The Buffalo Bills are in a tight spot.
They have a cornered cat to face in the winless Miami Dolphins this Sunday. The divisional game is a must-win for both teams.
The New York Jets currently top the AFC East at 3-0 with the New England Patriots a breath away at 2-1.
Both the Bills and Dolphins need a win to stay viable within a division that's far from decided. The season's still young. But it is time for the contenders to make their move.
What do the Bills need to do to take this game from the Dolphins? Here's an eight-point prescription for what ails them:
1. Banish the Negative
Buffalo's season has been rocky so far. The players need to self-assess and take a long, hard look at themselves.
The losses to the Patriots and Saints were due more to their own mistakes than anything else. In both games, poor execution, costly penalties, and uninspired playcalling robbed them of opportunities to win.
The Bills' third-down efficiency—40 percent, 33 percent, and 14 percent against the Patriots, Buccaneers, and Saints, respectively—has to improve.
The players have to keep their composure and avoid the mental mistakes—fumbles, drops, incompletions, and misreads.
Head coach Dick Jauron and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt have to free this offense.
It's said that "necessity is the mother of invention."
Okay, guys. A win is imperative. Leave the ultra-conservatism to the politicians and get creative.
2. Playmakers Make Big Plays
Terrell Owens and Lee Evans are two of the best receivers in the NFL. Get them the rock. They can't make plays without the football.
The Dolphins defense doesn't believe the Bills offense is capable of the big play. Why should they? The Bills don't believe it themselves.
It's a weakness waiting to be exploited.
Get the ball downfield. Challenge the Dolphin defense and make them work.
Put the pressure on Gibril Wilson, Sean Smith, and the rest of Miami's secondary.
3. Play the Hand You're Dealt
Trent Edwards is oblivious to the fact that he has a winning hand. He has a full house of weapons at his disposal, but he chooses to fully utilize only two—his tight end and running back.
There's plenty of chatter going on about Owens' selfishness and concern for his stats. Maybe the light should be shined in Edwards' direction.
Why is he continually avoiding the deep throw? Is last season's touchdown-to-interception ratio haunting him?
Make a play. Open up the offense.
Edwards has a mantra he repeats at the press conferences about going through his progressions and getting the ball to whomever is supposed to get it when they're supposed to get per the way he's coached.
The receivers are not getting the ball. Aren't they supposed to get touches?
As mentioned above, Miami is susceptible to the pass. They will have their hands full with Owens, Evans, and Reed. Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson can catch the ball, too. If Shawn Nelson is back from injury, throw him into the mix for a little added frustration.
Use your weapons, Trent. Wins trump interceptions all day.
4. Keep On Keeping On
The Bills defense has played well in the previous games. They have suffered some key injuries, but have continued to fight and make plays.
Against the high-powered New Orleans Saints offense, nobody gave them a chance. However, they subdued Drew Brees and stunted the Saints to just 27 points. The Bills defense held the Saints to just 10 points through three quarters.
A little help from the offense and Buffalo would have won the game.
It's going to be tough Sunday. Buffalo is on the road with a decimated secondary. Three-quarters of the starting defensive backfield is injured.
The replacements are going to have to pull together and get the job done.
5. Tighten Up
We can see that Demetrius Bell is talented. We need to see if he can tighten up his mental focus.
The penalties are negating good gains and stopping productive drives. The football has to move forward, not backward, to win games.
Bell is injured so this may not be a factor this weekend.
6. Serve and Protect
The offensive line must do a better job protecting the quarterback. In three games, it has allowed 10 sacks and way too much access to Edwards.
The Dolphins will try to exploit them. The Bills offensive line has to stay mentally focused and play to the best of their ability.
To make plays and win this game, the Bills will have to get the football downfield to their receivers. To accomplish that, Trent Edwards has to be upright, not on his back.
7. Follow the Leader
This team needs a spark plug. Who is the leader?
Like Ray Lewis sparks the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo needs someone to step up into a leadership role.
The Bills seem flat and unemotional at times. Cool, calm, and collected is fine in meetings and the film room. But on the field, a controlled emotionality goes a long way.
8. Bring Home the Spoils
The Bills should go into Landshark Stadium like warriors go to battle.
They should approach this game like their lives are on the line. A winning season and postseason play is on the line.
Buffalo has to be the aggressor and take it to Miami.
If the Bills lose this game to the Dolphins, they will drop to 1-3 with two losses against divisional rivals. Not a good place to be.
If the Bills take this game from the Dolphins, they will stay in contention at 2-2.
The Buffalo Bills can get their season back on track. Take care of Miami. Defend the home turf against the Cleveland Browns.
Then, the Bills can march into Giants Stadium with the wind at their backs.
They could have beaten the New England Patriots. Defeating the New York Jets is not impossible, especially with some momentum.
Going forward, Buffalo must concentrate on their fundamentals, execute their plays, eliminate the mistakes, and play relentless football for the full 60 minutes.
If they do, they will keep the Miami Dolphins in the AFC East cellar for at least another week. And hopefully, continue on to wreak havoc on the rest of their schedule.