The Game Matchups Preview series is dedicated to breaking down how the Buffalo Bills matchup with their opponent in every game of the 2023 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 2023’s fourth edition of this analysis for the Bills Week 4 clash with the Miami Dolphins. Included is my “patented” 👏 scale which ranks the advantage in each matchup from 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage) to 👏 (Minimal Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Dolphins Pass Defense
Josh Allen’s ability to quickly change from a sugar-high gunslinger to an efficient assassin has been a breath of fresh air after the debacle that was Week 1. On the season Allen ranks third in completion percentage at 72.7% with a middling Intended Air Yards per Pass Attempt of 7.3 (NFL-20). It’s this play style that is slowly forcing opponents to creep their safeties, allowing Allen and company to pick and choose when to attack downfield. That means at some point in every game the Bills can pick apart their opponent underneath with the likes of Stefon Diggs, Dalton Kincaid, and James Cook while inevitably attacking deep with Gabe Davis or Dawson Knox. The latter has been much rarer than seasons past, but with a franchise that Allen produces historic numbers against coming to town this week, fireworks may be on the horizon.
That franchise is a Miami Dolphins team that is in the midst of a defensive renaissance. After struggling to stop opponents last season, Miami brought in the brilliant Vic Fangio to overhaul their defense and install his extremely dangerous yet complex zone-heavy defensive scheme. It’s the complexity of that scheme that can cause struggles early in the season, something the Dolphins haven’t been immune to. Through three games against Justin Herbert, Mac Jones, and Russell Wilson, Miami is giving up a Passer Rating of 88.6, ranked 18th in the NFL. The transition is working well at CB though where Xavien Howard is excelling and Kader Kohou’s inside/outside versatility allows Fangio to rotate in and out Eli Apple (outside CB) and Justin Bethel (slot CB) based on circumstance. The struggles have been more apparent at safety, where DeShon Elliott and Jevon Holland have posted Passer Ratings against of 114.6 and 113.7 respectively. Those numbers are expected though and with the scheme beginning to pick up steam in Miami, it’s only a matter of time until the takeaway-heavy concepts begin to pay dividends, this week as important as any that it does.
The Bills’ offense should be able to pick and choose their spots against a secondary that is expected to make a handful of mistakes this week. Where Miami can mitigate that efficient approach is by dominating up front, and they have the horses to do that. On the inside Christian Wilkins (DT) and Zach Sieler (DT) will consistently test to integrity of Connor McGovern (LG), Mitch Morse (C), and O’Cyrus Torrence (RG). On the outside, the Bills may struggle more with a three-man rotation that has the chance to be one of the better trios in the league. Bradley Chubb leads that charge and will line up over Dion Dawkins (LT) in a matchup the Bills will often have the advantage in. On the other side is where Miami can do some damage with the likes of Jaelan Phillips and/or Emmanuel Ogbah. Phillips’s health has been an issue all season but if healthy would be a matchup nightmare for Spencer Brown (RT) while Ogbah does not offer much of a reprieve. Buffalo will look to mitigate issues on this side via scheme and extra blockers (see Dawson Knox) but if the pressure ramps up this week know that a matchup the Bills should handedly win could quickly go south for Buffalo.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Dolphins Rush Defense
Heading into Week 4, only two players in the NFL have more rushing yards than the Bills second-year man James Cook. His ability to cut laterally along with his wiggle in confined spaces as well as his high top-end speed is paying dividends for the Bills. Almost more importantly, they are using Cook early in the game to set up opponents later in the contest through a combination of traps and play action that is keeping rushers guessing which play is next. Cook’s ascension this season, along with the addition of veteran thumpers Damien Harris and Latavius Murray, has allowed Buffalo to move off the one-dimensional play style of years past and into one of the most complete offenses in the NFL.
In a back-and-forth Week 1 game, the Dolphins got gashed for 233 rushing yards against on 40 carries. Since the conclusion of that game, Miami has yet to trail and has given up just 157 rushing yards on 45 carries. Such is the life of a team that consistently plays from ahead, a trend that will be tested on Sunday. The Bills will try to attack Miami on the ground and when they do will be running into a solid three-level approach to stopping the run. This all starts in the trenches with one of the league’s most dominant run-stopping duos in Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis. Wilkins finished 2022 behind only Daron Payne (18) and Chris Jones (17) amongst DTs in TFLs with 16 and is looking to do more of the same in 2023. With the body of a DT and athleticism of a DE, Wilkins will test a Bills interior OL on Sunday that will also need to deal with Davis. A more typical IDL at 6’6” and 330lbs, Davis can shut down passing lanes with his size while also closing off multiple gaps as he takes on multiple offensive linemen. These two players are more than capable of shutting down the A and B gaps this weekend which should leave the Bills testing the edge in an attempt at getting to the open field.
When the Bills do get to the open field life won’t get much easier for their runners. At linebacker, Jerome Baker continues to be one of the league’s most underappreciated players while David Long comes in as an important offseason addition. Baker is an all-around linebacker with elite athleticism (9.26 RAS) that allows him to take on blockers and run down almost any player in the open field. This season he’s joined by a significantly less athletic (3.31 RAS) player in David Long who was specifically brought in to stop the run. In two LB formations, Long can plug interior runs while also possessing the instincts to attack at the LOS for runs outside the tackle. On the season, these linebackers have combined for 33 tackles, an impressive number for a combo through three weeks which is incredibly equaled by one individual, Jevon Holland. Holland continues to evolve into one of the league’s best safeties and on Sunday will be a massive part of the Miami game plan. He will be tasked with stopping Josh Allen from hitting on multiple deep balls while simultaneously coming forward to take down open-field runners. This doesn’t just mean Holland will be keying on Cook, because if there is any player that can consistently contend with Josh Allen’s legs, Holland will have to be that guy.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏
Bills Pass Defense vs. Dolphins Pass Offense
The Bills pass defense was unbelievable in Week 3. For just the sixth time in the Super Bowl era, a quarterback was picked off four-plus times and Sacked nine or more times. In fact, it was the first time such a stat line had occurred since September 29, 1985, when Warren Moon was picked off four times and sacked 12 times by the Dallas Cowboys. For the Bills, it was the result of the perfect gameplan against an inexperienced quarterback that saw the Bills win their matchups at all three defensive levels. This is something the Bills have done all season leading to them having the top ranked Passer Rating against at 54.0, with a fair critique being that this has been accomplished against Zach Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Sam Howell. In Week 4, the Bills will take on their first real test in a make-or-break game against a team coming off an even more historic Week 3 performance.
70 points. No, that’s not the number of points I scored in Madden last night, that’s the number of points the Dolphins scored against the Broncos last Sunday. That’s behind only Washington in 1966 (72) and tied with the Rams in 1950, making the Dolphin’s offensive performance nothing short of legendary. The Dolphins’ offense is firing on all cylinders right now led by a quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa who currently has the NFL’s highest QuBeR at 74.96. Mike McDaniel has designed arguably the most anticipatory offense in league history, playing perfectly into his quarterback’s skill set. Constant motion/misdirection, multiple pre-snap reads, and the fastest Time to Throw in the league (2.34s) have kept Tagovailoa clean and led to explosive plays each week of the season. So, how do you defend it? Sending extra blitzers seems to be a non-starter due to Tagovailoa’s quick release, so despite the Dolphins’ subpar Offensive Line, that’s out. Dropping eight into coverage may be something, but it’s something Miami could easily run against ( and they are good at that, too). Bringing a safety down into the box exposes you on deep balls to the fastest WRs in the NFL. Sean McDermott has his work cut out for him this week and must find a way to confuse Tagovailoa’s first snap reads, force him to hold onto the ball, and generate a high volume of pressure. Don’t do all three of those things, and you’re in trouble.
And even if you do those things there is still the issue of Tyreek Hill. The last non-quarterback to win the NFL MVP was Adrian Peterson in 2012 when he rushed for 2,097 yards. Hill is currently on pace for 142 receptions, 2,335 yards, and 23 touchdowns. Those are guaranteed NFL MVP numbers. In the past teams, would counter Hill’s speed and agility by pressing him off the line, but in typical McDaniel fashion, a counter was found for that. Hill is constantly in pre-snap motion taking away the ability to press him, especially for teams that are zone-heavy like the Bills. Covering him is not the goal this week, containing him is the hope. And even if the Bills elite secondary featuring Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Tre White, Christian Benford, and Taron Johnson can contain Hill, there are plenty of other weapons at Tua’s disposal. Jaylen Waddle will likely return this week as a WR1 in WR2 clothing. Braxton Berrios and River Cracraft are depth options that are both quick and speedy slot WRs more than capable of finding holes in zone defenses. Add to all that speed out of the backfield in Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane, and the Bills DBs and LBs are going to be forced to keep receivers in front of them in a full-on “bend don’t break” effort against this Dolphins team.
ADVANTAGE: Dolphins 👏👏👏
Bills Rush Defense vs. Dolphins Rush Offense
The Bills came off a Week 2 performance where they held defending rushing champ Josh Jacobs to –2 yards and had a less impressive, though acceptable, Week 3 outing. They did give up an 8.1 Y/A to the Commanders in a game that was a start-to-finish blowout that saw Buffalo play most of the second half in prevent. Much of that Y/A was produced through gaping holes that had Bills defensive linemen looking to pad their sack totals in bringing down Sam Howell while Buffalo’s linebackers played well behind the LOS. Those linebackers though continue to be a bright light for the Bills. Coming into the 2023 season everyone knew what Matt Milano was, an All-Pro top-tier NFL linebacker, while Terrel Bernard was a massive unknown. Through three weeks, Bernard has been impressive and last week earned his first AFC Defensive Player of the Week Award in just his fourth NFL start. If Bernard is the weak point moving forward for the Bills, run or pass teams are set to struggle against this defense.
We know the Dolphins can throw the ball, but they are very good on the ground as well. At this point in the season, Miami leads the league in averaging 6.1 Y/A, half a yard more than the second-place Cardinals (5.6) and over a yard more than the third-place Bills (5.0). Just like what makes them dangerous through the air, it’s speed that makes them dangerous on the ground. Their RB1 remains Raheem Mostert who has 53.2% of Miami’s RB rushing attempts and is averaging 5.9 Y/A. This season he is paired with the lightning-quick rookie, De’Von Achane who had his coming-out party in Week 3. Leveraging his 4.32 speed, Achane finished his game against the Broncos with 18 carries for 203 yards in the first real flash of what he’s capable of. This is what a Bills team that doesn’t have elite speed on the defensive side of the ball must contend with. Buffalo will need to avoid misdirection on a consistent basis and have its linebackers guess right more often than not. If and when those LBs miss though, the Bills DBs must come up and make a tackle; miss even a couple and the Dolphins could be off to the races again this week.
Miami also has a multi-tier approach to blocking the run that diminishes their disadvantage in the trenches. Terron Armstead is an elite LT but outside of him, the Dolphins’ OL ranges from okay to downright bad. In theory, this should provide Buffalo’s starting DL of Leonard Floyd (DE), DaQuan Jones (DT), Ed Oliver (DT), and Greg Rousseau (DE) ample opportunities to attack players in the backfield. In reality, the Dolphins utilize auxiliary players to avoid that. Alec Ingold continues to be one of the league’s best fullbacks and the Dolphins’ very own Kyle Juszczyk. He is capable of taking blockers head-on and/or sealing them off in space. Just like Ingold, the Dolphins TE1 excels in blocking as well. Durham Smythe is almost exclusively a sixth OL and one of the better blocking players at his position. Miami can use him to either nudge edge defenders inside or get to the second level and take on speedy linebackers, like the ones the Bills have. Make no mistake, the Bills have an advantage on paper in the trenches but with what the Dolphins do to move the ball on the ground Miami has the ability to flip that advantage upside down.
ADVANTAGE: Dolphins 👏👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Dolphins Special Teams
It’s gone somewhat ignored, but the Bills’ kicker is red hot right now. He is 17/17 onkKicks to start the season which includes two attempts from 50+ yards. Bass is a weapon for Buffalo and a player that the Bills are comfortable lining up from almost any distance to put points on the board. With him in the kicking room is Sam Martin, who outside of a Week 1 punt return TD has been excellent. He has only punted twice in the past two weeks but has netted 104 yards on those punts. Outside of him, the Bills have only one KR and three PRs but have players that can do damage on both. Deonte Harty is set to make a big return any week now while Damien Harris took his only return 41 yards for the Bills.
For the Dolphins, kicking has been much less consistent. Jason Sanders has missed two of his six FG attempts, one of which was blocked, while also shanking an XP. He has an All-Pro pedigree but is far from the player he was in 2020 at the moment. As for punter, Miami uses itsas infrequently as the Bills with Jake Bailey only punting five times this season. In those attempts, he has produced a solid 43.0 NY/P but there are concerns about his time to punt which resulted in three punts being blocked back in 2021. Lastly is return man, Braxton Berrios who is one of the most electric in the NFL in that role. While he has yet to get his hands on a KR he is averaging a solid 11.4 Y/PR on his five punt returns as a player the Bills will need to be wary of in the event that they have to kick towards him.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Why Buffalo Will Lose
The Bills haven’t seen an offense like the Dolphins have yet this season, and it’s not the same offense they saw last season. The Dolphins’ speed is overwhelming and has the ability to generate what may be a historic offense. Tyreek Hill will be a threat no matter what the Bills do this week and if Buffalo bails out to stop him, Miami can pivot to other players through the air and on the ground. Rest assured that we have yet to see the whole array of what Mike McDaniel has prepared for this offense and with the importance of this game in Buffalo, expect even more trickery to appear.
On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins have enough playmakers to force Josh Allen into multiple turnovers. Up front, that means Bradley Chubb and Christian Wilkins along with Jaelan Phillips, assuming he is healthy. Deep that means Xavien Howard and Jevon Holland with a gameplan centered on removing Stefon Diggs from the equation. The key to defeating the Bills offense is forcing Allen into multiple silly turnovers which requires the players and scheme to accomplish. Miami has each.
Why Buffalo Will Win
The Dolphins haven’t seen a defense like the Bills have yet this season, and it’s not the same defense they saw last season. Miami loves to attack the middle of the field and does so with such anticipation; the only counter is speed at linebacker. That just so happens to be something Buffalo has in spades with Terrel Bernard, Matt Milano, and pseudo–DB Taron Johnson. Now add to that an injury at center which may keep Connor Williams off the field on Sunday with the way the Bills IDL is playing, and the middle of the field could belong to Buffalo.
On the offensive side of the ball, Josh Allen has simply dominated the Dolphins. If the Jets are Allen’s Kryptonite, then the Dolphins are his sunlight. The past two weeks Allen has picked apart his opponents and there is no reason to expect that to stop this week. Add to that him clearly eyeing the homerun ball and don’t be surprised if he hits two or more big ones against the Phins. Do that, and run the ball with your trio of RBs led by James Cook, and Buffalo should not only put up points consistently but should also keep the ball away from Tagovailoa and Tyreek.
Prediction: Bills 28 – Dolphins 24
If you want to tell me the Bills will beat the Dolphins, I’ll listen. If you want to tell me the Dolphins will beat the Bills, I’ll listen. This is about as tossup as tossups come but a side had to be picked. So why do I have the Bills winning? Sure, I trust Josh Allen to put up points, but it’s Sean McDermott who I trust to contain the Dolphins’ offense. To slow down this team you need to confuse pre-snap and attack post-snap which is the inherent nature of what this Bills’ defense is. Allen leads the Bills offense to four touchdowns and the Dolphins turn the ball over one more time than the Bills as Buffalo heads to London atop the AFC East.