Welcome to Week Two of the 2020 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’ second game of the 2020 season will take place at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami as they face the Dolphins. Here’s what you should know:
MIAMI’S OFFENSE IS IN TRANSITION, BUT NOT AS MUCH AS YOU MIGHT THINK
Coming off a season where the roster lacked talent and their front office tanked for a better draft pick, the Miami Dolphins will look to take a step forward in 2020. Owner Stephen Ross gave general manager Chris Grier – the brother of former Buffalo Sabres winger Mike Grier – the authority to build the team as he and had coach Brian Flores saw fit, and the acquisitions of some new blood may help them.
37-year old Ryan Fitzpatrick, the former Buffalo Bill who started 53 games at quarterback for them between 2009 and 2012, will get the nod against his old team. The differences between Fitzpatrick and young backup Tua Tagovailoa are stark – while Tagovailoa, the fifth-overall draft pick out of Alabama, 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.
The Dolphins’ offense also has a lot of new faces this season – tying first-year offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s hands as he attempts to implement a spread offense that has verbiage and concepts that come from the Erhardt-Perkins tree – just like former play caller Chad O’Shea’s did. Nearly their entire offensive line is brand new, with notable arrivals including rookies Austin Jackson and Solomon Kindley, and castoffs Ted Karras and Ereck Flowers. Wide receiver DeVante Parker finally had a breakout season in 2019 after dealing with injuries and inconsistency in his first four years in the NFL, and Preston Williams had a solid rookie campaign opposite Parker. Albert Wilson, Allen Hurns and Jakeem Grant are the backups.
6’6” tight end Mike Gesicki is a red zone threat, and the running back position is made up of second-year man Myles Gaskin and veteran imports Jordan Howard and Matt Breida.
DOLPHINS’ DEFENSE NOT MUCH BETTER
Flores and defensive coordinator Josh Boyer, who worked together in New England (as did a host of Dolphins’ staffers), favor playing lots of Cover One – man coverage with a single-high safety over the top – but the problem is that Miami’s personnel is still suited for the prior 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 cornerbacks Byron Jones and Xavien Howard – one of the better cornerback pairs in the league – and rookie Noah Igbinoghene. At safety is former Patriot Eric Rowe and Bobby McCain, who stepped into the starting lineup after the trade of Minkah Fitzpatrick to Pittsburgh last year.
At linebacker the Dolphins employ former Bill Shaq Lawson along with former Patriots Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, and their best defensive linemen are journeyman Emmanuel Ogbah and former first-round pick Christian Wilkins.
BUFFALO’S DEFENSE IS STILL DOMINANT
Over the last two years, the Bills’ defense has become one of pro football’s elite units. Led by stalwarts like Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Ed Oliver and Jerry Hughes – and supplemented this year by the free agent signings of Mario Addison, Quinton Jefferson, Vernon Butler, A.J. Klein and Josh Norman – last year’s defense ranked third overall in the NFL. Additionally, they were 10th against the run, fourth against the pass, seventh-best on third down, 10th in sack percentage, 10th in interception rate, second in points allowed and 12th in sacks.
Schematically, the Bills’ defense mostly relies on basic zone coverages after the snap, but before the snap it is complex – safety rotations to disguise their coverages keep opposing quarterbacks guessing, selective pressure looks at the line of scrimmage and coverage exchanges at the snap 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 unit, 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).
Because of a hamstring injury suffered recently, Norman will not suit up against the Dolphins. Neither will Edmunds and Milano, who are also out due to injury. Levi Wallace, last year’s starter at cornerback opposite White, will likely take Norman’s place, and Klein and Tyrell Dodson will probably do the same at linebacker.
BILLS’ OFFENSE NOT GREAT LAST YEAR, BUT TRYING TO IMPROVE SCORING
Going into Week 11 last year, the Bills’ offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every major offensive category. To address this lack of production, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll moved from the field up to the press box to call plays and get a bird’s eye view of what was happening on the field.
The decisions to go upstairs and use more of an up-tempo attack paid off for the most part, as Buffalo got significant contributions from players like Josh Allen, Devin Singletary, John Brown and Cole Beasley over the last seven weeks of the season. The Bills also increased their usage of 11 personnel (one back, one tight end, three receivers), resulting in better production both through the air and on the ground as evidenced by the Bills employing the NFL’s eighth-best rushing offense.
The proof was in the pudding. According to Warren Sharp, before week 11 Buffalo had utilized 11 personnel on 63 percent of their snaps. From then on, that number increased to 81 percent, the most in the league.
However, the Bills’ inability to score points consistently – they averaged just 19.6 points per game – caught up to them in the playoffs against the Houston Texans. To address that problem, they went out and drafted running back Zack Moss – a solid back who runs with power – and traded for wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who is tied for fifth in the league in receiving touchdowns over the last three years with 23. Diggs is an exceptional route runner, excels in making contested catches and operates well out of bunch and stack formations.
Buffalo’s offense is a Patriots-style system that’s built upon concepts involving option routes from the slot, downfield routes from the outside, designed quarterback runs to take advantage of Allen’s mobility, deep dropbacks and alignments that create favorable matchups (and some trick plays with jet/orbit motion and sweeps with Isaiah McKenzie). They also expanded upon their screen game greatly last week against the New York Jets.
- The Bills’ defense has given up less than 400 yards of offense in 28 out of their last 30 games dating to last year (including playoffs), the best such mark in the NFL.
- Trent Murphy has had seven sacks and two forced fumbles in his last seven games, including playoffs.
- Allen is 3-1 against the Dolphins and has compiled 11 touchdowns (three rushing) and 61 rushing yards per game against Miami. He has also completed 63.5 percent of his passes against them.
- Brothers Reid and Blake Ferguson, long snappers for the Bills and Dolphins, respectively, will face each other for the first time in their careers.
- Last year Miami finished with the worst scoring defense in football, along with the third-worst overall defense. It didn’t seem to get much better last week against New England, where they allowed 217 rushing yards – 75 to Cam Newton alone. Will the Bills also try to take advantage of this with more designed runs for Allen?