Welcome to Week 13 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’ 12th game of the 2018 season will take place at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami as they face the Dolphins. Here’s what to watch for:
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 productive.
In addition to a zone-based running game that is executed by the speedy Kenyan Drake and veteran Frank Gore, the Dolphins love to align their wide receivers – Danny Amendola, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker – in ways to help the middling 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, the constants have been former first round picks Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Waun James. Tunsil is very 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.
BILLS’ DEFENSE ELITE, BUT CAN GET BETTER
While the Bills’ defense is ranked second in the NFL in yards allowed and first against the pass, they hadn’t produced much in the turnover department until the last two games, where they forced four of them. (Linebacker Matt Milano is tied for the league lead with six takeaways). It helped that they were playing against Josh McCown and Blake Bortles – neither of them being among the league’s better signal callers – but with a matchup against Tannehill on the horizon, the Bills will try to keep it up in Week 13.
The Bills might be more inclined to blitz against a Miami offensive line that is on the decline. With their best players being at tackle, perhaps Buffalo will be willing to test their center and guards with Milano, Tremaine Edmunds and Lorenzo Alexander rushing up the middle on their staple A-gap designer rushes.
Heading into last week’s contest against Jacksonville, the Bills were a top-10 unit against the run, but allowing 226 rushing yards dropped them to 15th. Which is surprising, given how well their front seven – and especially their defensive line – has performed.
MIAMI DEFENSE HAS CONNECTION TO BUFFALO
Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke is a proponent of 4-3 base scheme with straightforward zone coverages. Burke was brought to Miami from Cincinnati by former defensive shot-caller Vance Joseph, but before his days with the Bengals Burke served as the linebackers coach for the Detroit Lions – who were run by then-head coach Jim Schwartz, who later ran Doug Marrone’s defense in Buffalo and is currently coordinates that side of the ball for the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
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 solid linebacker who has continued his penchant for making plays, as evidenced by his 95 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles thus season.
In their secondary, Miami is led by cornerback Xavien Howard and safeties Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Howard and Jones are among the most underrated players at their positions across the league, McDonald is a savvy veteran 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.
BILLS’ OFFENSE, WHILE INEFFICIENT, STILL EFFECTIVE LAST WEEK
Last week Allen ran for a franchise-record 99 yards and a touchdown – adding to his team rookie record four on the year. But he completed just eight of 19 pass attempts, and is sitting with a completion percentage of just over 52 percent thus far.
One thing that has improved for the Bills over the last several weeks – beyond the infusion of speed at the wide receiver position – has been their success on first down. According to Bills insider Chris Brown, before their showdown at the Jets, Buffalo’s offense was last in the NFL in yards per play and total yards on first down. Since then, they have gained 421 yards on 57 first down plays, an average of 7.38 yards-per-play – more than double what they had heading into the Jets game (3.66, check out his piece for more info: https://www.buffalobills.com/news/stats-how-success-on-first-down-has-sparked-the-bills-offense).
THIS AND THAT
- Dolphins general manager Chris Grier is the brother of former Buffalo Sabres right winger Mike Grier, who donned the blue and gold 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.
- The Dolphins have lost six of their last eight games after starting this season 3-0.
- When the Bills score first, they are 4-0. Conversely, when the allow the opposition to score first, they are 0-7.
- According to the Bills’ website, since 2013 Buffalo has had 18 takeaways in their last 10 games against Miami and Miami has had two. The Bills have scored 39 points off those takeaways and the Dolphins zero – leading to Buffalo having a record of 7-3 against their counterparts from Florida since then.
- Buffalo hasn’t turned the ball over against Miami in eight straight contests – the longest streak by any team against any opponent in the NFL since 1950.
- According to Bills play-by-play man John Murphy, Stephen Hauschka has made 16 field goals in a row and is three away from breaking Rian Lindell’s 11-year old record of 19 straight.