The Game Matchups Preview series is dedicated to breaking down how the Buffalo Bills match up with their opponent in each game of the 2022 NFL Season. This series will look at five key matchups; Bills Pass Offense vs. Opponent Pass Defense, Bills Rush Offense vs. Opponent Rush Defense, Bills Pass Defense vs. Opponent Pass Offense, Bills Rush Defense vs. Opponent Rush Offense, and Bills Special Teams vs. Opponent Special Teams. This entire analysis will conclude with three sections; “Why Buffalo Will Lose”, “Why Buffalo Will Win”, and a score prediction for the game.
Below I present 2022’s 14th iteration of this analysis for the Bills’ Week 15 clash with the Miami Dolphins. Included is a scale ranking the advantage in each matchup from 👏 (Minimal Advantage) to 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Dolphins Pass Defense
On a four-game win streak, the Bills have seen their franchise quarterback’s gaudy numbers tail off a bit. While not the eye-popping stat lines Bills fans have come to expect of Josh Allen, his 928 Net Yards, 8:2 touchdown/turnover ratio, and 57.59 QuBeR are, at a minimum, efficient. This is the current winning formula for the first-place Buffalo Bills as they are relying less on the big play throws and more on the “take what they give you” ones. This means more targets for the Bills’ running backs and tight ends as Allen foregoes testing defenses deep and instead is attacking them underneath. With four games remaining in the regular season this trend is expected to continue while the Bills remain confident that a classic Allen performance is coming in the next two months, and likely will be needed.
This week, the Allen-led air attack will contend with a Dolphins secondary stacked with talent yet producing well below expectations. At this point in the season, a defense led by All-Pro Xavien Howard (CB) and up-and-coming star Jevon Holland (S) should be much better than 29th in Passer Rating Against (96.4) and 22nd in Pass Defense DVOA (+10.7%), yet that’s where they sit. Much of these struggles can be attributed to injuries with starters Brandon Jones (S), Byron Jones (CB), and Nik Needham (CB) missing a combined 26 games. The result is Eric Rowe (S), Kader Kohou (CB), and Keion Crossen being thrust into critical situations as key contributors for the Dolphins. Luckily for the Dolphins the undrafted Kohou has been a welcome surprise and leads the mentioned Dolphins’ DBs in Passer Rating Against at 95.3 playing both in and out of the slot. Still, that rating ranking as high as it does is indicative of major issues in the Dolphins’ secondary, and ones which may doom them this week in a critical divisional matchup.
Where Miami has proven able to mask the deficiencies in the second and third level is their pass rush. Melvin Ingram is by far the most recognizable name in that context and despite a limited role has still accounted for 6.0 Sacks this season. It’s Ingram’s counterpart though, Jaelan Phillips, whose recent ascension will be the cause of major concern for the Bills. A physical freak (9.87 RAS), the 2021 18th overall pick has begun to meld his athletic traits with an improving football acumen. He leverages his elite speed to beat mauling offensive linemen and his dominant strength to push back more finesse ones. Against a Bills team that is struggling at the tackle position due to injury and inexperience, Phillips will present a difficult matchup. Add to that Miami’s tendency as a heavy blitzing team (31.0% Blitz Rate, NFL-6) and the Bills may find it difficult this week to keep their quarterback off the turf/snow.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Dolphins Rush Defense
With their victory on Sunday against the New York Jets, the Bills extended their league-high streak of 100+ yard rushing games to 18. They did this on the backs of quarterback Josh Allen and RB1 Devin Singletary, who combined for 86 rushing yards. Much to the chagrin of some Bills fans, the latter remains RB1 as a player many would be surprised to know is on pace for 1,140 scrimmage yards this season. Singletary’s consistent production has been integral to the Bills’ success the past four games and is expected to remain a factor as Buffalo continues to ramp up James Cook and Nyheim Hines. Both Cook and Hines though are beginning to find their niche in the Bills’ offense and as they do, what is already one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL becomes all the more deadly.
The Dolphins’ run defense has faired slightly better than their pass defense as they rank 13th in Y/A against (4.3) and eighth in Run Defense DVOA (-12.7%). Primary credit for this is owed to their talented duo of Christian Wilkins (DT) and Jerome Baker (LB) in the middle of the field. Wilkins, like the Jets’ Quinnen Williams, is playing at an All-Pro level now in his fourth season. The 2019 13th overall pick is proficient against the pass and dominant against the run and now borders on game-wrecker status for Miami. His abilities in the middle only help to buffet Jerome Baker’s skillsets behind him. A “do it all” linebacker, Baker has the skillset to shred blocks in the middle of the field or catch runners to the sideline. He’s quietly having a dominant season as well, as one of just eight players with 80+ Tackles and 4.0+ Sacks this season. Due to matchups and the expected weather on Saturday night Wilkins and Baker may very well be the determining factor as to whether or not the Dolphins are 0.5 games out of first in the AFC East or 3.5.
In regard to the weather, it looks like it will play a factor in this game. Snow is expected during the game with just how much remaining in question. The best counter to such occurrences is an offense reliant on the power run game, something neither the Bills nor Dolphins traditionally possess. When you analyze the running styles of all the players in this game though the clear advantage shifts to the Bills who have far and away the best power runner on either roster, Josh Allen. Allen’s ability to extend plays with his legs is a well-known aspect of his game while his physicality has become notorious. If the weather does play a major role in this game Allen’s physicality should give Buffalo an advantage over Miami on both extending drives as well as controlling the field position. This will put a large amount of responsibility on the Dolphins’ edge rushers, including Bradley Chubb to not only pressure Allen but to do so while assuring contain, a difficult task in any conditions.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏
Bills Pass Defense vs. Dolphins Pass Offense
There have been rumblings all season that the Bills’ Pass Defense is not “good” or that they have “struggled” through the season. While there have undoubtedly been struggles at points, there has been way more good than bad. Heading into Week 15 the Bills rank seventh in both Passer Rating Against (81.7) and Pass Defense DVOA (-6.4%) while forcing the fourth most takeaways (22). They have done this despite Micah Hyde (S), Jordan Poyer (S), Tre White (CB), Dane Jackson (CB), Christian Benford (CB), and Kaiir Elam (CB) all missing time due to injury. Yes, the sticky coverage by Dane Jackson only to give up crazy catches is frustrating, yes the third and long issues are of concern, and yes health remains an issue, but the Bills’ Pass Defense remains one of the best in the league which is something most teams cannot rely on in December and January.
The Bills will be challenged this week by a Dolphins pass offense that is perceived as one of the best in the NFL, but how good has come into question as of late. Between October 23 and November 27 the Dolphins rattled off five wins against teams with a combined winning percentage of .315. During that span quarterback Tua Tagovailoa firmly entrenched himself in the MVP conversation with 1524 Net Yards, 11:0 TD:TO ratio, and an astounding 82.12 QuBeR. More recently though the Dolphins have entered a two-game skid against teams with a combined winning percentage of .615. In this streak, Tagovailoa has produced just 400 Net Yards, a 3:3 TD:TO ratio, and a paltry 27.09 QuBeR. Make no mistake about it though, any offense with Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill is a dangerous one and one that fits perfectly within Tagovailoa’s skillset. Still, it’s possible the 49ers and Chargers may have found a way to slow down this offense, but can the Bills replicate it?
Both the Chargers and 49ers were able to slow down the Dolphins but the Chargers gameplan jumped off the tape. Despite playing without their All-Pro safety, Derwin James, and stud slot corner, Bryce Callahan, the Chargers elected to press the Dolphins WRs and be physical with them at the line of scrimmage. This threw off the routes of the receivers and the timing of Tua resulting in a first-half stat line of 3/15 (20.0%) for 25 yards. This is counter to the Bills’ traditional gameplan though as they often give opposing receivers cushion as they look to force them into their zone scheme. Still, there may be some interest by Leslie Frazier and Sean McDermott this week in mixing their zone coverage with press man more than usual. If that is the case the expectation would be to see more of Kaiir Elam (CB) than normal as he excels in the latter. The book isn’t quite out on the Dolphins yet but at least a chapter is, if the Bills are willing to take advantage of that remains to be seen.
EDGE: Dolphins 👏👏
Bills Rush Defense vs. Dolphins Rush Offense
One of the quieter storylines of the 2022 NFL season is the Bills’ stunning proficiency in slowing down the run. The Bills currently rank third in Defensive DVOA (-21.9%) despite playing almost exclusively in nickel and often lined up specifically to defend the pass. It seems that each week opponents try and force the Bills out of nickel but due to the versatility of their nickel CB, Taron Johnson, Buffalo never leaves it. This is one of the more underrated aspects of the Bills roster and Taron Johnson in particular. His skillset specifically allows the Bills to play their defense regardless of what the opponent does. Against a team like Miami whose pass-heavy attack will demand the Bills stay in nickel, the presence of Johnson assures no degradation in the event the Dolphins quickly pivot to the run.
Miami has one of the deeper backfields in the NFL but it’s a backfield that is lacking high-end talent. Salvon Ahmed and Myles Gaskin are RB3 and RB4 respectively so shouldn’t factor heavily into this game. RB2 for the Dolphins, Jeff Wilson, would be of concern if it weren’t for an injury that may keep him out of Saturday night’s game. This means that the only true threat at RB for the Dolphins is the speedy Raheem Mostert. The 30-year-old RB is having a solid season thus far with 736 scrimmage yards and a 4.5 Y/A but it’s his big play ability that is of major concern. Mostert possesses sub-4.40 speed and in a game where conditions may be slick that straight-line speed has a chance to be a major problem for the Bills. Expect Mostert to be more involved this week than in weeks past as Miami looks to get Tua rolling again either by passing to Mostert in a pseudo-run game or by grounding the ball out to open up passing lanes.
Another area to keep an eye on in this game is non-traditional runs by the Dolphins. This differs from the Bills in that it’s unlikely for the quarterback to run, as Tagovailoa rarely does, but instead on gadget plays and or FB runs. Both Waddle and Hill possess unique speed and quickness that allows them to break past defenders. If it becomes difficult to get these players the ball through the air a simple counter would be jet sweeps and or push passes. If the Bills do elect to sprinkle in more man coverage this week this would put the coverage defender on an island making this an effective strategy to pick up chunk yardage. With this, the conditions could mandate a higher use of Alec Ingold. Ingold has just five rushes this season, and 14 catches, but his physical running style either as a ball carrier or as a lead blocker should find success in slick conditions.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Dolphins Special Teams
Special Teams have been an integral part of the Bills’ success this season, with kicker Tyler Bass leading the way. With four weeks remaining Bass ranks fourth in Field Goals Made (26) and 6th in XP% (97.4%) on way to a possible All-Pro selection. Kicking with him is punter Sam Martin who is coming off a single-game season high in Punts with seven. Now qualifying for punting leaderboards, Martin ranks 13th in both Y/P (48.4) and NY/P (42.1) as a consistent option for the Bills when called upon. Lastly is returner Nyheim Hines who has been a calming presence on return for the Bills. His career 11.8 Y/PR average ranks seventh in NFL history while he is quickly ramping up as a kick returner.
The Dolphins’ Special Teams has been a comparable unit to the Bills. Jason Sanders has been a slightly less reliable kicker than Bass with three missed XPs but of his four missed FGs, three have come from 50+ yards. As for punter, Thomas Morestead is a copy of Sam Martin just ~2 yards off. To date, Morestead is averaging 46.8 Y/P and 40.3 NY/P. Return will be an area of concern for the Bills though with Cedrick Wilson handling punts and Raheem Mostert handling kicks. Mostert’s speed makes him as dangerous an option on return as it does out of the backfield while Wilson has yet to flash all that much on punt. If this game starts to shift though keep an eye out for Tyreek Hill to come in as a Punt Returner where he possesses All-World game-changing talent.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏
Why Buffalo Will Lose
The Dolphins already beat the Bills once so why couldn’t they do it again? Miami’s offense has been struggling as of late but their ability to hit big plays and score quickly gives them the ability to beat anyone and everyone. The duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle is a nightmare for any defense and they play directly against the Bills’ scheme. If Tua can get back on track and his receivers can pick up some YAC yards then the struggles against the 49ers and Chargers will be quickly forgotten by NFL fans and the Buffalo Bills.
On defense, the Dolphins got after the Bills in their first matchup. Pressure was constant and though Allen was able to put up over 400 yards of offense the bend-don’t-break mentality of Miami won them that game. With Wilkins and Phillips each playing better football on the defensive line and a more experienced Kahou in the secondary the defense this go around may be better than the first go around. Pressure Allen and force a turnover or two and Miami is leaving this game with a massive win.
Why Buffalo Will Win
Home field advantage, weather advantage, the hotter team, the angrier team, the list goes on and on. The Bills have every advantage they could ask for this week, unless this is a repeat of the 2017 Snow Bowl in which case no one has an advantage. The Bills come into this game looking to avenge their loss earlier in the season and no two players seem more equipped to do that than Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. Look for a similar conservative approach by the Bills as weeks past but with more big shots as Buffalo looks to make a statement to the AFC East and the rest of the NFL.
Defense is where Buffalo can dominate this game though. In the first matchup, Ja’Marcus Ingram played more than 50% of snaps at DB and there was no Jordan Poyer on the field. This time around Buffalo will have Poyer, Hamlin, Johnson, White, Jackson, and Elam as the key players in their secondary. Add to that a defensive line that is getting after quarterbacks despite the loss of Von Miller, and Tagovailoa may be in trouble. If Terron Armstead, who is working through multiple injuries, does not play on Saturday night this will be a long game for the Dolphins’ possible franchise quarterback.
Prediction: Bills 24 – Dolphins 20
It’s more difficult than normal to predict the score of this game because of the impending weather. Regardless, the Bills are going to put up three or four touchdowns and hold the Dolphins to three or fewer touchdowns. Everything about this game screams it’s Buffalo’s to win and that’s exactly what I expect to happen. Remember last year when the Patriots had the AFC East lead in December and were getting confident about that? The Dolphins were similar this year, only this time around the Bills won’t wait until Week 18 to clinch the division.