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Key matchup: Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill vs. Bills defense

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Posted Dec. 21, 2012 @ 1:15 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

The Dolphins’ have faint playoff hopes, and while they need a miracle, they at least have something to play for in Week 16 against an opponent that stifled Ryan Tannehill back in Week 11.

Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill vs. Bills defense

Miami needs to win out — which would include beating the Patriots in Foxborough in Week 17 — and get both the Steelers and Bengals to finish at 8-8 to make the postseason. Stranger things have happened, but it provides the Dolphins a meaningful late-December game, which is more than the Bills can say.

When these two teams met on Thursday night in Week 11, Buffalo put together its best defensive performance of the season, holding the Dolphins to 184 yards of offense. Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill completed only 14-of-28 passes and threw two interceptions in the 19-14 loss.

A big reason for the Bills’ success in that game was the front seven’s ability to contain Dolphins RB Reggie Bush, keeping him from bouncing outside and holding Miami to 60 rushing yards on 24 carries (2.5 avg.). That often put Tannehill in 3rd-and-long situations.

Buffalo’s run defense broke down in Week 15 in a loss to Seattle, giving the Dolphins hope that Bush and Lamar Miller can take some pressure off Tannehill, who is expected to be without a top target, WR Davone Bess (back).

Tannehill is coming off his best game as a pro, as he completed 78.6 percent of his passes and threw two TD passes in a 24-3 win over the Jaguars in Week 15. The confidence booster for Tannehill, who hasn’t thrown a pick since Week 12, should help against a Bills defense whose confidence must be shaken after their 50-17 thrashing in Week 15.

Up front, the Bills’ D-line will try to rattle Tannehill by applying pressure, something the unit has improved upon in the second half. DE Mario Williams might attract some double-teams, as he goes against ORT Nate Garner. Williams sacked Tannehill once in the last meeting. Kyle Moore and Shawne Merriman also notched sacks, and Moore will get to go against rookie OLT Jonathan Martin, who is starting for the injured Jake Long.

If the Dolphins can keep Tannehill protected, then it falls on his decision making and accuracy to make plays. He is adept at throwing on the run, and the Bills struggled against another mobile quarterback last week in Russell Wilson. Going against a depleted Bills cornerback group, Tannehill could find success moving the pocket and making strong throws downfield.

He’ll need to be aware of ball-hawking Bills FS Jairus Byrd, whose diving interception in the fourth quarter of the teams’ last meeting stopped a drive. LB Bryan Scott got the game-sealing interception. Byrd, who is tied for the AFC lead in interceptions, is having a very good season, and Tannehill would be best served looking him off before making any long throws.

The Bills know their formula to stop the Dolphins work — stop the run, put pressure on Tannehill and create turnovers. Buffalo’s defense should want to make up for last week’s embarrassment, and could take some solace in eliminating a division foe from playoff contention.

Should the Dolphins’ run game stall, Tannehill will need to step up and avoid rookie mistakes to keep Miami’s playoff hopes alive. 

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