1 – Keeping an eye on injuries
Buffalo has been one of the healthiest teams in the league the past two seasons, but the injury bug has bitten them hard in the early going of the 2022 campaign. After not having defensive tackles Ed Oliver and Tim Settle along with receiver Gabe Davis in the lineup this past Monday night, the Bills might be even more shorthanded on Sunday in Miami.
Defensive backs Micah Hyde, Dane Jackson and Jordan Poyer were all sidelined with injuries this week with Hyde and Jackson's injuries taking place in the Titans game. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips suffered a hamstring injury. Head coach Sean McDermott ruled Hyde, Jackson and Phillips out for Sunday's game against Miami. Hopefully Oliver and Settle are ready to return to fill the void on the defensive interior left by Phillips.
"We believe in the next man up philosophy," said head coach Sean McDermott. "We'd love to have those guys out there. We'll see how it works out here."
With Jackson out after suffering a neck injury that required him to make a trip to the hospital, it means that Buffalo will likely be starting two rookies at cornerback in Christian Benford and Kaiir Elam.
McDermott recognizes that initially being out on the field with speedy receivers like Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle may initially be a shock, but he's confident the young corners will adjust as the game wears on.
"He's a once in a lifetime player with his speed and his ability to go up for the contested catches and everything," said McDermott of Hill. "They've got tremendous speed on offense. They put a lot of points up and they do a great job offensively scheme wise and Mike (McDaniel) does a great job of putting them in position to be successful and so it'll be a big challenge for us."
Coach McDermott hasn't ruled Jordan Poyer out for Sunday, but he is nursing a foot injury. Knowing Hyde is out, fourth-year safety Jaquan Johnson is expected to take his place in the lineup. If Poyer is also unable to play it would be second-year safety Damar Hamlin stepping in. Johnson started in place of Poyer last season in Week 4 and posted an interception. He and Hamlin also got snaps on defense Monday night in Buffalo's blowout win over Tennessee.
On the bright side receiver Gabe Davis is expected to return to the lineup after missing last week's game with an ankle injury. Oliver and Settle also appear to be trending in the right direction.
2 – Motion and play action helping Tua
Tua Tagovailoa currently leads the league in passing yards with 739 through the first two weeks, thanks largely to his 469-yard, six touchdown passing performance against Baltimore last week. So, what has enabled Tagovailoa to make improvements from a season ago?
New head coach Mike McDaniel has employed some similar tools that the Bills offensive staff used to help advance Josh Allen's career. McDaniel has implemented a lot of pre-snap motion within the offensive scheme, which aids Tagovailoa in diagnosing the defensive call.
"We get to see what kind of defensive front they run," said Tagovailoa. "If they do adjust their fronts with our motions with our tight ends and then with our jet motions with Tyreek (Hill), Jaylen (Waddle), and all our other guys in the back end, we get to see how they move within their coverages and it's going to be a real good challenge for us this week because of how sound Buffalo plays defensively with those."
No other team has used pre-snap motion more than Miami through the first two weeks of the season. Additionally, no other team has run more play action than the Dolphins, who have turned to it on 31 percent of their offensive snaps.
That play design helps to create space in the passing game for Tagovailoa's receiving targets to exploit.
3 – Third down decision makers
Both Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa have gotten off to productive starts this season. The Buffalo and Miami quarterbacks have done some of their best work on third down. In fact, Allen and Tagovailoa rank first and second in the league in third down passer rating.
Allen has a rating of 154.9 to lead the NFL and has a gaudy 13.73 yards per attempt on third down along with a 73.3 completion percentage.
Tagovailoa is right behind him with a 151.1 passer rating with an impressive touchdown percentage of 19 percent and a completion percentage of 81 percent on the money down.
"He's done a good job with that," said Allen of Tagovailoa. "You're seeing the success starting to happen. I'm happy for him, not just as a person, as a human, and then the competitive side of me… he's our rival. And that comes second. But our defense has got to be prepared. They're playing really well on offense too. And with the new system that they put in, it'll have to be a complementary win. We're going to have to do our part on the offense side of the ball and allow our defense to make some plays and play smart, complementary football."
Buffalo's offense leads the league in third down conversion rate at 61 percent. Miami stands sixth in the NFL with a success rate of 52 percent.
4 – Pressure problems
While Buffalo's defensive front has performed well in generating pressure, even while seldom blitzing, the Dolphins defense has had trouble generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks through the first two weeks.
Miami currently ranks 31st in the league in pressure rate, getting heat on opposing quarterbacks just under 11 percent of the time (10.9%). This despite blitzing on 39 percent of their defensive snaps, the sixth-highest rate in the NFL.
NFL Network analyst Cameron Wolfe, who covers the Dolphins appeared on the 'Bills by the Numbers' podcast this week and believes their lack of pass rush production for Miami is due more to the individual battles at the line of scrimmage.
"They were hoping to have a bigger jump in production from Jaelan Phillips and Emmanuel Ogbah as their duo. Phillips' analytic numbers have been good, but it hasn't translated into sacks. Ogbah hasn't made much of an impact. They've played Melvin Ingram a bit more to get more off the edge to try to get more there. So, they need those individual pass rushers to make more of an impact.
Miami's high blitz rate could be risky against elite quarterbacks like Allen, who can diagnose those pre-snap looks. Lamar Jackson victimized such blitzes a couple of times last week against Miami. Jackson went 12-for-14 passing for 206 yards and two touchdowns when the Dolphins blitzed. Now facing their second-straight mobile quarterback in Josh Allen, Miami's defenders know they have to be disciplined in their rush lanes.
"It's all about a team-rush mentality, so marrying the outside rushers with the inside rushers so you're not creating lanes for the quarterback to step up in," said OLB Jaelan Phillips. "You definitely have to be diligent in your rules and what we're doing as a defense."
On 59 pass plays by their opponents this season, Miami has produced two sacks and seven quarterback pressures.
5 – First down difference
Part of the problem for Miami's defense is they're not getting opposing offenses in long down and distance situations come third down. That's because their first down defense is giving up more than seven yards per play (7.14). Giving up five yards per carry on the ground and a completion percentage of more than 71 percent (71.2%) to opposing quarterbacks are the main reasons.
Two of Baltimore's touchdown drives last week against the Dolphins never even got to third down. Dolphins LB Jerome Baker believes it was just a bad half of football for them defensively.
"I think as a team, we all knew that the first half wasn't us," Baker said in reference to the Ravens game. "It wasn't just our head coach, it was the leaders on our team, our captains – just everybody. We all knew we had to lock it in. In years past, we all have been in tough games, and we came back and gave teams a challenge. We knew we had it in us and it worked out for us in the second half, and we got it done."
Miami did only surrender one conversion on Baltimore's six second-half third down opportunities.
This season, however, 11 of their opponents' 19 third down opportunities have been 3rd-and-6 or less and on the eight occasions when their opponents were in 3rd-and-7 or more they still gave up conversions three times. And it's due to the yardage surrendered early in series, particularly first down.
6 – Does the run game matter?
The Bills and Dolphins haven't had a problem putting up points through the first two weeks on offense, but they have had a bit of an issue when it's come to running the football. Buffalo checked out of a lot of run calls, particularly on Monday night against the Titans as Josh Allen often checked the RPO call to a pass because that's what the defensive look dictated.
But Allen is confident in the plan they have in place for the Dolphins this weekend.
"I think (offensive line) coach (Aaron) Kromer and our offensive line have put together a pretty good game plan for the run game," Allen said. "And it's just us going out there and executing, putting a hat on a hat. Knowing who we're I-D-ing, going after that, and then the running backs seeing the lanes and hitting them. So, I've got no doubt in my mind that we're capable of it. But again, it all comes down to Sunday, 1 pm, executing and making sure that we're sticking to it."
Meanwhile the Dolphins are still trying to get a handle on the wide zone scheme that head coach Mike McDaniel has brought with him from San Francisco. The production has been anemic to this point as the Dolphins are averaging just over 75 rushing yards per game (75.5).
"The Dolphins had 50 passes last weekend, which is interesting knowing Mike McDaniel was a run game specialist in San Francisco," said Wolfe. "They just haven't run the ball well at all. They had some spurts in the second half last week. They're going to try to stick to it, but the new wide zone scheme takes time for an offensive line to learn. I've seen times where they're not getting to their landmarks on time, and it's blown up the play. So, it might take until midseason before that run game hits its stride."
Add in the fact that Buffalo's defense allows just 66 yards on the ground per game after shutting down Derrick Henry last week and finding running lanes for Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds could prove challenging.
The Buffalo Bills practice to prepare for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.