After a dominant week-one win against the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills travel south to take on the Miami Dolphins. Miami is coming off of a 21-11 loss against the New England Patriots and will try to rebound in their home opener. Here is my full preview of what to expect from this matchup between a team ready to compete against one of the most interesting rebuilds in the league:
Bills Defense vs. Dolphins Offense
It’s safe to affirm that the Buffalo Bills defense is a powerhouse in the NFL. After finishing top-three in yards allowed in the last two seasons, this unit continued to impress in this season’s opener. They were dominant, the pass rush harassing Sam Darnold all day long and the secondary excelling in coverage. The performance against the run was successful, too, not letting Le’Veon Bell get into a rhythm all day long.
Buffalo isn’t supposed to be afraid of Miami’s offense. However, the loss of two key members of this defense will make things tougher. Linebackers Matt Milano (hamstring) and Tremaine Edmunds (shoulder) are out of the game. That’s something that Dolphins OC Chan Gailey and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will be trying to take advantage of.
I really like Dodson's athleticism. He was a tackling machine in preseason last year. If healthy, he will flash. pic.twitter.com/Q2W5wJt0Gn— Cover 1 (@Cover1) September 18, 2020
After winning the starting job, enabling rookie first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa to learn from the sidelines, Fitz has been more “tragic” than “magic” so far in 2020. He threw three INTs and no TDs against the Patriots, completing 20 of 30 pass attempts for 191 yards. The Patriots have a strong secondary, but Buffalo’s isn’t any weaker.
DeVante Parker (four targets, four receptions for 47 yards) and Preston Williams (seven targets, two receptions for 41 yards) are the main targets outside. Despite being talented, neither is completely healthy, with Parker dealing with a hamstring issue and Williams, in his second game after recovering from an ACL surgery, continuing to be careful with his knee. Both were listed on the team’s injury report but should be good to go on Sunday. With Tre’Davious White and Levi Wallace doing a great job last week, I’m confident they can repeat it in Miami.
The biggest question mark on the Bills’ defense is the linebacker duo. Edmunds and Milano are on the field on almost 100% of the defensive snaps, and how A.J. Klein and Tyler Dodson replace them will dictate how successful the Dolphins’ offensive drives should be. I expect Miami to attack them, especially the less mobile Klein, in the passing game. Tight end Mike Gesicki (five targets, three receptions for 30 yards in week 1) is very capable and definitely a mismatch there. How Buffalo defends him is an interesting thing to keep an eye on, with the versatile defensive back Siran Neal a notable option. Neal has experience as a safety and corner as a pro, and played some linebacker in college. He doesn’t have the size to play there full time at the NFL level but can be utilized there on clear passing downs.
Tre’Davious White Week 1 coverage stats:— PFF (@PFF) September 17, 2020
🔹 30 coverage snaps
🔹 2 targets
🔹 1 reception for 0 yards
🚫 ✈️ pic.twitter.com/FFuQ0Ow0ms
Another way to test the backup linebackers is rushing the ball. Although the Dolphins invested in their backfield by bringing in running backs Jordan Howard (eight carries for seven yards and one TD) and Matt Breida (five carries for 22 yards), Myles Gaskin was the team’s leading rusher in week one with nine carries for 40 yards. I expect Howard and Breida to receive more touches going forward, and they will need a better performance from the completely rebuilt offensive line to challenge the Bills’ linebackers at the second level.
Speaking of the new Dolphins OL, it features two starting rookies in LT Austin Jackson and RG Solomon Kindley. Just like Jets LT Mekhi Becton, Austin could have a bright future ahead of him, but right now, I expect Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison to take advantage of the inexperienced rookie. Kindley shouldn’t be able to stop Ed Oliver consistently, and the other starters (Ereck Flowers, Ted Karras, and Jesse Davis) aren’t standout players. I expect the Bills’ defensive line rotation to dominate this matchup.
Biggest Advantage: Bills DL against Dolphins OL
Reason for concern: Bills LBs against Dolphins RBs and TEs
Bills Offense vs. Dolphins Defense
This is an interesting matchup with the improved Bills offense facing a well-coached Dolphins defense. Head coach Brian Flores acquired several players in the last free agency, including former Patriots who are familiar with his schemes in linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, and DB Eric Rowe. Another new addition, former Bills first-round pick Shaq Lawson, started in week one and played on 97% of the defensive snaps.
Few defenses in the NFL have the pieces to match up against the Bills’ top four wide receivers, but the Dolphins may be one of them. Former Cowboy Byron Jones leads the group, which also features Xavien Howard, first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene, and the aforementioned Rowe. Both Jones and Howard were limited in some practices this week but will be ready to go on Sunday. It’ll be interesting to see if Bills OC Brian Daboll shies away from the 4-WR sets because of Miami’s depth, or if he tests it.
The team that led the NFL in 4WR sets in Week 1?— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) September 17, 2020
The Buffalo Bills - 25% of snaps
Just like we all predicted
The home team’s front seven will be missing Elandon Roberts. The starting ILB suffered a concussion last week and is out. Miami struggled against Cam Newton, completely incapable of slowing him down. Newton completed 15 of 19 passes for 155 yards and, most importantly, rushed 15 times for 75 yards and two scores. Expect more designed runs for Josh Allen, with the QB being a nightmare for opposing defenses when he makes use of his full skill-set.
Josh Allen led the NFL in yards after contact per rushing attempt in Week 1, following by the pair of featured backs from Thursday's game pic.twitter.com/8VMZCOhK4u— ProFootballReference (@pfref) September 17, 2020
It’s also a good opportunity for the Bills’ running backs find their groove. The Dolphins couldn’t stop New England’s rushing attack, and I think it’s been a point of emphasis for Buffalo this week.
The Bills’ OL did a nice job keeping Allen upright in week one. The Dolphins, just like the Jets, don’t have an elite pass rusher, relying on blitzes to harass the opposing QB. I expect another solid showing from Allen, the WRs, and the OL in this department.
Bills had some solid Cover 0 checks last week, going to need them vs. Fins. pic.twitter.com/63AVLaoNco— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) September 15, 2020
In the running game, the offensive line’s ability to open holes for Devin Singletary and Zack Moss will make a huge difference in Buffalo’s favor. We know Josh Allen had some of his best performances against Miami, so if the running game gets going, look out.
Biggest Advantage: Josh Allen’s dual-threat ability
Reason for concern: Miami’s high-level cornerbacks and Cover-0 blitzes
This is a tough matchup for Buffalo. They’re more prepared to win now than the rebuilding Dolphins, but the loss of of their pair of every-down linebackers weakens their defense. Miami has talent and is dangerous on a good day. Special teams could be important, and rookie kicker Tyler Bass may have a golden opportunity to rebound from a poor first showing. Josh Allen will need to be sharp to avoid a close game or a loss against a divisional rival.
Prediction: Bills win, 28-21