1. Home cooking
Miami is looking for their first 4-0 start since 1995, but they're going to have to pull it off in the NFL's toughest place to win, Highmark Stadium. Since 2020, the Bills own the NFL's best home record at 25-6 (.800), including the postseason.
Counting the playoffs, the Bills have won nine of their last 10 games against the Dolphins, including a 7-0 mark at home.
Dolphins WR Tyreek Hill dismissed the playing environment at Highmark Stadium this week in a podcast appearance. According to ProFootballNetwork.com, Hill said the following about playing in Orchard Park.
"I just feel like it's not any different from any away game," said Hill of Highmark Stadium. "They've got a great team. I feel like their fan base is just like any other fan base. So it's just going to be like a normal environment to us. [We've got] true ballers. They're going to go in there unfazed, make plays and do what we've been doing all year."
Bills head coach Sean McDermott has appealed to Bills fans to make the atmosphere difficult for Sunday's visitors.
"It's going to be a great environment in Orchard Park," said McDermott. "We're going to need our fans the whole afternoon, not just on defense. It's going to take all of us, not just our team, but the Bills Mafia."
2. Problem causing offense
While the headline grabber this week has understandably been the 70 points the Dolphins hung on the Broncos last week, the more important task is devising a way to slow down the big-play Miami attack. If you ask the experts like ESPN NFL analyst, Dan Orlovsky, who made his weekly appearance on ‘One Bills Live,’ there aren't many good answers.
"For the Bills defense, who I have a ton of respect for, I think they're playing phenomenal right now, but Miami's offense is almost impossible to stop," Orlovsky said. "You can't play man because of the vertical speed and the way they motion and get Tyreek (Hill) running full speed. It scares you to death. You can't play zone because what they do... I want everyone to think of an accordion. The vertical speed they have forces you to play deep at the top end of your defense. Your safeties have to play a little bit abnormally deep because of that speed. And so now this accordion is kind of like stretched out before the ball ever really gets snapped.
"Then they give the second level of defenders, (Matt) Milano and (Terrel) Bernard and Taron Johnson, so much to see both horizontally with the motions or a guy coming across the formation after the snap and vertically. If you watch the Broncos defense on run plays, so often they were going backwards and on pass plays so often they were standing still and that's how they create some of those massive gaps at the second or third level of your defense. I think it's a really difficult offense philosophically to have a plan for."
Bills head coach Sean McDermott called Dolphins' head coach, Mike McDaniel's scheme "revolutionary" this week leading up to the game. But he believes their own approach has to be rooted in consistent play diagnosis and then execution.
"Obviously, they've exposed people in a lot of ways in the run and the pass," McDermott said. "So you try and be fundamentally sound in what you do. And I think that's the biggest thing is make sure we're getting off blocks, make sure we're tackling, and I think that's the biggest thing you can do is emphasize the things that always come into play in a football game and that's the fundamentals."
As dominant as Miami's passing game has been, so has Buffalo's pass defense. The Dolphins boast the league's top rushing and passing offense. The Bills defense has the number three pass defense, rank second in sacks, has the highest pressure percentage in the NFL (50.6%), and leads the league in interceptions. Tua Tagovailoa holds the top passer rating in the league at 121.9, but his career passer rating against the Bills is 58.4. Buffalo's defense has the lowest passer rating allowed this season at 54.
3. Play action please
While it's no secret that Miami runs play action at the second-highest rate in the league (34.2%), Buffalo has incorporated it into their passing game on a more consistent basis thus far this season themselves. The results have been encouraging through their first three games. So much so, that Orlovsky believes the Bills could become the best in the league in executing it if they turn to it even more going forward.
"They are the best play-action pass offense in football," said Orlovsky of the Bills. "And last week, they went and brought six offensive linemen in, and they ran play-action pass. And I think that does wonders for everybody on their offense. So I think the more that they are willing to do that and willing to try to kind of control some of the pressures that Miami's defense is going to bring is going to be a huge story.
"Vic Fangio is bringing pressures from all over the place right now. You see double corners, coming on first down. So the more that you can put a quarterback under center and have a couple more people, at least initially on the play in the protection plan, the more comfortable you feel as a quarterback. The more Josh can get to the line of scrimmage and be like, 'I don't have to know exactly what the protection issue is because we got seven for seven.' It may not be perfect every time, but you've got a guy for a guy type of thing, instead of standing there and trying to analyze everything. So I think having everybody in the protection to be able to handle some of the early down unique pressures that Vic (Fangio) will bring will be pivotal."
Bills offensive coordinator, Ken Dorsey has been encouraged by the production of the offense off play action.
"I think Josh has been really effective in it," Dorsey said. "I think it adds a great dimension to our offense to be able to mix things up and change the launch point for Josh and give the defense different looks. I think that's something we can continue to expand and continue to grow with. It's something our guys have been able to execute extremely well, whether it's receivers creating opportunities for Josh, whether it's Josh's decision or whether it's those guys up front and their execution, pass protection or run blocking."
Those positive plays off play action have also enabled Buffalo to stage some long, sustained scoring drives, which has swung time of possession in the Bills favor as well. Over the last two games, Buffalo has had seven scoring drives of nine plays or more, two of which took more than nine minutes off the game clock en route to points.
"We've had a few backed-up drives that are 15-plus plays that take a lot of time off the clock," said Josh Allen. "And that speaks volumes to the guys on the team, speaks volumes to what Coach Dorsey's calling and how we got there and executed it. But again, we're just trying to win a football game. If it's by putting up 40 or putting up four, we're just trying to go out there and play complementary football and do what we need to do to win the game."
4. Dolphins defense is singularly focused
The last few seasons, Buffalo's offense has grown accustomed to a super aggressive Miami defensive front, but that has all changed now with new coordinator Vic Fangio.
"What Vic Fangio does is try to keep everything in front of him in the pass game," said AllDolphins.com reporter Alain Poupart on the ‘Bills by the Numbers’ podcast this week. "Against the Chargers in Week 1, the Chargers had a chance to take the lead down two with two minutes left and the defense got the stop. Miami's approach was, go ahead we'll let you run, but we're not letting Justin Herbert beat us with your receivers. And the Chargers rushed for 233 yards. Up one score late at New England they also got the stop they needed to seal the game.
"But it's a different philosophy than what we've seen in the past, which was attack, attack, attack, even against the run. And that's why they were so good against the run last year, but this year they have not been that great. It's been bend but don't break and try to get takeaways."
The defensive unit for Miami has so much faith that their offense will put up points, that their focus is getting the football back via a turnover rather than by forcing a punt.
"Miami's defense, I think their belief is they're just trying to gain possessions for their offense," said Orlovsky. "They're trying to just see how many different times they're capable of getting the ball back for Tua because their offense is so explosive."
The Dolphins have managed to get five takeaways in their first three games which is tied for sixth most in the league, but Miami is surrendering 130 yards on the ground per game, which ranks 24th. They're also 20th against the pass and 23rd in the league in getting stops on third down.
"It is a little different," said Dawson Knox of Miami's defensive scheme. "Being a little extra detailed with the film study. Honing in on the details and focusing on our execution but knowing what they do well. I think knowing it's a different coordinator, locks you in just a bit more during the week."
5. Tight end opportunity?
The Bills have made some changes in the offseason, particularly with their offensive personnel groupings. After barely using two tight end sets last season, Buffalo has run more 12 (1 RB, 2 TE) personnel than any other team in football with 93 total plays in that grouping, making up 45 percent of their offensive plays.
That package has proven efficient as the offense has averaged better than four and a half yards per play out of that grouping (4.66) and Josh Allen has been productive with a completion percentage of 73.5 percent with two touchdowns and 26 first downs.
Miami is not known to have super athletic coverage linebackers inside. Buffalo's athletic tight ends could provide good production on Sunday.
"I do think they have a favorable matchup with the tight ends in this game." Orlovsky said. "I believe it to be true this week because I don't think that is the challenge with (defensive coordinator) Vic Fangio in the way that the Dolphins defense is playing. They will give you the 10-yard completions. The Dolphins under Vic and with some of the personnel that they have right now they're trying to take away the easy throws and challenge you to make the difficult ones."
For Allen when he drops back to pass, ball placement on the inside intermediate routes will be critically important.
But counting last year's Wild Card playoff game, Bills TE Dawson Knox has nine receptions for 118 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his last two games against Miami. Now add rookie Dalton Kincaid into the mix and the coverage assignments against 12 personnel will be all the more challenging for the Dolphins.
Scroll for the best photos from Wednesday's practice on Sept. 27 as the Bills get ready to host the Miami Dolphins.