« Bess, Misi officially out vs. Bills, others questionable | Main | Inactives (Egnew active!) and live blog »

Starks back but who has the overall advantage?

The Dolphins got good news Saturday when Randy Starks, who missed the entire week of practice due to a personal reason not related to injury, returned to the team. He was promptly taken off the injury report. The Dolphins had previously listed him as questionable because they didn't know his status and now he will be available to play today against the Buffalo Bills.

I presume the Dolphins will play him.

How does the rest of today's game stack up?

Like so:

When the Dolphins run the ball: This was supposed to be a major advantage for the Dolphins in the first meeting between the teams but it didn’t work out that way. The Dolphins are a decent running team (16th in the NFL) while the Bills are terrible against the run (30th overall). The Bills were actually the worst rush defense in the NFL on the day in November the teams played. But Buffalo limited Miami to only 60 rushing yards and a paltry 2.5 yards per carry. That was the worst rushing average for the Dolphins in the past eight games. The troubling thing is Buffalo didn’t always sneak safeties into the tackle box to guarantee a numbers advantage at the line of scrimmage. When this happens, the Dolphins must win hat-on-hat assignments. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins pass the ball: The Bills are merely mediocre against the pass, but after a slow start, Mario Williams has shown his offseason signing to be a good acquisition. Williams has 10.5 sacks. The Bills typically line him up over the right tackle so Nate Garner, who is a better run-blocker than pass-blocker, will face perhaps his stiffest test since becoming a starter two games ago. The Miami receiver and tight end corps is a walking M.A.S.H. unit this week. Tight end Charles Clay is out for the season. Davone Bess missed last week, didn’t practice this week and is also out today. Brian Hartline also missed practice this week although he will play. Both Bess and Hartline are nursing back issues. None of this suggests a big day for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. ADVANTAGE: Buffalo.

When the Bills run the ball: C.J. Spiller was a bit surprising to the Dolphins not only because the degree of speed and agility he showed in the last game was unexpected but because he actually broke some tackles and Miami defenders weren’t really ready for that. If you like Reggie Bush, you should like Spiller because he’s younger, faster and more productive. The Miami defense had trouble with Spiller and Tennessee’s Chris Johnson earlier this year so it must prove it can handle the small, quick type of back. This will be a battle of wills. It will test how much the Bills insist on running the ball – they ran 31 times last game – and will test whether Miami linebackers and safeties are willing to play downhill to support the defensive front. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Bills pass the ball: Ryan Fitzpatrick has enjoyed team success against the Dolphins, as he’s 3-2 in games he’s started against Miami. But his individual statistics against the Dolphins are unimpressive. He’s thrown five TDs and seven INTs against Miami and his quarterback rating is a sub par 74.9. Fitzpatrick has completed 61 percent of his passes against the Dolphins and that mark would be higher if not for a game in 2011 in which he managed to complete only 51 percent of his throws. The Miami secondary has handled trades (Vontae Davis), injuries (Richard Marshall) and better quarterbacks (Tom Brady) so Buffalo’s pass attack won’t scare them. The Dolphins haven’t yielded more than 238 passing yards in six games. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Special teams: Leodis McKelvin set the tone for the last meeting when he returned the first Dolphins punt of the game 79 yards for a touchdown. The Dolphins are certain that won’t happen this time because McKelvin this week went on injured reserve. What the Dolphins are hoping can repeat was the kickoff return TD Marcus Thigpen authored against the Bills. Dan Carpenter (groin) is done for the season but the Dolphins have added a solid and accurate kicker in Nate Kaeding to take his place. ADVANTAGE: Miami. 

Coaching: Remember Dave Wannstedt? The former Dolphins coach whose teams historically struggled in rematches against AFC East opponents? He’s the defensive coordinator in Buffalo now. The Bills defense got the better of the Miami offense last time. But they’re going to play the same style, without blitzes or disguises, which is Wannstedt’s approach. This is an opportunity for Miami coaches to step up. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Remember: Live blog today. I'll also update when inactives come out and as news warrants.