Dolphins seek first win against Bills

Oct 1, 2009 - 9:00 PM By STEVEN WINE AP Sports Writer

MIAMI(AP) -- The Bill Parcells formula for success is failing the Miami Dolphins.

They're running the ball well and stopping the run, converting third downs and dominating time of possession. Yet they're 0-3.

Parcells protege Tony Sparano scratches his head at how his team has won on the ground but lost on the scoreboard.

"I guess I've seen it before," the Dolphins' coach said, "but I've got to look far and hard."

Miami is unlikely to change its conservative ways Sunday against Buffalo - not with young quarterback Chad Henne making his first NFL start for the injured Chad Pennington. Instead, the Dolphins will try to eliminate the breakdowns that have undermined their ball-control approach.

"I think they're going to try to keep doing what they're doing," Buffalo running back Fred Jackson said. "They're not going to change anything just because they're 0-3."

The Bills (1-2) may shake things up. For example, there's a good chance Terrell Owens will catch a pass.

Owens was shut out in last week's loss to New Orleans, ending his 185-game reception streak in regular-season games, third longest in NFL history. He has five catches all season and has been thrown to only 13 times.

"I just have to make the best of the opportunities that are coming my way," he said.

The Bills have been better at the run, ranking third in the league at 5.3 yards per carry. Jackson ranks fourth with 291 yards rushing. He'll get a reinforcement Sunday with the return of Marshawn Lynch from a three-game suspension.

But for Buffalo, Miami and several other teams, the standard recipe for winning in the NFL has become half-baked.

The Titans rank sixth in rushing and second in run defense, but they're 0-3. The defending Super Bowl champion Steelers have an edge of six minutes per game in time of possession, but they're 1-2.

Most mystifying are the Dolphins. They're third in the league in rushing and third in run defense. They've outrushed opponents by nearly 300 yards, rank No. 1 in third-down conversions and enjoy an 11-minute per game advantage in time of possession.

"Usually that's a formula for success," leading rusher Ronnie Brown said. "Obviously it's not always the case."

Offensive coordinator Dan Henning said there may be a fundamental change under way regarding the importance of the ground game.

"Everybody said for years, `Run the ball, stop the run, you win,"' Henning said. "Different people have come on - you look at the Patriots and the Saints and to a certain degree the Colts - and they've abandoned some of the old-style running game for more of a spread offense. But I still think the way we're doing things is a good philosophy."

That philosophy has been foiled because the Dolphins are minus-6 in turnover differential, second worst in the league after leading the NFL in 2008. Their secondary has repeatedly been burned by long passes, which is why the Dolphins are allowing 15.5 yards per completion, worst in the league. They've faded at the finish, giving up 30 points in the fourth quarter.

It's not the way the Dolphins played last year, when they made an improbable run to the AFC East title.

"You know you're capable of playing so much better," Brown said. "Not doing all the things we did correctly last season - that's the frustrating part."

It's not a shock the Dolphins are winless. Their schedule ranks as the NFL's toughest, a reward for winning the division last year, and they'll be underdogs Sunday for the fourth week in a row.

But the way they're losing is bizarre.

"You're supposed to run the ball, eat up the clock and keep the ball away from the other team as much as possible," Buffalo defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said. "That being said, you also have to put up points."

Miami has scored only 43.

The Bills totaled 57 in their first two games but managed just seven against the Saints. Trent Edwards drew heat for his reluctance to throw long and failure to connect with Owens.

The Dolphins' shaky secondary will likely present the opportunity to do both.

"They have shown a little vulnerability giving up those big plays," Edwards said, "so hopefully we can do that."

Buffalo's secondary is looking vulnerable, too, with three starters out after being hurt in the Saints game. The Bills were already without middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, and the offensive line is also depleted because of injuries.

"Everybody gets them," coach Dick Jauron said. "Somehow you just got to find a way to play over them and get by them."

Pennington was sidelined for the season Sunday by a shoulder injury that could be career-ending. Henne will start for the first time since Michigan's bowl game following his senior season in 2007.

Sparano's biggest worry about Henne?

"With the first start for him, just making sure he's not trying to do too much," Sparano said.

So the Dolphins will likely keep the ball on the ground, try to control the clock and hope the Parcells formula can finally get a win.






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