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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Dolphins season is at a crossroad.  The team is maneuvering through a very tough stretch of their schedule and a loss to the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night would seriously damage any chance of making the playoffs. Both the Dolphins and Bills are 5-4 and know that this game is as close to a November must-win as you can get.

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It’s going to be a tough matchup for Miami as they’ll face one of the league’s top defensive lines for the second straight week.  The Dolphins offensive line has gone through a serious makeover after losing Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle Branden Albert to a season ending knee injury last week in Detroit.  Buffalo has beaten the Dolphins in three straight games and four of their last five, so Miami is looking to exercise those demons at home on national television.  Here are the Dolphins keys to victory against the Bills.

Control the line of scrimmage

The Buffalo Bills square off against the Miami Dolphins during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 14, 2014 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Source: Michael Adamucci/Getty Images)

(Source: Michael Adamucci/Getty Images)

Most of the Dolphins success this season has come in games where the team has controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.  That could be a tall order for Miami on Thursday night after losing their best offensive lineman to a season-ending knee injury.  The makeshift o-line will be facing a very strong Buffalo defensive front that leads the NFL with 34 sacks.  The Bills have sacked Ryan Tannehill 13 times during their last three matchups with Miami, all Buffalo wins. As for the Dolphins defense, they are tied for fourth in the league with 28 sacks and will face a banged up Bills backfield and a quarterback in Kyle Orton who is not very mobile.

Keep the ball moving on offense

The Dolphins offense is at its best when utilizing a steady mix of runs and passes, but if the rushing game can’t get going it creates a much more difficult situation for Tannehill.  Miami will need to figure out how to keep the chains moving and limit the Bills offensive opportunities. The Dolphins receivers will need to run solid routes and get open quickly against a tough Buffalo secondary, and don’t be surprised to see Miami get its running backs involved in the passing game as well.  It will be a big test for Tannehill in possibly the biggest home game during his three-year career.

Get to Kyle Orton

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(Source: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

(Source: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Since the Bills named Kyle Orton their starter in Week 5, the veteran quarterback has done a very good job managing Buffalo’s offense.  That is especially true when you consider the issues they’ve had with keeping their running backs healthy.  While Orton has had success, he isn’t a mobile quarterback by any stretch of the imagination.  He’s been sacked 18 times during his five starts this season.  If Cameron Wake and his friends can get to the quarterback early and get in Orton’s head, it could pay huge dividends as the game progresses.

Score touchdowns in the red zone

No team in the NFL has gotten inside the red zone more than the Miami Dolphins.  Bill Lazor’s squad has moved inside the opponents 20-yard line a total of 43 times so far this season, five more than the next closest team (Seattle: 38).  Unfortunately for the Dolphins, they have only converted 46.5 percent of those chances into touchdowns, which is good for 28th in the league.  Going up against a tough Bills defense, Miami will need to take advantage of every red zone opportunity they create as points will be at a premium in this matchup of top defenses.

Get the run game going

(Source: John Konstantaras/Getty Images)

(Source: John Konstantaras/Getty Images)

Last week in Detroit the Dolphins struggled mightily to get any kind of ground game going.  The team combined for a total of 50 rushing yards on just 19 attempts, good for a meager 2.6 yards per carry.  Lamar Miller has been battling a shoulder injury and could be limited for a second straight game after getting just four carries for 10 yards against the Lions.  It’s very possible that rookie Damian Williams could see the bulk of Miami’s carries if Miller is still banged up.  Williams had some success in limited opportunities last week, gaining 34 yards on seven carries (4.9 ypc).  Tannehill will also need to get more involved in the run attack.  He’s been dynamite throughout the season rushing the ball but he only attempted two runs against Detroit, gaining zero yards.  It’s also worth noting that the Dolphins promoted collegiate star LaMichael James off the practice squad earlier this week, and it’s possible that he could see some carries as well.

Watch Miami take on the Buffalo Bills this Thursday at 8 p.m. on CBS4, your official Dolphins station! 

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