The Bills’ offense has been firing on all cylinders over the last month, and many don’t expect that to come to a halt when it squares off against the Fins’ 26th ranked defense this Sunday. There are several reasons to believe that the Bills’ O should be able to put points on the scoreboard in bunches against a defense that is giving up 22.3 points per game.
Where the Bills make their money is on the ground. Sure, McCoy is listed as questionable and will be a game time decision, but even if he is unable to go, the Bills’ potent rushing attack should be able to control this game. Much like San Francisco last week, Miami has one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. In fact, they are ranked the 2nd worst run defense, overall.
To the chagrin of Dolphins fans everywhere, that shaky run defense took a huge hit this week. Its leading tackler, Reshad Jones, is out for the rest of the year with a torn rotator cuff. That is a big loss, as Jones was always counted on to boost the run defense. He was a guy that was assigned a gap to defend, and he did it very well. He has played 184 run snaps, of which he registered 22 tackles (#1 in NFL for a safety) and 11 stops.
The Steelers are in 11 personnel, so the Fins play nickel. You will see Jones (#20) drop down near the box prior to the snap. Pittsburgh runs power to the strength. They get the double-team on Suh, LB Jenkins fills the B gap, and Jones is responsible for the C gap. Jones waits for Williams to commit, then he attacks and brings the talented back down.
With the injury to Miami’s playmaker in the secondary, free safety Isa Abdul-Quddus (AQ) will most likely shift to strong safety, which is a position he has played before. AQ is a similar player to Jones; he is big at 6’1″, about 220 pounds, and a decidedly physical player. You can expect AQ to be closer to the line of scrimmage with the shift to strong safety, considering what the Fins want to do to slow down the Bills’ offense. They will stack the box and force Taylor to beat them with his arm. This strategy should result in the Bills’ Charles Clay and Nick O’Leary seeing one on one looks for much of the afternoon.
On this play against the Seahawks, the Fins are in man coverage, and Reshad Jones is responsible for Jimmy Graham. AQ is the deep safety. Jones blankets Graham, but Wilson forces the ball to the talented tight end (he used to play basketball, didn’t you know?). AQ shows his range and athleticism by getting the interception.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) October 22, 2016
With his shift to strong safety this week, the Bills will have to throw some play action and false keys at AQ, because he isn’t used to playing near the line of scrimmage. Things happen faster, and offenses throw a lot more at a box safety than a center fielder.
On this play, Seattle runs play action to running back Rawls, and AQ is crossed up on the fake. He then diagnoses that Wilson still has the ball so he flows to his left. Wilson drops the ball to Rawls for a 9-yard pick up.
The position switch of AQ will force role player Mike Thomas or Walt Aikens into the free safety role. Thomas started 13 games last season but has been a role player this season, having only played 171 snaps. Look for offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn to test the preparedness of both of the Dolphins’ new-look safeties this week.
Clay vs. a safety
When you talk to Dolphins fans, the position group of contention is often the linebacking corps. The unit is led by (beloved former Bill) Kiko Alonso. The man, the myth, the legend is currently the second leading tackler on the Dolphins.
As many assignments as he carries out successfully, the same amount of plays are…not. He is an undisciplined, fast flow linebacker that takes a lot of chances in the run game. The Fins are a one gap defense under defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, which means that each defender is responsible for one gap. Kiko’s eyes sometimes get the best of him. False reads and split flow plays often carry him out of position. Alonso currently has the 8th-worst run stop percentage (7.9%) for inside linebackers. In my opinion, the Bills need to not only use his aggressiveness against him, but they also need to run right at him. He is a light LB who has trouble getting off of blocks.
Despite Kiko’s shortcomings, the Miami run defense’ woes aren’t all on the Campbell’s soup aficionado. The Dolphins’ run defense has gotten manhandled by most of the offenses they’ve played this season. For example, the Tennessee Titans ran the ball 41 times for 235 yards and one touchdown in their week 5 showdown. The Tennessee runners forced 14 missed tackles on the game, which bodes well for a Bills offense that ran for over 300 yards last weekend.
The Titans, a primarily double tight, zone run team, implemented their scheme perfectly. Their offensive linemen executed their combo blocks on the defensive linemen, then moved to the second level to cut off their quick linebackers.
What was interesting about the Titans’ attack was that their quarterback, Marcus Mariota, also pitched in on the ground. He finished the game with seven carries for 60 yards (8.6 yards/carry). Two of those runs were zone read runs where Mariota showed off his athleticism, something that I am sure Anthony Lynn will implement with Tyrod Taylor this week.
Of course, the whole Miami defense is centered around Ndamukong Suh. He commands double teams on just about every play, which is why the zone run game worked in the Titans game. Wherever Suh lined up, the linemen were able to handle him with combo blocks. The Bills haven’t run a lot of zone runs, as they run a more gap principle-based scheme. That didn’t stop the Bills from racking up 266 yards rushing in the second matchup between these two teams last season.
Jordan Mills does a great job of hooking Suh, allowing Shady to get outside.
The only time the Bills have utilized zone run blocking this season is on their option plays or zone reads, something they also did really well last season versus the Fins.
Clay arch releases to the second level while Miller helps Mills gain the necessary control of Suh to run inside zone. I expect a lot of downhill runs this week, and even more so if Shady is unable to go.
I think this week is setting up for Taylor to have a solid game through the air, but most of his big plays will again be determined by his legs. I just like seeing him matched up with a safety or inside linebacker this week.
Anthony Lynn grades his running backs based on how well they make one defender miss in space. Well, Tyrod has a running back’s abilities, and I expect them to shine this week.
I expect Lynn to utilize some downhill runs to hit the Dolphins right in the mouth, along with some designed QB runs to get the defense off balance. The Bills will most likely use more 2 tight end sets, since WR Robert Woods is doubtful and fullback Jerome Felton is dealing with back issues. To compensate, tight end Nick O’Leary’s snap count should increase from previous weeks. He is being brought along slowly, but each week the staff is trusting him more and more.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) October 22, 2016
The Bills’ offensive line and tight ends should be able to get the run game going regardless of what back is in the backfield. This should open up the Dolphins’ defense to bootlegs and play action passes.
With all of the injuries on the offensive side of the ball, the Bills may have to keep their game plan simple. That is, run the ball, shorten the game, and allow the defense to make their plays. The defense has been creating pressure and taking the ball away from opposing offenses. Lean on them to make plays, then take advantage of the opportunities when they arise. That formula has worked all season, and this game should be no different.
Be sure to listen to the Cover 1 Podcast Episode #2 Hot Topics Week 7