Pretty easy to come up with three thoughts for the Bills’ suddenly titanic clash with Miami…
Cover Your Eyes
The Bills elite secondary will be a shell of itself against the Dolphins. Tre White was declared out for this game in preseason. Dane Jackson and Micah Hyde both suffered concerning neck injuries (Jackson, concerning at the time. Hyde, concerning ever since) and will both also miss the game. Jordan Poyer has a foot injury that kept him out of practice until Friday. He’s not even certain to play.
I’m assuming Taron Johnson traveled to the game in a reinforced steel vault.
This is going to be a problem against what might be the best pair of receivers in the league on one team: Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Covering these two is going to feel like playing tag with waterbugs for every defense. It’s a good thing the Bills already have a built-in solution.
The Sean McDermott defense is zone based. It’s about constricting space, creating confusion and forcing decisions. The Bills aren’t going to ask Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford to step on the island and follow those receivers everywhere they go. There will be no Leslie Frazier asking Benford what flavor gum Waddle was at the end of the game.
All the young guys stepping in need to do is know where they’re supposed to be and get there. And they need to tackle. That football 101 lesson might be the most important part of the gameplan.
Poyer (if he plays), Johnson and the linebackers should provide enough of a mental anchor to prevent the new starters from having their heads spin. That much. McDermott and his secondary staff have often proven adept at coaching up lesser talents on paper (undrafted free agent Levi Wallace, 7th round pick Jackson, 6th round pick Benford).
It might very well still get ugly. Hill has ripped apart healthy Buffalo secondaries and he’s now playing with, perhaps, the league’s best facsimile of himself on the other side. However, there’s plenty of reason to believe the Buffalo B-team can hang in all afternoon.
What’s The Rush?
If the secondary does falter, all is not lost for the Bills defense. Even if there are more players who will be lost.
Jordan Phillips and Ed Oliver will not suit up against Miami. Oliver was the star of the D-Line last year and started this year just about as strong. Phillips has quickly reminded that Buffalo wings must be his spinach because he picked up right where he left off with the Bills successfully harassing opposing QBs. McDermott will probably be down his second and third best pass rusher against the Dolphins.
No matter. Von Miller is a pass rush unto himself. The 12-year vet had two sacks in the opener and I had him with two more pressures against the Titans. He has the ability to single-handedly cut off the Miami passing game at the source.
He does have help. DaQuan Jones has been surprisingly active against quarterbacks for a player billed primarily as a run stopper. His play through two games in blue and red hasn’t lagged all that much behind Phillips. A.J. Epenesa and Greg Rousseau aren’t there yet as pass rushing “threats”, but both seem improved so far this season and have the ability to create some havoc here and there.
Whatever issues the Bills might have covering Miami receivers, they might not have to do it very long.
We Have A Hulk
Speaking of spinach, if Josh Allen has any, you can be sure it’s dressed up in aqua and orange.
For whatever reason, Allen owns the Dolphins. He has 25 total touchdowns against only four interceptions against Miami in eight career games. After losing his first game in Miami during his rookie season, Allen is 7-0 facing the Dolphins and only one of those games was decided by less than 10 points. The Bills beat Miami by 50 points over the two meetings combined last year and Allen’s personal averages against the Fish actually sagged a bit.
The Bills might need every bit of that Miami Magic this weekend. Despite reasons for optimism, it’s still very possible the Bills depleted D will be vulnerable. If the replacement secondary can’t hold up and the front four can’t get enough pressure, plan C might be going TD for TD with Miami to outscore them.
Allen and Stefon Diggs have played well enough that maybe the fireworks option should be plan A. Miami’s defense isn’t super healthy either. They have an elite corner on the PUP list, same as Buffalo (Byron Jones). Their other elite corner (Xavien Howard) is questionable with a groin injury. The Bills might also get Gabe Davis back for this game.
It’s all part of why this next section of the preview could be so much fun.
I don’t think there’s a scoring or passing over that isn’t a good play this week. Here’s the three I landed on as my favorites:
- Over 58.5 points. The standard over sits at 52.5 or 53 points. I pushed it up a few points on FanDuel for +196 odds. Tripling my money at 31-28? Yes sir.
- Hill over 6.5 receptions. Even if the Bills defense exceeds expectations, the Cheetah is still gonna get his looks. Targets in both his games for Miami have been well into double digits. Remember, the Bills goal is more prevent yards than prevent catches. Even last year when the Buffalo defense smothered KC, Hill had seven receptions for 63 yards.
- Touchdown on Bills first drive. Ken Dorsey has looked good coming out of the gate in both his first two games as coordinator. Allen has TDs on his last five game opening drives going back to last year. At +215 (DraftKings), why not.
- I also like: Zack Moss anytime TD (+500 on FD. I can’t quit this yet). Allen over rush yards (close games where offense is needed, he tends to run more). All the star WRs over yards (I have a parlay). Reggie Gilliam anytime TD (he’s +1700 at DK. Worth a sprinkle).
Some Bills fans and pundits have spent the week trying to pick apart the Tua Tagovailoa comeback in Baltimore looking for excuses. Sure, there weren’t many (or any) elite throws and the Ravens did blow a couple coverages. That doesn’t take away that Tua has now proven 469 yards, six TDs and a 28 point fourth quarter is something he CAN do. Zero people thought Tua had that in the bag seven days ago.
As Hyde has often said, “confidence is a helluva drug”. Not only does Tua know he can rip secondaries apart, he also knows how to do it. If you don’t see that many great throws in the Miami comeback against Baltimore, that just means Tua doesn’t have to be a great quarterback to do it again. That’s the point. Tua isn’t great–not even close–but he is still capable of leading an explosive offense.
Capable, however, is not the same as consistent. That’s what the Bills offense has been for the last two seasons plus two games. I joked in this space last week that betting the Bills to score 30 points is probably a good bet every game. This one will be no different.
If there is to be a threat in the division this season, the Dolphins aren’t going to get a better chance to prove it. They have Buffalo at home, off a short week and a mess on one side of the ball at the position that might favor Miami the most. If Miami wins, BillsMafia can go to the excuse of “well… half our defense was out” because it’s almost factually true. If Buffalo wins anyway… look the bleep out.
The Bills have now assumed the throne in the division occupied by New England the last 20 years. That means they’re the king of the mountain until someone can knock them down. By the same token, I’m not picking Buffalo to lose a division game until I see someone in the division can beat them (without a weather calamity intervening).
I think the pass rush gets home enough to at least interrupt the Tua/Tyreek/Waddle show a few times. And I think Allen will score whatever it takes to win. This score prediction is as much a hope for a classic Jim Kelly-Dan Marino battle of yore as it is an educated guess, but I’ll take Buffalo 41-35.