MIAMI (AP) — With Ryan Tannehill getting sacked at a record pace, the Miami Dolphins haven’t been able to ease the pressure on their young quarterback thanks to an extremely poor running game.
A matchup with the Buffalo Bills’ porous run defense might help, though Miami has to contend with one of the NFL’s top pass rushes.
Coming off a bye week following consecutive losses, the Dolphins hope they’ve fixed some of their issues as they look for their best six-game start in 10 years Sunday against the visiting Bills.
Miami got off to a 3-0 start before losing 38-17 at New Orleans on Sept. 30 and 26-23 to Baltimore on Oct. 6. A win in their AFC East opener will put the Dolphins at 4-2 for the first time since 2003.
After completing 66.4 percent of his passes for 827 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions during the winning streak, Tannehill has connected on 57.3 for 556 yards with two scores and three picks in his last two games.
The second-year signal-caller, however, has been under constant duress and been sacked an NFL-high 24 times. The Dolphins are on pace to break the team record for sacks by the ninth game and the NFL record of 76 by the end of the season.
“It’s hard to function offensively when you’re going backward,” coach Joe Philbin said. “We’re going to fix the problems we have. We’re not going to sweep them under the rug.”
During his rookie season, Tannehill was sacked five times while completing 27 of 53 passes for 271 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions as the Dolphins split a pair of meetings with the Bills.
Now he’s facing a Buffalo team that ranks third in the league with 21 sacks. Defensive end Mario Williams has been particularly tough on opposing quarterbacks, ranking third in the NFL with eight sacks.
The Bills (2-4) dropped Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton three times and rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit before losing their second straight game, 27-24 in overtime last Sunday.
After failing to get off to a fast start despite a home-heavy schedule, Buffalo hopes to snap a six-game road losing streak.
“You could always say, ‘Yes, it’s tougher to win on the road,’ there’s no doubt about that,” said coach Doug Marrone, whose squad has been tied or leading in the fourth quarter in all four losses. “But it’s tough to win in general.”
Some defensive slip-ups have contributed to their disappointment. The Bills are tied for 27th with an average of 395.0 total yards allowed and have given up the fifth-most rushing yards at 124.2 per game.
They should be able to show improvement in that area against the Dolphins, who are on pace to break the 25-year-old franchise record for fewest rushing yards in a season. With 22 yards last Sunday, the Dolphins lowered their season average to 69.6 per game – fourth-worst in the league.
Due in part to their ineffectiveness, they’ve run the ball a total of 45 times in the last three games. Miami had 11 rushing attempts against Baltimore, three more than the franchise low.
Lamar Miller leads the team with 211 yards and two touchdowns on 50 carries, but he finished with 15 yards on seven attempts against the Ravens.
“We want to be able to run the ball,” Tannehill said. “We don’t want to be one-dimensional. It’s something that we’ll keep working at, and hopefully be better (this week).”
The Bills are expected to have leading rusher C.J. Spiller and hope receiver Stevie Johnson is available, while quarterback Thad Lewis is set to make his second start despite the signing of Matt Flynn on Monday.
With rookie starter EJ Manuel out at least another four weeks because of a sprained right knee, Lewis looks to build on a solid debut after he connected on 19 of 32 attempts for 216 yards with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to lead the Bills’ rally last week.
“You’ve got to be confident in this league,” said Lewis, who practiced fully Wednesday after hurting his right foot in the game. “If I was nervous in any way, shape or form, Cincinnati would’ve ate us up.”
Though he did not practice Wednesday due to an ankle injury, Spiller is expected to play after being limited to 18 carries over the past two games. He’s rushed for 320 yards while averaging 5.7 per carry in his last three meetings with the Dolphins.
Johnson has three catches for 18 yards in the past two games while dealing with a back injury. He also has been limited this week but could play in a potentially tough matchup against Miami cornerback Brent Grimes.
The Bills released struggling Colin Brown on Tuesday, opening the door for Doug Legursky to become the starter at left guard.
Buffalo has dropped four of five in Miami and 26 of 32 against AFC East teams since 2008.
Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is doubtful for Sunday’s game against Buffalo with a shoulder injury. Ellerbe was hurt Oct. 6 and hasn’t practiced this week.
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