The Buffalo Bills travel south to face the Miami Dolphins this Sunday at 1 PM. The mood for Dolphin fans is about as low as you can get when faith in both your head coach and starting quarterback are bottoming out. Last Sunday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts essentially killed any playoff hopes for the Dolphins and showed once again that the faces of the franchise wilted when it counted most. A win against Buffalo gets Miami back to what seems like a meaningless .500 record, but a loss actually drops Miami into the third place in the AFC East...behind the Bills. Think about that for moment. The Bills have mostly been a laughing stock this season and have an opportunity to come in and claim second place over a team recently in the wild card hunt. Miami is favored by 5 with a 40 over/under.
I don't even know what to expect from the Bills this weekend. Under quarterback Matt Barkley they put up 41 points versus the New York Jets two weeks ago, and last week they beat the slumping Jacksonville Jaguars in a game that totaled 267 net passing yards. I repeat, both teams combined for a net 267 passing yards. The Bills offense has scored 9 points or less in 5 of their games this season. They rank 31st in both points and yards on offense. They've started 4 quarterbacks and of the three they actually counted on the highest rating is 65.2 The rushing attack isn't even much of a saving grace with running backs Lesean McCoy and Chris Ivory both averaging around 3.5 YPC and combining for 3 touchdowns. Rookie quarterback Josh Allen has 4 rushing touchdowns and 254 yards. To put that in perspective, he doesn't have 1,000 total yards passing in 6 starts this season (3 passing touchdowns). He is suiting up this Sunday and that could be the difference for Miami's defense who keeps producing turnovers.
The Bills' defense is no joke. They rank 2nd in yards allowed and 17th in points allowed. I think the latter has a lot to do with the offense giving them no chance on a weekly basis and leaving them with short fields to defend. They have produced 28 sacks and forced a whopping 16 fumbles in 11 games. Miami has only produced 9 fumbles and 18 sacks for comparison. If you thought Head Coach Adam Gase was conservative against the Colts then be prepared to feel like you are watching a Brock Osweiler led offense this Sunday. Knowing his job is on the line, Gase will not allow turnovers and sacks to doom what should be a Miami victory. My guess is Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott is going to dare Miami to throw down field knowing turnovers will be their only hope. It worked against Sam Darnold and Blake Bortles in the previous games.
I'm not too worried about Miami's defense shutting down Josh Allen. He will avoid Xavien Howard like the plague unless he gets an itchy trigger finger and is baited into deep throws. Andrew Luck didn't fair too well when trying that. Instead they'll probably use Tight End Charles Clay to get behind the linebackers and shorter throws that produce YAC. More than likely McDermott is going to call 35 runs like he did against Jacksonville and see if Miami's front 7 can hold up. As previously mentioned, Buffalo's running backs haven't produced all that much and it could be attributed to defenses probably stacking the box. Wash, rinse repeat for Miami's approach.
Can Frank Gore reproduce another 15 carry effort that moves the chains for Miami? That will be key. Some disturbing videos of badly missed blocks by Miami Guard Ted Larsen surfaced on Monday. Make no mistake that McDermott is going to put his best penetrator to get between Larsen and probable starting center Jake Brendel to disrupt the backfield. If Gase wants to keep this from being embarrassing he has to use play action. No more ridiculous screens where you're asking Tackles Laremy Tunsil and Ja'Wuan James to play possum and then sprint out to block a receiver or safety. They get roasted every time and the play blows up. Run, run some more, and then try to spring your tight ends open on the seam. Use some play action boots to get Wide Receivers Kenny Stills and Devante Parker open on crossing routes with YAC possibility. This shouldn't be hard because it worked consistently in 2016.
I don't know about the availability for Kenyan Drake and Danny Amendola for this game. Losing both would be huge.
Where is Tight End Nick O'Leary? Why not try to feature him more and get the ball in his hands? He also knows this Bills' defense after practicing against them last year. Make it happen! Forget Mike Gesicki who can neither block nor get open consistently. His fumble against the Colts probably cost Miami a field goal and he missed several blocks on running plays.
Normally this is the type of game you do not stress over. Miami usually plays well at home and this a historically bad opponent on offense. But the loss against the Colts changed a lot, especially the perception of Gase. It didn't go unnoticed in the locker room either. Tannehill subtly questioned not putting the ball in his hands, Gore blew up on the team not finishing and questioned giving the ball to Andrew Luck, and several beat reporters hinted at players not liking Gase's lack of confidence in them. You have to ask yourself if these guys will band together and play for their coach? They aren't oblivious to the fact that their playoff chances are around 3%. Its posted just about everywhere. Will some of them be thinking about 2019 and not being in Miami (hint, injury risk and next contract)? These are fair questions. However, 5 games is an eternity in the NFL and miracles can happen. The Bengals just lost Andy Dalton for the season, Tennessee looks terrible and Baltimore is going with either an injured Joe Flacco or very raw Lamar Jackson. Miami's playoff hopes are basically dead but it is still a little early for players to throw in the towel.
I believe this game will be slightly less ugly than the victory over the Jets a few weeks ago. Miami's secondary producing turnovers has been a bright spot this season and I think they'll get a couple in key situations this week. I also think Tannehill will have one of those games where he has a few big moments that produce points. He usually does well when he plays ticked off, and Gase's actions plus media commentary about him may light a fire. Let's not kid ourselves that this will translate to 30 plus points. I'm hinting more at Miami getting into field goal range a few times and finding the end zone once or twice.
A very ho-hum, go Dolphins. (no exclamation point)