Football is a game of matchups. Whether it’s a wide receiver lining up against a cornerback or a running back versus a linebacker, there are one-on-one matchups all over the field that each coaching staff will look to either take advantage of or mitigate the effect the opposing player has on a gameplan. And when Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills (0-1) travel to Miami to face off against Tua Tagovaiola and the Dolphins, there are multiple matchups that will dictate the outcome of the game.
Here are the top four matchups to watch in Week 2’s AFC East showdown.
Bills DE Jerry Hughes, Greg Rousseau vs. Dolphins OT Liam Eichenberg, Jesse Davis
The Buffalo Bills’ pass rush was impactful during the first half of their Week 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but fizzled during the second half when Ben Roethlisberger adjusted to get the ball out quicker on out routes. This week, the Bills have favorable matchups across the board against a second-year quarterback that holds on to the ball longer than the seasoned veteran they faced a week ago.
Defensive end Jerry Hughes will likely see most of his action against Dolphins rookie second-round draft pick Liam Eichenberg, who started at left tackle in Week 1. The 6-foot-5, 306-pound Notre Dame product had a solid debut, surrendering just one hurry in 30 pass-blocking snaps. Against the Steelers, Hughes had two hurries in 19 pass rushes.
On the opposite side of the line, Bills rookie first-round pick Greg Rousseau faces off with 30-year old Jesse Davis. Rousseau didn’t have a huge impact on the box score against Pittsburgh in his debut, but he was effective setting the edge against the run, while generating some pressure and either containing or compressing the pocket when rushing the passer.
Rousseau’s physical traits make him a tough matchup for any offensive lineman, and this week he’ll have some winnable opportunities against a tackle who hasn’t done much to impress throughout his five-year career. Against the Patriots, Davis allowed three total pressures (one hurry, two hits), the most among Miami linemen.
Bills WR Stefon Diggs vs. Dolphins CB Byron Jones
Stefon Diggs is a bonafide superstar and when he’s on the field, he gets targeted as such. In two games against Miami in 2020, Diggs saw 21 targets, catching 14 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown.
Diggs primarily lines up on the left side of the formation, meaning that he’ll run the majority of his routes against Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones. Jones is one of the most athletic cornerbacks in the NFL and while Diggs put up huge numbers against Miami last year, he caught just one pass for five yards against him.
Diggs was heavily targeted last week against the Steelers but managed just 69 yards on nine receptions (12 targets). Pittsburgh’s pass rush was so effective that they were able to keep seven defenders in coverage, which minimized what Diggs was able to do after the catch.
This week, however, Miami will likely need to send extra rushers in order to pressure Josh Allen, meaning that Diggs should see a lot of man coverage, where he should thrive. Against the Patriots, Jones allowed three receptions on four targets for 27 yards. However, the Patriots don’t have a receiver with a remotely similar level of talent to Diggs.
With the Bills looking to get their offense back on track, look for the Diggs vs. Jones matchup to be one of the biggest of the game.
Bills CB Taron Johnson vs. Dolphins WR Jaylen Waddle
Miami drafted wide receiver Jaylen Waddle with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft and on Sunday, the rookie will face off with Bills cornerback Taron Johnson. This matchup in the slot will be huge for both teams. Waddle lined up in the slot on 75-percent of his routes in week one, catching four of five targets for 61 yards and one touchdown.
Johnson had a big game against Pittsburgh, racking up seven tackles and two pass breakups. In coverage, Johnson was targeted six times, but allowed just three catches for 44 yards.
Waddle is a player that Buffalo will need to account for on every play. Sean McDermott had high praise for the dynamic Alabama product before Friday’s practice, crediting his explosiveness.
“Explosive player, you can see how dangerous he is with the ball in his hands.,” McDermott said of Waddle. “I went through the scouting process watching him in college. Explosive player with the ball in his hands but just as dangerous as a receiver in terms of the routes down the field as well.”
With the Crimson Tide, Waddle caught 109 passes for 1,999 yards (18.9 yards-per-reception) and 17 touchdowns. He returned 38 punts, scoring two touchdowns while averaging a whopping 19.3 yards-per-return.
Waddle is a player that can score from anywhere on the field and Taron Johnson will have his hands full on Sunday as he looks to shut down one of the young, up-and-coming players in the NFL.
Bills LG Jon Feliciano vs. Dolphins DT Christian Wilkins
Jon Feliciano had a game to forget against Pittsburgh’s star defensive tackle Cam Heyward. Without mincing words, Feliciano was utterly dominated. He allowed eight pressures and was flagged for holding. He was beaten in every way imaginable, whether it was with speed or power and Heyward made him look silly.
The Dolphins certainly watched the tape and undoubtedly see Feliciano as a player they can expose.
On Sunday, Feliciano will see a ton of reps against third-year defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. Drafted in the first round out of Clemson in 2019, Wilkins is a quality defender that’s impactful against both the run and pass.
In 2020, Wilkins had 40 tackles and 1.5 sacks with 18 pressures with 30 run stops. Against the Patriots, Wilkins continued to produce, tallying three tackles (two stops) and one hurry. The 6-foot-4, 315-pounder is quick and powerful and has a skill set that will be tough for Feliciano too handle.
Buffalo rotated Ike Boettger with Cody Ford at right guard during the first half against the Steelers, but if Feliciano struggles early, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Boettger see some time in his place.
All stats courtesy Pro Football Focus.