Welcome to Week Seven 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’ sixth game of the 2019 season will take place at New Era Field as they face the Miami Dolphins. Here’s what you should know:
BUFFALO’S DEFENSE PROVEN AS A DOMINANT FORCE
The Bills’ defensive unit is more or less the same as last year’s group, except for rookie defensive tackle Ed Oliver stepping in for the now-retired Kyle Williams. Schematically, they rely on basic zone coverages after the snap, but before the snap it is complex – safety rotations to disguise their coverages keep opposing quarterbacks guessing and selective pressure looks at the line of scrimmage are Sean McDermott’s calling card (those blitz looks are usually in the A-gaps from their linebackers – for more info on McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s defense, please read: https://fromthe300level.com/2018/08/pressure-package-how-the-late-buddy-ryan-has-influenced-the-buffalo-bills-defenses-for-over-20-years/?fbclid=IwAR3iYcnJ5qvl8shWHkZJVNO50VJXPeaEx8k0-Rk1VWV_Qx2OEfsAn2NY_ys).
One area where the Bills usually mix it up is in their nickel personnel. Slot cornerback Taron Johnson could miss his fifth straight game with a hamstring injury, and his duties have been split up between Kevin Johnson, Siran Neal and the now-concussed Dean Marlowe depending on the opposition’s skill players and the down and distance. McDermott and Frazier also use a variety of 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 fronts at the line of scrimmage.
The last two games were perhaps the Bills’ best outings on defense this season. Limiting Tom Brady to just 18 completions on 39 pass attempts for only 150 yards and an interception is an excellent day at the office for anyone, and sacking Marcus Mariota multiple times and limiting the Tennessee Titans to just seven points was also a solid performance.
Linebacker Matt Milano is questionable for Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury suffered against the Titans.
BILLS’ OFFENSE GETTING HEALTHIER AND BETTER
Buffalo’s investment in adding help for Josh Allen along the offensive line and at the skill positions were on full display over the first three weeks. The offensive line – once viewed as potentially the worst in football – had become a strength, providing good movement at the line of scrimmage and opening holes for running backs Devin Singletary and Frank Gore.
A setback against the New England Patriots’ dominant defense worried some observers, but Allen answered back with a scintillating outing against Tennessee’s vaunted defense. Completing 23 of 32 passes for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns against such a well-coached unit like the Titans’ may have been his finest game as a pro.
The Bills’ weapons around Allen have also been upgraded from a year ago. John Brown has brought speed and downfield playmaking ability to Western New York, rookie tight end Dawson Knox has been a revelation and Cole Beasley is a reliable security blanket while playing the Wes Welker/Julian Edelman role that is emphasized in Brian Daboll’s Patriots-style system. In an offense that is built upon concepts involving option routes from the slot, downfield routes from the outside, deep dropbacks and alignments that create favorable matchups (and some trick plays with jet motion, sweeps and end arounds with Isaiah McKenzie), the Bills have much more to work with than they did at this time last year.
Two other factors have helped or will help the Bills even more going forward. The promotion of wide receiver Duke Williams from the practice squad has given Buffalo a big, physical presence on the outside that they had sorely lacked for years and veteran tight end Tyler Kroft, who was signed from the Cincinnati Bengals in the spring, will make his season debut after recovering from foot and ankle injuries.
MIAMI’S OFFENSE IS A MESS
36-year old Ryan Fitzpatrick, the former Buffalo Bill who started 53 games at quarterback for them between 2009 and 2012 will get the starting nod against his old team. The differences between Fitzpatrick and youngster Josh Rosen are stark – while Rosen, the former first-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals is a rhythmic, precision passer, Fitzpatrick is a gunslinger. Willing to fight passes into any window, no matter how big or small they may be, sometimes pays off and sometimes it doesn’t – hence Fitzpatrick’s long-standing reputation as a journeyman who throws a lot of interceptions.
Beyond the carousel at quarterback, the Dolphins’ offense has had a lot of new faces due to trades and Miami’s apparent willingness to tank this season – tying first-year offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea’s hands as he attempts to implement a Patriots-style system of his own. The trades of left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills to Houston has left Miami with just one starting NFL-caliber offensive lineman (center Daniel Kilgore) and mediocre wideouts – DeVante Parker, who has been a bust so far in his career, the serviceable Albert Wilson and backups Allen Hurns, Jakeem Grant and Preston Williams.
The Dolphins do have a speedy tandem of Kenyan Drake and Mark Walton at running back, and 6’6” tight end Mike Gesicki is a red zone threat as well.
DOLPHINS’ DEFENSE NOT MUCH BETTER
Former Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham worked together in New England, as did a host of Dolphins’ staffers. Flores and Graham in particular believe in playing lots of Cover One – man coverage with a single-high safety over the top – but the problem is that Miami’s personnel is suited for the old coaching staff’s preference for zone coverage.
Because of that, Miami is more likely to employ Cover Three concepts – deep zone coverage on the outside with a safety in the box and a deep safety patrolling centerfield. In their secondary, Miami is led by cornerback Xavien Howard and safety Reshad Jones. Those two are among the most underrated players at their positions across the league. Opposite them are former Patriot Eric Rowe and Bobby McCain, who has stepped into the starting lineup after the trade of Swiss Army knife Minkah Fitzpatrick to Pittsburgh.
Up front the Dolphins are led by linebackers Raekown McMillan and Jerome Baker and defensive linemen Taco Charlton – a former first-round pick by Dallas – and prized rookie Christian Wilkins.
- This will be the first of three straight home games for the Bills and those three games come against opponents who have a combined record of 4-13.
- The Bills have averaged just 18 points per game this season. The Dolphins have given up 36 points a game. Something’s got to give here.
- The last time the Bills started 5-1 was in 2008. Buffalo can do it again on Sunday.
- Miami has started this year with a point differential of -138 through five games – worst all-time.
- The Dolphins also rank dead-last in yards and points allowed. They are third-last in NFL annals on third down and have recorded just two takeaways – tied for the lowest in the NFL with Jacksonville.