Buffalo Bills Will Have Opportunities in Passing Game vs. Miami Dolphins

Erik FrenzSenior Writer INovember 15, 2012

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 18: Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Buffalo Bills throws a deep pass during their NFL game against the Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 18, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills love the passing game—sometimes to a fault. There may be no fault in it when they face off against the Miami Dolphins.

Teams have aired it out against Miami partly because of the stingy front seven that gives up 3.8 yards per carry, the fifth-lowest average in the league. As a result, their opponents forgo the running game in an attempt to expose the back end of the defense.

So far, it's working.

The Dolphins have faced an average of 42 pass attempts per game, the highest average in the league, and have given up the league's fifth-highest total in passing yards. Teams know there's a weakness, and they're not afraid to attack it.

The Dolphins have given up 37 pass plays of 20 yards or more, which ranks 28th in the NFL through 10 weeks of action.

It hasn't been entirely bad, though. Miami's defense gives up completions on 56.3 percent of throws and gives up just an 80.1 defensive passer rating. Both numbers rank in the top 10 of the league. They also only give up conversions on 34.51 percent of third downs, the sixth-best average in the league.

And the Bills may struggle to fully take advantage of those weaknesses anyway. 

The Dolphins have a great blitz package for third downs that can capitalize when an opponent is in an obvious passing situation. Ryan Fitzpatrick talked about it on Wednesday (via The Buffalo News):

On third down they can get fairly exotic in what they do. The coordinator [Kevin Coyle] is a Cincinnati guy. I was there with him. It’s a lot of the same stuff. Tough to prepare for, especially in a short week. They’ll throw a lot at us, and it’ll be difficult. They’ll send pretty much everybody, depending on what formations and looks you’re in.

While attacking the Dolphins through the air constantly is a good idea in theory, it can put the offense into third-and-long situations that will be very difficult to convert.

Fitzpatrick has had an up-and-down season, but he has proven he can take advantage of a sub-par pass defense in games against the Chiefs (120.1 passer rating), Browns (107.8) and Patriots (99.7 in Week 10). 

One of the primary factors in Fitzpatrick's play is the time he has in the pocket, so it will be imperative for Buffalo to get its protection calls right at the line of scrimmage.

Oh, and then there's that whole problem of Cameron Wake, who is one of the best pass-rushing 4-3 defensive ends in the league right now. He's been disruptive on a total of 56 plays, with 30 pressures,15 quarterback hits and 11 sacks according to ProFootballFocus.com.

If the Bills can give Fitzpatrick the time he needs in the pocket, he should be able to pick apart the Dolphins' secondary. The Dolphins have been a one-man show (Wake) in terms of generating pressure, but defensive end Olivier Vernon has come on strong recently, generating four pressures, five hits and two sacks in the past four games combined.

The Bills feature one of the most efficient pass-blocking offensive lines in football, allowing Fitzpatrick to be sacked, hit or pressured on just 18.2 percent of his drop-backs. Also, he's mobile enough to move around in the pocket, as Andrew Luck did when he went off against the Dolphins.

That being said, Luck (47.3 accuracy percentage on throws 20 yards or deeper downfield, per ProFootballFocus.com) is a much better downfield passer than Fitzpatrick (18.5 accuracy percentage). The Bills can't be expected to convert as many third-and-long situations as the Colts did.

The Bills must strike balance between exposing the Dolphins on the back end and staying on schedule in down-and-distance. That's their best bet in taking advantage of what is a good, but flawed, defense for the Dolphins.


Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained via team press releases.