Dolphins @ Bills: Through the Air

Tuesday we previewed both the Dolphins’ and Bills’ rushing attacks and their run defenses. Today, we turn our attention to the passing game. Getting the run going early and often may be first priority for both teams, but whoever can stretch the field and keep the defense honest has the potential to completely dominate on offense considering how dynamic both backfields are.

Judging by how impressive Trent Edwards looked in the preseason and how much potential Chad Henne has with a go-to threat like Brandon Marshall, the sky is really the limit for both quarterbacks on Sunday. The only difference is, one secondary was second against the pass last year, and one finished 24th, has no proven free safety providing help over the top, and is starting a former first-round pick at corner who has been nothing short of a bust in his first four seasons.

Bills passing attack vs. Dolphins secondary
While one of the Dolphins’ promising young corners appears to be coming into his own on one side of the field, the other just received a demotion that should trouble even the most optimistic of fans. Unless you take the Dolphins’ word for it when they say Jason Allen has arrived. Personally, I have to see it before I believe it. Sparano praised Allen’s performance in training camp, but I also read media reports that claimed Allen was consistently getting burned by roster fringe receivers.

Fortunately, for Allen, though, he’s likely going to be matched up against Steve Johnson, who has also yet to prove that he’s a starting caliber player. In two seasons with Buffalo, Johnson only managed 112 receiving yards, but was thrown into the starting spot vacated by Terrell Owens’ departure. Vontae Davis, on the other hand, is going to have his hands full with Lee Evans. Evans’ has always given Miami trouble, particularly on the deep ball. Davis is a physical receiver, but likes to gamble on occasion, and sometimes gets caught with his eyes in the backfield. Look for Trent Edwards to test Davis with a few deep tosses to keep the secondary on it’s toes and a little less aggressive in run support.

On passing downs, I’m intrigued by the Benny Sapp/Nolan Carroll-Roscoe Parrish match up. Parrish is finally settling in as a quality slot option for the Bills, and Sapp or Carroll need to prove to the fan base that they are good enough to warrant the front office putting Will Allen on the IR. The big wildcard in all of this, though, is the Dolphins’ pass rush, which will now feature Mike Nolan’s exotic blitz packages. We should see pressure coming from everywhere, and because the Bills don’t have tape on it in Miami, they really don’t know what’s coming or how to prepare for it. Considering how bleak the Bills’ tackle situation appears according to Joe Pinzone from Bills Win, at the very least, the Dolphins should force Edwards to make some hurried throws.
Edge: Bills

Dolphins passing attack vs. Bills secondary
Yes, the Bills gave up the second fewest yards through the air last year, and I’m not saying they don’t have a very good secondary- they do- but teams really didn’t have to throw the ball because they were so bad at stopping the run.We may not even see extensive work from Henne this Sunday if the Dolphins have success pounding the rock over and over with Ronnie and Ricky like they are intending. Last year, the Bills, and every other defense for that matter, went into the week with stopping the run being number one priority and not really having to game plan for any of the Dolphins’ receivers.

Now, obviously, the stakes are different. Brandon Marshall drastically changes the way defenses can approach stopping this offense. I think you still have to force Henne to beat you, but it’s just too dangerous to throw the kitchen sink at the run with a weapon like Marshall on the outside. And when the Bills secondary gives Marshall all the intention, things are going to open up for Davone Bess and Brian Hartline to make some plays and keep drives alive.

Still though,this is speaking on purely potential, nothing that we’ve seen first hand. The greatest mystery on this football team, and what is for sure the deciding factor on how good they can be, is if Chad Henne can take the next step as a quarterback. He now has all the weapons he needs to do so, and the Bills’ set of quality defensive backs will be a great test for Henne and the Brandon Marshall led receiving corps on Sunday.
Edge: Push