Three things on my mind as I make my way down to Miami…
A Dolphins Dilemma
The Miami Dolphins are well known for having two of the NFL’s best cornerbacks in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. The Miami Dolphins are also well known for being on the short end of some legendary Josh Allen masterpieces.
There are lots of reasons for this seeming incongruity, but one of the broad ones comes down to a Miami philosophy that just doesn’t (or at least, hasn’t) work against the Bills. Brian Flores runs a defense that primarily plays man coverage. The Bills have built their roster with receivers who are primarily separators and, against the Dolphins, those receivers have done just that. It’s not even a knock on Howard or Jones. NFL passing rules will often result in talented separators winning against talented man cover corners.
On the flip side, the Steelers provided another exhibition last week of why the prevailing theory on slowing the Bills down is to zone them to death. Cole Beasley talked postgame about how the Steelers seemed to have “leverage” constantly in the secondary. Receivers can’t separate if running away from one defender only means running into another one.
That leaves the Dolphins with a choice: continue to do what they do best or play more zone because it seems to be working against the Bills. I find it very unlikely that the Dolphins pull a 180 and go completely away from who they are. I’d also be surprised if they don’t play zone at least a little more often.
The Turnover Chain
Miami forced a turnover in their 23rd consecutive game last weekend in Foxboro. They actually forced two and the second literally won them the game against the Patriots. Trailing by one point, Pats running back Damien Harris fumbled inside the Miami ten yard line with less than four minutes to play. The Dolphins ran the clock out from there.
The Bills are hyper aware of Miami’s tremendous takeaway talent. Buffalo’s primary ballhandlers even did extra fumble drills early in practice on Wednesday. No team might need those drills more. Allen remains among the NFL’s most fumble-prone QBs and put the ball on the ground twice against the Steelers. Devin Singletary had the NFL’s worst fumble per carry rate during his rookie season in 2019 and also had two in the season opener.
The Bills are the better team, but Miami made a living last season minimizing talent disadvantages through turnovers. The Dolphins led the NFL with 29 forced turnovers in 2020 and early fumble return scores were big reasons why Miami picked off the Rams and Cardinals last season. You can bet Flores and his defense easily envision the Bills as the next victim on that list.
Tua Be Or Not Tua Be
Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa had a rough rookie season. You might be able to argue his starts in place of Ryan Fitzpatrick are the biggest reason Miami missed the playoffs (despite a 10-6 record). I’ve liked a lot of what Tua has done this year through week one and the preseason. Among the group of “hot” rookie/young QBs that are still unknowns (for me the group is Tua, Hurts, Lawrence, Wilson, Lance, Fields, Mac Jones), I’d argue Tua has been the best.
However, he is still very young. This start against the Bills will be his 12th in the NFL. Essentially, he’s still on his rookie season. This is the situation the Bills will face in every division game this season. Between Zach Wilson, Mac Jones and Tua, the Bills won’t face a quarterback with more than 17 games–or one season–of experience.
There is no more experienced defense than the one in Buffalo. Jerry Hughes, Matt Milano, Tre White, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde are together for a fifth straight season. Taron Johnson, Tremaine Edmunds, Harrison Phillips, Siran Neal and Levi Wallace are beginning year four. All under the same coaching staff, in the same system. It’s a staggering amount of continuity in the reboot happy NFL.
That should give the Bills a monster advantage over quarterbacks who are still wet behind the ears. Tua certainly wasn’t very effective during the season finale in Orchard Park last year. Word of warning: this point is based on Bill Belichick’s dominance over rookie quarterbacks (The Hoodie is 21-6 all time). Tua not only beat the Patriots last week, he beat them in week 15 last year while he was still a true rookie.
From the moment the week one loss to the Steelers ended, the Bills have been telling us there’s no need to panic. They’ll be fine. It’s just one game.
They’re right about all that. In addition, the Bills have become very good at staying even keel, taking it one day at a time and trusting their process. This is a locker room that is not going to get rattled.
I’ve wondered this week if maybe they should be.
I’m not going to bail on my AFC Super Bowl pick after one week, but things were not fine against the Steelers. The offense couldn’t finish drives. The defense didn’t have a stop in the second half. Special teams even gave up a monster game changing play (they did also make a game changing play, of course).
Every NFL coach, including McDermott, will burn your ears explaining how each season is a new one. I thought it was a little eye opening how the Bills no big deal-ed their way through this week after the new season started with a rough one.
This Dolphins game has now become sneaky important. A win proves the Bills right. Everything will be fine and the march to Los Angeles is back on. A loss puts the Bills two games plus the tiebreak back just in division. Forget the Chiefs, Buffalo would have hard work just to win the AFC East. That was fait accompli just seven days ago.
I trust McDermott too much to pick against him in this spot. And I don’t trust Tua nearly enough to steal a game from a legit Super Bowl contender. The Dolphins are good and/or promising in lots of key areas: coaching, weapons, corners, culture. The Bills are just a bit better in all of them and they have the quarterback that doesn’t have questions. That’s enough for me. I’ll take the Bills 27-23.