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Dolphins Must Stay Vigilant Against Bills, Even Without EJ Manuel

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Miami Dolphins

By Abraham Gutierrez

After a much-needed bye week, the Miami Dolphins kick off the intra-divisional portion of the 2013 NFL schedule, as the Buffalo Bills come to town to renew a bitter rivalry on Sunday.

Opening kickoff for this AFC East showdown is slated for 1:05 p.m. ET from Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida live on CBS4 (Miami).

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 15:  EJ Manuel #3 of the Buffalo Bills scrambles against the Carolina Panthers at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 15, 2013 in Orchard Park, New York.Buffalo won 24-23.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

EJ Manuel #3 of the Buffalo Bills (Credit, Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

With a 3-2 record, the Fins start Week 7 occupying the second spot in the division, trailing the (5-1) New England Patriots by two and a half games.

Meanwhile, a two-game losing streak has dropped Buffalo (2-4) all the way down to the cellar of the AFC East and they are seeing their playoff picture fade fast.

The Bills come into this pivotal matchup, one and a half games behind the New York Jets, two in back of Miami and the Pats are all but out of reach in the standings.

Nevertheless, with the midway point of the season fast approaching, it would be wise for Miami not to underestimate Buffalo, even without their sensational rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel under center.

Buffalo Bills Upset/Trap Alert

Despite their sub par record, the Bills have proven that they can compete with anyone in the league, and that they also posses the element of surprise when taken lightly by the opposition.

While their 2-4 record doesn’t scare anyone, the fact that three of those four losses have come by a combined total eight points is something Miami must be very conscious of this week.

Thus far, the Bills losses have come against New England in Week 1 (23-21), the Jets in Week 3 (27-20), Cleveland in Week 5 (37-24), and Cincinnati last Sunday (27-24). However, the loss of E.J. Manuel will be very tough to overcome.

Bills on Offense

Before his knee injury, former Florida State Seminole E.J. Manuel led a Bills offense that featured a multi-dimensional attack capable of giving Miami’s 19th-ranked defense plenty of headaches.

Buffalo enters this week ranked 17th in the league in points (22.7 ppg), 16th in total yards per contest (344.2), 28th in passing yards (195.3) and is third best in the NFL in rushing yards per game (148.8).

The strength of this offense lies in its ability to ground-and-pound the rock, which enables them to dominate time of possession, wearing down opposing defenses in the process.

With running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson coming out of the backfield, this two-headed monster gives defensive coordinators nightmares on game day.

Through six games, this running back duo comes in averaging just over 115 rushing yards (26.5 carries) per game and five touchdowns. A big part of Buffalo’s run game comes from their rookie QB.

The good news for Miami’s defense is that they can leave their running shoes at home, as Manuel will not play on Sunday due to a knee injury. Manuel is expected to make his return sometime around Thanksgiving Day.

Instead, backup quarterback Thad Lewis is expected to get the nod, giving Miami the ability to stack the box, contain the Bills running game, and make offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Nathaniel Hackett really earn his paycheck.

Bills on Defense

Unlike their offense, defense has been this team’s weakness, as defensive coordinator Mike Pettine hasn’t been able to stop anyone through six games this season.

Coming into this divisional showdown, the Bills “D” ranks 23rd in points allowed (26.2), 27th in total yards (395.0), 22nd defending the pass (270.8) and 28th stopping the run (124.2).

Having that said, this team still has plenty of reasons to make Ryan Tannehill and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman sweat.

The Bills pass rush is led by defensive end Mario Williams who is third in the league with eight sacks to go along with his 16 tackles (10 solo).

Also gunning for number 17 will be defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who comes in with 28 tackles (16 solo) and four sacks, which is second best on the Bills.

Finally, the Dolphins also have to be very conscious in the passing game, as the Bills have a triple-threat on defense that isn’t very forgiving when mistakes occur.

Leading the team in interceptions is rookie middle linebacker Kiko Alonso (4 INTs) and safeties Jim Leonhard (3 INTs) and Aaron Williams.

Bills vs. Dolphins Head-to-Head

The Miami Dolphins comes into this rivalry match-up holding a 57-40-1 advantage against the Buffalo Bills in their head-to-head series.

These AFC East foes split their two-game series last season, with Miami winning at home 24-10 (12/23/2012) and Buffalo prevailing at home 19-14 (11/15/2012).

For more Dolphins news and updates, visit Dolphins Central.

Abe Gutierrez is a criminal justice admin whose love for sports led him to become a writer and editor. His expertise make him a valued addition to Examiner.com and its partners. His work can be found on Examiner.com. .

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