NFL Preview - Buffalo (1-2) at Miami (0-3)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Miami Dolphins wanted Chad Henne to gain some experience this season, but this is not the way the team was hoping to get him in the lineup.
Henne will make his first NFL start on Sunday, when the Dolphins look to notch their initial win of 2009 against the also-struggling Buffalo Bills, and Henne will also be opening behind center for the foreseeable future.
Chad Pennington, who has started all 20 games during Tony Sparano's tenure as head coach, tore the capsule in his throwing shoulder on a hit in the third- quarter of last Sunday's 23-13 loss to the San Diego Chargers - the same shoulder he has had surgically-repaired on two prior occasions - and will miss the remainder of the season.
That places the immediate spotlight on Henne, who has thrown 31 meaningful NFL passes, 19 of which came in the second half of the San Diego loss. The 2008 second-round pick out of Michigan finished 10-of-19 for 92 yards with an interception in the game, failing to lead Miami to its first win of the season.
The Dolphins, who finished 11-5 and won the AFC East a year ago, have begun the year with losses to the Falcons (19-7), Colts (27-23) and Chargers, and on Sunday will be trying to avoid starting 0-4 for the second time in the past three years. The 2007 Dolphins lost their first 13 games en route to a franchise-worst 1-15 finish.
In addition to Pennington, another of Miami's highest-profile stars could be absent on Sunday. Pass rusher Joey Porter injured his hamstring in the loss to San Diego, and is considered questionable for Sunday.
Though the Bills have a win to their credit in 2009, to say that Dick Jauron's team is functioning effectively would probably be a stretch.
Buffalo was a 27-7 home loser to the New Orleans Saints last week, with the offense failing to post a single point in the contest. The Bills scored their only touchdown of the day on a fake field goal attempt, with punter Brian Moorman throwing a 25-yard touchdown pass to defensive end Ryan Denney.
The Saints broke open a 10-7 game with just under 10 minutes to play, when a 34-yard Pierre Thomas touchdown run effectively sealed the deal.
Buffalo had just 243 yards and 13 first downs in the loss, and the offense's struggles did not sit well with at least one well-known member of the roster.
Terrell Owens, who had a streak of 185 consecutive games with a catch snapped in the contest, got testy afterward with reporters who asked him about the end of the streak and also the play-calling and execution of the attack. Owens' previous game without a catch came in the final game of the 1996 season, his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers.
The Bills enter Week 4 ranked 24th in NFL passing offense (186.7 yards per game), and could go to the ground even more often on Sunday. Running back Marshawn Lynch is expected to appear for the first time this season after being suspended for the first three games of 2009 due to a violation of the NFL personal conduct policy.
Miami leads the all-time regular season series with Buffalo, 51-34-1, including a home-and-home sweep last season. The Dolphins earned a 25-16 come- from-behind victory when the clubs met in South Florida in Week 8, then went to Toronto to polish off a 16-3 result during Week 14. Prior to 2008, the Bills had won seven of eight in the series, including four straight. Buffalo swept the 2007 home-and-home, including a 13-10 win at Dolphin Stadium.
Though the Dolphins lead the regular season series, the Bills hold a 3-1 edge in postseason games. Buffalo defeated Miami in a 1990 AFC Divisional Playoff, the 1992 AFC Championship, and a 1995 AFC First-Round Playoff, while the Dolphins were winners in a 1998 AFC First-Round Playoff.
Bills head coach Dick Jauron is 4-3 in his head coaching career against the Dolphins, including a 27-9 loss for his Bears in Miami during the 2002 season. The Dolphins' Tony Sparano is 2-0 against both Jauron and the Bills as a head coach.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Though the Bills were hopeful that quarterback Trent Edwards (598 passing yards, 4 TD, 2 INT) could regain the efficient form that helped the team move to 5-1 after six games last season, through the first three contests of 2009 the Stanford product has looked more like the struggling signal-caller he was down the stretch last year. The lack of targets is not a problem, as Lee Evans (8 receptions, 1 TD) and Owens (5 receptions, 1 TD) remain high-end receivers, but a young offensive line that has allowed 10 sacks through three games is not allowing Edwards much time or the wideouts to consistently get out of their breaks. The group has been better at run-blocking, with Fred Jackson (261 rushing yards, 15 receptions, 1 TD) doing a capable job through the first three weeks, and the return of Lynch to the lineup will give the ground game another able body. Lynch posted his second straight 1,000-yard season a year ago, though he combined for just 92 yards on 26 carries in two games against the Dolphins.
Buffalo would catch a break if Porter (6 tackles, 2 sacks) is unavailable to provide pressure off the edge, though it isn't as if Miami has no other options in that regard. Jason Taylor (4 tackles) has just one sack in his second tour of duty with the Dolphins, but should play more snaps this week due to the team's injury situation. The lack of a consistent pass rush thus far has had a negative trickle-down effect to a secondary that has made few big plays. Miami lacks an interception on the season, though safeties Yeremiah Bell (20 tackles), Gibril Wilson (16 tackles) and cornerback Will Allen (15 tackles) are the team's top three tacklers. Allen and rookie Sean Smith (5 tackles) should have primary responsibility in stopping Evans and Owens. The Dolphins have done a generally fine job against the run through their first three games, ranking third in NFL rushing defense (66 yards per game), with nose tackle Jason Ferguson (6 tackles) and end Phillip Merling (8 tackles) among the playmakers up front and inside linebackers Akin Ayodele (12 tackles) and Channing Crowder (11 tackles) working behind them.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
The Miami offense shouldn't change much with Henne at the controls, though the former Wolverine's stronger arm could enhance the vertical elements of the passing game that were not a strength for Pennington. Much will depend on Henne's chemistry with his main receiving triumvirate of Devone Bess (17 receptions), Ted Ginn Jr. (13 receptions), and Greg Camarillo (7 receptions), who have not made many big plays during the team's 0-3 start. Bess had team- highs with seven catches for 54 yards against the Chargers last week. Tight end Anthony Fasano (3 receptions) must get more involved over the middle of the field, as neither he nor Ginn had a catch last week. Attempting to take the pressure off of their young quarterback will be the rushing duo of Ronnie Brown (254 rushing yards, 2 TD, 6 receptions) and Ricky Williams (163 rushing yards, 7 receptions, 2 TD), who combined for 130 yards on 26 carries and seven catches for 69 yards out of the backfield. Brown and Williams are both averaging nearly five yards per rush while working behind a line that has conversely allowed seven sacks thus far.
Buffalo's strength in 2009 was to be the defense, but mounting injuries are beginning to threaten that status. Five starters - cornerback Leodis McKelvin (fibula), linebacker Paul Posluszny (forearm), safeties Bryan Scott (ankle) and Donte Whitner (thumb), and tackle Kyle Williams (groin) - could all be out on Sunday, a situation that will enhance the chances for Henne and Brown to be effective. The Bills "D" kept Buffalo in the game for three-plus quarters against New Orleans, but couldn't consistently contain a Saints running game that piled up 222 yards and three touchdowns. The team needs more of a presence from tackle Marcus Stroud (14 tackles, 1 sack) at the point of attack, and better playmaking from linebackers Keith Ellison (36 tackles) and Kawika Mitchell (15 tackles) behind them. The pass rush has generated five sacks through three games, two of which have come from top pass rusher Aaron Schobel (6 tackles, 1 INT). Given the injuries in the secondary, major pressure will be on mainstay cornerback Terrence McGee (15 tackles) and rookie free safety Jairus Byrd (12 tackles) to avoid giving up big plays.
Not a worthwhile fantasy option to speak of on the Buffalo roster. The passing game has been deficient all-around, and the return of Lynch, and unknown nature of how carries will be distributed to him and Jackson, makes using either back a heavy risk. It might be somewhat tempting to use the Bills defense against a first-time starting QB, but the injuries in the Buffalo secondary will lessen the team's big-play abilities on that front.
The Dolphins don't have too much going for them on the fantasy front either, though Brown will probably get enough touches to contribute something to your total. Bess is worth considering as a flex play, but represents a high risk with minimal chance for return.
The Dolphins have been a disappointment thus far, but it's key to remember that the three teams that have defeated them - the Falcons, Colts, and Chargers - are all likely headed to the playoffs. This team still has a lot of talent, and frankly, Pennington wasn't playing well enough to suggest that it will see a marked production drop-off with Henne in the lineup. The Bills, meanwhile, are a mess, with Owens starting his divide-and-conquer routine in the locker room and the once-solid defense now mired in injury issues. Buffalo will get a boost from the return of Lynch, but not enough of one to mitigate the club's other problems.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Dolphins 17, Bills 15
10/01 13:11:44 ET