ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WROC) — It’s been a long time since the Bills began a season with questions about their coordinators. Brian Daboll and Leslie Frazier quickly built well-oiled machines. Roll out the balls and watch them dominate.
Daboll went to coach the Giants two years ago and Frazier went to… do something else… I guess… last spring. It left Buffalo with Ken Dorsey running the offense and Sean McDermott assuming more of the week-to-week defensive reins.
Dorsey had a strong statistical rookie season calling offensive plays, but the eye test said otherwise culminating with a meager ten points in the playoff loss against Cincinnati. There were reasonable questions about whether he was the right man to pull the strings for the Josh Allen show.
McDermott is highly regarded as a defensive mind, but had never called defensive plays while also… you know… running a football team. It was also worth questioning whether McDermott could make much of a difference as his own coordinator. Wasn’t the defense Frazier operated already what McDermott wanted?
Nothing was more encouraging from yet another annihilation of Miami than what the Bills’ top two football minds cooked up. Buffalo looked incredibly prepared. They took apart anything Miami tried to do. “We did everything we wanted,” Terrel Bernard said.
McDermott vs. Mike McDaniel was the top matchup in the game. The young Miami genius has earned his flowers as one of the league’s best offensive minds, even before the Dolphins rolled up 70 against Denver last week. Despite his lack of experience, I’d say the football world would have slightly favored McDaniel.
The Bills defense struggled on the first two drives. Taron Johnson pointed out it’s tough to play defense early in games at Highmark Stadium. The crowd was plenty riled, in a lather looking for some fish to squish. McDermott said it was as loud a stadium as he’d ever heard. “It was like a jet engine”.
All that noise made it hard for the Bills to communicate on defense, which is a huge part of any McDermott scheme. Johnson said the players work on it all week in practice, but can’t simulate the noise level. An adjustment period is often required.
(I did ask Johnson if he would prefer the crowd stay quiet the first couple of drives. “Nope,” he said with a laugh. “It’s even harder on the offense”)
Once the Bills settled in, they dominated. The team that scored 70 points in 60 minutes last week was limited to only six over the final 42 minutes in Orchard Park. Even better, Buffalo held Miami without a first down on the final four Dolphins possessions of the first half. More than enough opportunity for the offense to take control of the game.
I thought two third downs were the turning point. With a 21-14 lead, Buffalo forced Tua Tagovailoa to throw high on 3rd and 2. Miami punted and, two plays later, Stefon Diggs was in the end zone on a 55-yard catch and run. The Dolphins faced 3rd and 1 on their next possession. Matt Milano stoned a pitch play and knocked the ball away from Raheem Mostert. Bernard recovered, the Bills cashed the turnover into three points and were in charge the rest of the way.
Miami’s bread and butter is quick, easy throws. The new thing this year that fueled the 70-point outburst was an electric running game in space, on the edges. Buffalo took both away in spots where Miami needed the smallest of gains to keep drives alive.
While the Dolphins did finish with nearly 150 rush yards, the run game was rarely a threat. Minus that part of the offense, Tua turned into more of a straight dropback passer. He had to scan the field and go through progressions without the benefit of a scheme that was already stressing a defense. Tua has gotten better at that, but he’s not so good to rally a team down three scores on the road against an elite defense. It seemed like the more the Bills tightened the leash, the more Tua locked on his 1st receiver to a fault.
Even without Jordan Poyer, the coverage was excellent. Tyreek Hill caught three passes. Jaylen Waddle had only four. No receiver reached even 60 yards. There was no option for the Dolphins to lean on. No go-to play, scheme or player. Buffalo made everything a pain. It was a wildly impressive performance.
Dorsey matched McDermott with his game plan on offense. It was appropriate the Sabres attended the game on Sunday because Bills personnel changes resembled new lines hopping over the boards. Dorsey managed all of it superbly.
Gabe Davis had a big play TD. Latavius Murray popped a big run and converted an important early third and short. James Cook was effective in short yardage (and finally scored!). Eight different receivers had a catch for a first down. Not only did the Bills score touchdowns on four of their first five possessions, they only faced three 3rd downs on those four TD possessions. None of which were longer than two yards.
This success didn’t come against a nobody. This was against Vic Fangio, one of the more experienced and respected defensive coordinators in the game.
Of course it helped that, as McDermott said, the Bills stars played like stars: five TDs for Allen, three of them to Diggs.
I think you saw the full spectrum of Diggs’ ability in this game. His first touchdown was the result of a subtle route adjustment on the fly, dipping deeper behind a short zone linebacker to find space near the goal line. The second TD was Diggs the athlete, slipping the tackle of two defensive backs for an explosive score. The third was the Diggs the route-runner, separating from coverage in less than five steps. Poor Kader Kohou is going to have a long week watching this film.
Allen played another game more within the constraint of the offense. His 84% completion percentage was a career high as was the perfect 158.3 passer rating. Allen still got to dazzle. The falling away 20-yarder to Diggs on the first drive was classic Allen. As was the scramble and dump to Cook that turned into 50 yards.
What didn’t happen in this game were the forced passes downfield. There was one somewhat unnecessary sack that helped keep the Bills out of the end zone on their first drive of the second half, but that was it. Allen was composed, accurate and deadly. When the Bills needed to unleash him on a run to seal the game late, Allen rumbled to the end zone untouched.
McDermott said he was proud of the way Allen has played the last three weeks. He’s been more in control since the opening week debacle and Dorsey deserves a healthy amount of credit for that. Brian Daboll figured out how to unleash Allen. Dorsey may have taught him restraint and discipline. I’m pretty sure the latter was the tougher chore.
The last three Buffalo playoff losses have all contained a common thread: the Bills being on the short end of the coaching battle. This game was not a playoff game, but it was played at that level. It had that feel and McDermott/Dorsey eviscerated McDaniel/Fangio.
After the game, I talked with Spencer Brown about how well the coaches prepped him and his teammates for this game. Brown ripped through a bunch of areas where the Bills succeeded against Miami: offense was on the same page with every call, defense got takeaways, offense stayed in the green (not in difficult down/distance situations), etc.
I followed by asking how it feels to tick off such a lengthy list of positives.
“It feels good to check boxes. I’ll go home and have a cold one. And we’ll try to do it again next week.”
That’s the only challenge left for the new well-oiled machine in Buffalo. Keep doing it.