ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Here are my five thoughts on the Buffalo Bills’ game against the Miami Dolphins Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium:
1. The Bills’ injury situation makes the timing for this matchup less than ideal, of course, but it won’t compromise their chances to win.
There’s no minimizing the losses of safety Micah Hyde (neck), defensive tackles Jordan Phillips (hamstring) and Ed Oliver (ankle), and cornerback Dane Jackson (neck). The added blow of Hyde being lost for the rest of the season only adds to to the defensive woes. However, against the Dolphins, the Bills still will be able to field a team with greater overall talent. Their depth also is as solid as it has been in a long time.
Let’s start with the defensive line. Tackle Tim Settle, who missed Monday night’s blowout win against Tennessee, practiced on a limited basis Friday and his questionable. That at least offers the possibility of him playing Sunday. Phillips is strong against the run and in helping to occupy blockers to allow for outside pressure, but Settle (assuming he plays) along with others in the D-line rotation can sufficiently help pick up the slack.
The thought of starting two rookies at cornerback, Christian Benford and Kaiir Elam (taking over for Jackson), shouldn’t be cause for panic, either. Yes, the Dolphins have a pair of dynamic receivers in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, whose remarkable speed allow them to make game-breaking catches. Yes, it would be more comfortable for the Bills if they had more of their starters, including cornerback Tre’Davious White (who has been on injured reserve since the start of the season while recovering from the severe knee injury he suffered Thanksgiving night), in the secondary.
But the Bills have been grooming a more than adequate replacement for Hyde in 2019 draft pick Jaquan Johnson. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and coach Sean McDermott have excelled at developing young defensive backs. The same goes for their other reserve safety, Damar Hamlin, who would step in for Jordan Poyer, who is questionable with a foot injury.
Injuries in the secondary notwithstanding, the Bills can reduce much of the explosiveness of the Dolphins’ passing game by generating consistent pressure on Tua Tagovailoa.
2. Speaking of pressuring Tagovailoa, the second-most important player in this game after Josh Allen is going to be Von Miller.
His ability to bring the heat from the outside will greatly impact Tagovailoa’s ability to deliver those deep shots that have contributed the most to the Dolphins’ 2-0 start. Whether it’s Miller sacking/hitting/hurrying the quarterback or drawing extra blocking attention that provides someone else a clearer path to the backfield, that will force throws to be off-target and enhance the possibility of turnovers.
Tagovailoa has rightfully attracted attention for his prolific passing the past two weeks, especially his 469-yard, six-touchdown outing against Baltimore last Sunday. He merits credit for his accomplishments, but there’s no denying that the Ravens’ defense had plenty to do with those staggering numbers.
Besides blatantly blown coverage assignments in the secondary, there also was almost nothing in the way of a meaningful pass rush. Tagovailoa worked from a comfortable pocket, allowing him to wait (however briefly it was at times) for his world-class-fast receivers to get open.
3. As incredibly dominant as the Bills’ defense has been the past two weeks, the team’s biggest strength remains having one of the best offenses in the NFL.
And we’ll settle this now: Buffalo’s offense is the better of the two in this game.
Josh Allen’s performance has taken even more steps on its ascension, which began in earnest in 2020. He’s seeing the field better than ever, making reads quickly and accurately and consistently good decisions of where to go with the ball and when to run (even if he doesn’t always slide as often as he should). Allen and new offensive coordinator/play-caller Ken Dorsey have formed an instant chemistry that many of us thought would require at least a little more time to develop.
In a departure from the way former OC Brian Daboll operated, Dorsey has Allen attacking more levels and areas of the defense, especially with the way he is targeting Stefon Diggs. Allen has gotten more comfortable with looking for and completing short and intermediate throws that require both touch and a sense of what the coverage is doing/not doing to allow for longer gains after the catch.
4. It will be exciting to see how Diggs accepts the challenge of showing who is the best receiver on the field.
You know he’s more than aware of the comparisons that have been made by practically every NFL media analyst in the country. You know that, for all he did in catching three TD passes in prime time, he recognizes that it did not overshadow the show Hill and Waddle put on against Baltimore.
Expect Diggs, who is fueled by even the smallest questions about his greatness, to use the fact he’s sharing the same field as the great Dolphin pass-catching duo as motivation to put up more big numbers. And considering Miami has the 23rd-ranked pass defense in the NFL and the way Dorsey and Allen are collaborating, it likely won’t be all that difficult to achieve.
5. This game sets up a perfect opportunity for Sean McDermott to do one of his better coaching jobs to date.
McDermott couldn’t ask for a better circumstance than to have the first of the Bills’ divisional opponents enter the game unbeaten and with offensive showings that rival those of his team … and to have a rash of key injuries surface to a level rarely experienced by his club … and to be making the long trip to the heat and humidity of South Florida after a short week of preparation.
Yes, I said “better.”
Here’s why: McDermott won’t need to manufacture any sort of narrative that suggests that doubts exist about the Bills’ status as the best team in their division, let alone the league. Though it’s only Week 3, the coach will have no problem conveying the gravity of the situation. Lose, and questions will promptly surface about just how good the Bills are, while elevating the Dolphins to the new favorite in the AFC East.
Again, I don’t expect the Bills to have any problem getting to 3-0 against a team they’ve beaten seven times in a row (their longest winning streak against an opponent since beating Cincinnati in 10 straight games from 1989-2010) while scoring an average of 32.1 points per game.