Bills vs. Dolphins | As a Team


The dust has settled after Sunday’s deflating 28-25 loss to the Miami Dolphins. It was a frustrating game to watch. The Bills offense struggled to get on track, but it managed to hold a lead for most of the game. Sure, the defense surrendered 454 yards, but the mantra “bend, but don’t break” certainly held true. That was until late in the fourth quarter, when the defense that had been on the field for 31:55 up to that point finally broke and gave up a touchdown to running back Jay Ajayi.

Ajayi was Miami’s bell cow for the second week in a row on Sunday. He led the team with 29 carries for a whopping 214 yards. It was his first touchdown of the day, that really put the pressure on the Bills offense with less than four minutes left in the game. A situation that, like most Bills fans know, hasn’t been kind to Tyrod Taylor. The Bills squandered their lead and couldn’t muster up enough to gain it back.

But the way the fourth quarter unfolded should be no surprise. The Fins possessed the ball for a total of 37:02, by utilizing their rushing attack. Sound familiar? Miami’s offense controlled the clock when they were on the field, and it seemed like they were actually ahead on the scoreboard for most of the game, despite that not being the case.

The Fins utilized several different personnel groupings to jumpstart their run game early. Offensive minded head coach Adam Gase used his personnel to his advantage in the first half. On the first play of the game, Miami shifted right tackle Ja’wuan James over to the left and ran their base zone run game. This heavy, unbalanced look gave the Bills fits throughout the whole first half.

Miami has 12 personnel, but instead of a second tight end, they bring in an extra lineman. The Bills match it with their base defense 


The athleticism of their offensive linemen definitely showed throughout much of the game. First round draft pick Laremy Tunsil had a heck of a game, showing why he was touted as a top offensive lineman in the 2016 draft. He will eventually shift to tackle, but right now the Fins have him playing left guard, where he has excelled. This allows Miami to have their five best linemen on the field at the same time.


The Bills defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman had trouble coming up with a solution to slow down their attack. The defense was consistently outmatched due to alignments and personnel groupings.

On this play, the Fins again bring in 12 personnel with an extra lineman. The Bills are in their base defense and they give up a big chunk of yardage to Ajayi. You can see why in the video. The base defense leaves the guards uncovered and free to climb to the second level. Defensive ends Douzable and Washington struggle. Douzable struggles at the point of attack and Washington struggles on the backside.


But for as bad as the defense played early, the Bills kept themselves in the game. The Bills start with the ball on the Miami 40 yard line, after a good play by the special teams unit. McCray appears to block the punt, giving Buffalo momentum and the ball in Miami’s territory.


Tyrod Taylor did a great job of converting on two 3rd downs on the ensuing drive. The first big conversion was on 3rd-and-6 from the Miami 36 yard line. The Bills get man coverage across the board, so Taylor finds the matchup (Bush vs. Mccain), and he delivers it from the pocket.

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A few plays later, play design and great execution by Taylor get Justin Hunter open to extend the drive. The Bills Bring out 12 personnel and send tight end Charles Clay deep. The threat of Clay, in conjunction with Taylor’s use of his eyes, gets Hunter wide open.


The offense capitalizes on the good field position by getting into the end zone. Anthony Lynn calls another great red zone play from the unbalanced look. This time, the offense brings in Reggie Bush and aligns him to the right of Taylor. Shady is aligned deep as the Bills run a little triple option for the touchdown. Taylor fakes the inside run to Bush which causes the defensive end to crash hard. He pulls the ball and scampers to the edge. Shady regains his pitch relationship, but Taylor keeps it for the 10-yard touchdown.

The half ends soon after, with the Bills leading 10-6. Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi ran all over the Bills defense in that first half, racking up 99 yards (108 total rushing yards). But to that point, the defense held Miami out of the end zone, which is all you can ask for.

The Bills’ offensive efficiency was lacking in the second half. Since Lynn took over, the Bills have been able to put together long drives to keep their defense off the field. They are a top-ten team in ten-play drive percentage, having put together 10+ play drives on 16.88% of their possessions. However, they tend to struggle when teams adjust coming out of the half, and this game was no different.

On their first drive of the second half, the Bills go three-and-out because of a failed third down run by fullback Jerome Felton. On their second drive, the Bills offense stalled again, good for another three-and-out. Lynn knew that the Dolphins were going to stack the box to stop the run, so he called a lot of passes in the game.

One of the main concepts Lynn tried to implement this week was the curl/wheel. The Bills try striking deep as Shady runs the wheel from the backfield, but the Fins have it covered. Suh causes immediate pressure, Tyrod scrambles left, and he ends up taking the sack, which forces the Bills to punt. It appeared that Taylor had Nick O’Leary wide open in the flat.

All was still well because the defense made adjustments at the half, too. To start the second half, Dennis Thurman changed his defensive alignment to combat the heavy offensive looks by the Dolphins. This was crucial to stopping Miami’s zone run scheme. Thurman utilized Rex Ryan’s 46 defense much more in the second half. The alignment covers offensive linemen, which doesn’t allow them to climb to the second level to block the linebackers. This adjustment definitely slowed down the Dolphins’ attack.

Defensive tackle Corbin Bryant does a good job of stacking the offensive lineman and shedding as the running back commits. Bryant was the Bills’ worst-graded defender overall. He struggled against the run in the first half. The Fins gained 153 rushing yards between the tackles (B gap to B gap). But Thurman put Bryant in a better position to succeed in the second half. He is not a plugger like Dareus, so kudos to Thurman on the minor tweak.

Six offensive lineman vs. 46 defense


Gase saw the defensive adjustment, so he tried attacking the Bills’ 46 defense by passing on Miami’s second drive. The Bills’ 46 alignment also gave them an upper hand against the pass, because Zach Brown was matched up with a backup tackle, while Lorenzo Alexander was matched with a tight end. Alexander gets the sack, good for his 9th in 7 games.


Thurman put his playmakers in a position to succeed.

Thurman put his playmakers in a position to succeed in the second half.


After a three-and-out on that drive by Miami, Buffalo strikes deep on a nine route by Marquise Goodwin. The score put them up 17-6.



The score was great, but the problem with that was it only took one play. This meant that the defense was right back onto the field, without the opportunity to take advantage of any rest. Tannehill promptly led his offense on a 10-play drive that ate up 5:33. But at this point, everything was still under control. The Bills were still up 17-14. Taylor got the drive started with a throw for 9 yards to Goodwin on first down and a scramble on second down to move the chains. The offense drove all the way to the Miami 33 yard line, but on 3rd down Taylor was sacked. It was a big play, as it put the Bills out of field goal range.

It was on Miami’s next drive that the Bills’ apparent hold on the game was lost. The Bills pinned Miami inside their own 5 yard line, and they were in a great position to possibly get the ball back with stellar field position. That was until the defense surrendered the biggest run on the game. The run completely demoralized a defense that, yes, gave up a ton of yards, but did enough to keep them in the game.

On 2nd-and-8, the Fins bring out 12 personnel with two TEs. The Bills are in their base defense, but they align in an umbrella alignment.

Diagram from Rex Ryan's How To Teach the 46 defense.

Diagram from Rex Ryan’s Coaching Football’s 46 Defense


The defense was in great shape to limit this run, but the missed tackle by Zach Brown and Robert Blanton gave the momentum to the Dolphins and broke the spirit of the defense. The Bills missed 16 tackles in this game.

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The Miami heat, combined with the Dolphins’ bruising run game, definitely took its toll on the defense. Soon after the long run, the Bills defense forced a punt, but they didn’t get any help from their offense. On the next drive, the offense went three-and-out. That is not efficient, and it gave the Bills defense no time to recuperate.

The defense held for as long as it could, but the fourth quarter is when it finally cracked. A demoralized and tired defense couldn’t make a stop, as Miami went up 21-17 with just under four minutes left in the game.

To no surprise, Taylor was unable to lead a scoring drive at the end of the game while trailing. The offense went three-and-out on their very next drive.

On Miami’s next drive, Tannehill connected on a deep pass to Stills to put them up two possessions and the game out of reach.

Buffalo did get a garbage time touchdown late in the fourth quarter, but by then the game was already over.

The defense took most of the blame for this performance, and rightfully so. Surrendering that much yardage, especially on the ground, was an embarrassment. However, we should keep this in perspective. Yardage doesn’t win games; points do. For the majority of the game, the Bills defense stopped the Fins from getting touchdowns.

The offense, which has complemented the defense well in the four game winning streak, just didn’t come to play. Of course, injuries to Shady and Robert Woods didn’t help. Not having Watkins as a legitimate deep threat to take that 8th man out of the box definitely hurt Buffalo, as well.

But what it comes down to is that Buffalo was simply man-handled. They were out-executed, outmanned, and physically  dominated. There were adjustments made on both sides of the ball, but they weren’t enough to overcome the lack of execution.

The lack of execution by the offensive line, who surrendered 24 total pressures, didn’t allow Taylor to distribute the ball. According to Pro Football Focus, Taylor was under pressure on 50% of his dropbacks.


The defense had one of its worst tackling performances in a long time. The angry running style of Ajayi, paired with shoddy tackling by the Bills, led to a worn out defense in the fourth quarter.

The Buffalo Bills are not good enough on either side of the ball to completely win games on their own. Football is a team sport, and this team won four in a row with contributions from both the offense and the defense. They didn’t play as a team against the Dolphins, but they certainly lost as a team.