Dolphins look for ground game to get back on track vs. Bills

The Miami Dolphins take on the Buffalo Bills on “Thursday Night Football” to attempt to snap their two-game slide. To do so, the Dolphins have to take advantage of the Bills’ league-worst rushing defense, which surrenders an average of 163.7 yards per game. Coming off a game in which rookie QB Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions, it becomes especially critical that the Dolphins get the ground game going and protect their young signal caller. The Bills’ linebackers have struggled playing in space all year, which works right into the Dolphins’ favor with their zone-running scheme spearheaded by talented RB Reggie Bush. The “Playbook” crew breaks down Miami’s use of the stretch play.

Each Miami offensive lineman steps left in concert. The right guard and right tackle (blocking assignments in red) are responsible for cutting off the backside defensive tackle and the weak-side linebacker. The key here on the play side are the blocks from the tight end and left tackle. They initially double the defensive end, then left tackle Jake Long will work up to the strong-side linebacker. This is commonly referred to as a combo block. The success of the center and left tackle getting to the second level and engaging the linebackers is paramount to the success of the play.

The linebackers are slow to react, which gives the Dolphins offensive line a huge advantage. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain makes the critical mistake here, taking a step back off the snap. By the time he recovers, the center can get to him and take him out of the play. The left tackle and tight end secure the double, and the left tackle is ready to get to the second level to secure the strong-side linebacker.

The initial double team between the tight end and left tackle allows the tight end to get to the outside shoulder of the defensive end without allowing penetration, which enables him to seal the hole. Left tackle Jake Long has taken the strong side backer out of the play. A good effort from the receiver on the outside provides a huge lane for Reggie Bush to run through, with his fullback still out in front of him. The only player left with a chance to make this play is the safety, but fullback Javorskie Lane gets enough of him to allow Bush to get to the outside and leave everyone else behind en route to a 65-yard TD.

To stop this stretch attack, the Bills’ linebackers have to be aggressive and attack downhill while the offensive line is still moving laterally. Buffalo’s linebackers have been slow to react and attack this year. That is a deadly combination against this type of running scheme, as you can see in the example illustrated above. If the Bills try to move laterally with the offensive line and don’t get momentum coming to the line of scrimmage, the Dolphins will eat them alive off of those combo blocks.

On the other side of the ball, the Bills’ intermediate passing game must build off of the success it had against the New England Patriots last week. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is coming off of a 337-yard output in that game, and the Dolphins’ secondary has been vulnerable, especially in that intermediate range; ranking 28th in the league with 278 yards allowed per game through the air. It is easier said than done, but if the Bills follow this blueprint on both sides of the ball, they can pull off the victory and keep themselves alive for at least another week. If not, it might be a long, cold night in Buffalo and a big day for Reggie Bush and this Dolphins offense.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (NFC) and 9 p.m. ET (AFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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