Welcome to Week 17 of the NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.
The Bills’ 16th and final game of the 2018 season will take place at New Era Field as they face the Dolphins. Here’s what to watch for:
BILLS’ DEFENSE SUFFERED SETBACK LAST WEEK
Buffalo’s defense has been an elite unit for most of 2018, as evidenced by their being ranked second in league annals in total yards allowed and first against the pass. Going into last week’s contest at New England, they were also 10th against the run, but giving up 273 yards on the ground – the second-most in Bill Belichick’s Patriots tenure – dropped them to 19th in the NFL.
The Bills might be more inclined to blitz against a Miami offensive line that is on the decline. With the Dolphins’ best players being at tackle, perhaps Buffalo will be willing to test their center and guards with Tremaine Edmunds and Lorenzo Alexander rushing up the middle on their staple A-gap pressure concepts.
One area that won’t be questioned on Sunday will be effort. Being that it’s defensive tackle Kyle Williams’ final game before heading into retirement, it’s likely that Buffalo will go all out in an attempt to win one for the team’s heart and soul.
DESPITE RECENT STRUGGLES, BILLS HAVE RUN WELL THIS SEASON
Quarterback Josh Allen and running back Keith Ford led the Bills in rushing last week with just 30 and 33 yards on the ground respectively, and Buffalo averaged just four yards per run attempt (LeSean McCoy had just nine yards on six carries). Allen couldn’t get much going through the air either, as he compiled a passer rating of just 52.6 and the Bills converted just twice on 12 third-down plays.
While McCoy has endured the worst season of his 10-year career and the Bills’ offensive line has played at its most putrid level in many years, the good news for the Bills is that their overall rushing statistics this season have been good, and they have kept a recent streak alive so far. Since 2011, Buffalo has ranked 13th or higher in rushing yardage every year except in 2014, in which they finished 25th in league annals (they are currently 12th in that department).
Despite losing in Miami four weeks ago, the Bills’ offense outgained the Dolphins by 242 yards – mainly due to solid production in the air from wideouts Zay Jones, Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie, and Allen’s contributions on the ground. Perhaps they can duplicate the success they had nearly a month ago.
GASE’S SYSTEM HASN’T CHANGED MUCH
When third-year Dolphins coach Adam Gase was the Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator in 2013 and ’14, he helped Peyton Manning and his stable of targets (Demaryius and Julius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Emmanuel Sanders) reach unprecedented heights – culminating in a record-breaking season in ’13 and a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII. Gase has taken that system with him to Miami, and while he hasn’t had quite the same success there, it’s still decently productive.
In addition to a zone-based running game that is executed by the speedy Kenyan Drake, the Dolphins like to align their wide receivers – deep threat Kenny Stills, the shifty Danny Amendola and the inconsistent DeVante Parker – in ways to help middling starter Ryan Tannehill identify certain coverages. According to the MMQB’s Andy Benoit, “No NFL coach loves any formation more than Gase loves an unbalanced three-by-one (three wide receivers to one side and a tight end alone on the other).
“The unusual distribution forces a defense to reveal if it is in man or zone coverage. It also creates opportunities to flood one side of the field or set up downfield crossing patterns.”
While the loss of personnel over the last year or two has downgraded the Dolphins’ talent on their offensive line slightly, the constants have been former first round picks Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Waun James. Tunsil is athletic and other than perhaps Washington’s Trent Williams, might be the league’s best offensive tackle in getting out on the perimeter to block on screens to wide receivers.
MIAMI DEFENSE HAS CONNECTION TO BUFFALO
Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke is a proponent of a 4-3 base scheme with straightforward zone coverages. Burke was brought to Miami from the Bengals by former defensive shot-caller Vance Joseph, but before his days in Cincinnati Burke served as the linebackers coach for the Detroit Lions – who were run by then-head coach and future Bills and Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Anchoring the front-seven for Miami are defensive ends Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn, and linebacker Kiko Alonso. The 36-year old Wake is an ageless wonder who continues to produce at a high level, but Quinn is a different story. Once one of the NFL’s best pass rushers who racked up 40 sacks over a three-year span (2012-14), Quinn’s game has dropped off dramatically over the last few years due to injuries and a lack of developed pass rush moves. His overreliance on speed has led to his downfall. Alonso, a rookie sensation for the Bills in 2013, has developed into a good linebacker who has continued his penchant for forcing turnovers.
In their secondary, Miami is led by cornerback Xavien Howard and safeties Reshad Jones and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Howard and Jones are among the most underrated players at their positions across the league and Fitzpatrick, the 11th overall draft selection out of Alabama, is a Swiss Army knife capable of playing different positions – be it as a single-high safety, box safety, nickel cornerback, boundary cornerback or dime linebacker.
THIS AND THAT
- Dolphins general manager Chris Grier is the brother of former Buffalo Sabres right winger Mike Grier, who suited up in Buffalo for two separate stints (2003-06, 09-11). Their father is Bobby Grier, the associate director of pro personnel for the Houston Texans and former vice president of player personnel for the New England Patriots.
- Miami’s running backs coach is Eric Studesville, who served in the same role for the Bills from 2004-09.
- Multiple reports have indicated that Dolphins’ vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum – who served in the same role for the New York Jets from 2006-12 – will be relieved of his duties following week 17. Grier and Gase are likely to return for 2019.
- Williams will end his career after 13 years and five Pro Bowl selections. Only Bruce Smith had more among Bills defensive linemen.
- Over the last five games between these two franchises, one score decided the outcome each time.
- If Allen eclipses 45 yards rushing, he will surpass Tyrod Taylor for the most rushing yards in a season in franchise history. Two rushing scores will tie Jack Kemp’s mark for rushing touchdowns in a season by a signal caller.
- Allen leads the Bills in both rushing and passing yards – the only player in the league to lead his team in both categories.