB Pat Angerer. Getting the run game back on track is obviously important, but utilizing Clay more in the passing game also will help the offense going forward.
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