Trouble Looming: Why the Bills Offense is Perfectly Equipped to Carve Up the Dolphins
While joking about the Miami Dolphins “tanking” during the 2016 season was fun, the reality is that no first year NFL head coach is going to purposefully lose.
Last Sunday, Adam Gase’s team notched their first true win (after the group clearly should have lost against Cleveland). They thoroughly dominated a Steelers team that outgunned them at almost every position. The coaching staff assembled a flawless game plan, taking away virtually all of Pittsburgh’s weapons.
Now, the Dolphins reach a pivotal point in their schedule. Sitting at 2-4, they face the Buffalo Bills ahead of a bye week. If the Dolphins lose to the Bills, it will reaffirm what most believed about a meaningless second half of 2016. However, if they emerge victorious, they could ride high into an easy stretch of the schedule.
The Dolphins will follow up the bye week with games against the Jets, Rams, Chargers, 49ers and Ravens. Each of these teams is currently struggling, making it seem possible that the Dolphins could, in some crazy world, salvage the season and find some level of success.
This scenario would be more likely if they were not about to face the Buffalo Bills. While the Bills aren’t the league’s scariest team in a vacuum, they are equipped perfectly to gash the Dolphins in almost every area of weakness.
Speed of LeSean McCoy:
Update: LeSean McCoy has been ruled out for Sunday’s game according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, but is considered to be a game-time decision by other news outlets. While losing McCoy would be a blow for the Bills, Mike Gillislee and Reggie Bush could step in and fill similar roles. (Gillislee ran many of the same Wildcat sets that McCoy did.)
The Dolphins’ defense cannot handle speed.
While they were able to contain Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown in Week 6, they did so knowing that those two are not pure speed players. Neither is a straight-line burner.
The defense has showed in previous weeks that the league’s faster players give them fits.
On the play above, A.J. Green simply outruns the Dolphins’ coverage.
There, Marcus Mariota hits the edge and nobody on the Dolphins’ defense has the foot-speed to catch him.
LeSean McCoy is one of the league’s fastest runners, and also one of the shiftiest (hence, “Shady” McCoy).
The title of that play in my folder is NightmareFuel.GIF.
LeSean McCoy’s acceleration and burst could cause the Miami run defense to split open at the seams; the Dolphins won’t be able to close on McCoy or keep running lanes closed on the defensive line.
McCoy’s ability to hit the hole quickly and burst through before the defensive line can blink bodes well against a team that leaves gaps open due to subpar play up front.
When the Dolphins were able to stop Le’Veon Bell in Week 6, it was largely because they were able to read where the runner is going and get there in time.
On the play above, Reshad Jones watches the run develop and is able to clog the running lane. However, a speedier running back could have simply hit another hole and been 5 yards past the line before the DL could react.
Another issue is Kiko Alonso; Alonso’s solid play has been thanks to a knowledge of where runners will be. He is no longer covering the width of the field in the blink of an eye using an incredible amount of speed as he did when he was with the Bills.
The Dolphins’ best chance to stop the run? If LeSean McCoy’s hamstring injury is serious enough to hinder his explosiveness on Sunday.
If he’s healthy, nobody on Miami’s defense is going to catch him.
Throughout the 2016 season, the Dolphins have shown an inability to defend teams that employ extensive shifts or alternative formations.
The Steelers line up in very standard personnel groupings most of the time, which helped Miami in their quest to slow them down.
One specific formation that has (ironically) killed the Dolphins in 2016? The Wildcat.
Against the Browns, Terrelle Pryor’s exploits at QB rendered the Dolphins’ defense completely useless.
Here, Pryor beats the entire Dolphins’ defense to the edge.
Hate to break it to Dolphins fans, but the Bills may or may not employ pretty much the exact same tactic.
The Bills’ use of the Wildcat will be even scarier for the Dolphins because of the way they enter that formation. Instead of lining up directly for the play, they start in a normal set. Then they shift players pre-snap to end up with a wildcat play in front of them.
The play above is another example of Buffalo’s deployment of this strategy. The Dolphins will need to be ready, as the Bills not only use their players’ speed, but also allow those players to get open by using different formations and methods of trickery.
Vance Joseph claimed that the Dolphins prepared for Terrelle Pryor in the Wildcat ahead of Week 3. Unfortunately it did not show on tape. It is possible that his team’s failings against Cleveland could have taught them new lessons about defending the formation. If not it will be a long day for Miami’s defense.
Buffalo’s Blocking Strengths:
The Bills’ offensive line features strong interior blockers in Eric Woods and Richie Incognito.
When they travelled to Los Angeles, the Bills faced Aaron Donald, who happens to be one of the only interior defensive linemen who is more dominant than Ndamukong Suh. The Bills’ strategy against the Rams’ dominant defensive line was to actually allow the defensive ends to play more freely, congesting interior lanes and preventing pressure up the middle.
The Dolphins’ defensive line is built to collapse pockets from the inside. Ndamukong Suh beats blockers, forcing QBs to roll out. Then, defensive ends are asked to participate in cleanup duty.
This strategy will not work against the Bills.
In Week 6, the Bills faced the 49ers. Their strategy was to overwhelm the 49ers with interior pass protection, forcing their subpar defensive ends to be the driving force if they wanted to pressure Tyrod Taylor.
This was the result on multiple instances:
Tyrod Taylor has a lane to step up, easily avoiding defensive ends due to his athleticism and awareness in the pocket. When a team’s edge rush is weak, life is easy for Tyrod and the Bills.
The Dolphins’ Wide-9 sets could create serious issues for them as they look to stop Tyrod Taylor from stepping up into open space.
However, there is a caveat; if the Dolphins can play against Tyrod Taylor in the same way that they played against Russell Wilson, they could have some success.
Here, Mario Williams keeps the play in front of him, not letting the Seahawks’ agile quarterback open things up in front of him.
The Dolphins will have to be very careful; it could be tempting to crash down on Taylor when blocking is obviously concentrated inside, but that would allow Tyrod Taylor to exploit Miami in the next way we will discuss.
The Running Quarterback:
The Dolphins did a good job against Russell Wilson in Seattle. However, Wilson is a very different type of mobile quarterback.
Not only was Wilson injured against Miami, but he is also more of a scrambler than a rusher. While Wilson buys time with his feet, Tyrod Taylor is more likely to hit a lane and take off for the sticks.
Here is an example:
Tyrod Taylor’s athleticism shows on this play. He is able to shoot through the line quickly enough so that the Rams’ defenders can’t close in. Once he’s into the second level, he makes a linebacker look silly to pick up the extra yards for a first.
Against the Dolphins, Tyrod Taylor could look to run right up the side that is occupied mostly by Jordan Phillips. Other offenses have exploited Phillips’ struggles.
Running away from Suh is the easiest approach for teams facing the Dolphins, and if Tyrod Taylor sees a running lane open up, I have a fleeting suspicion that he will take it more often than not against Miami.
The Dolphins do not only have to worry about LeSean McCoy; the athleticism of Tyrod Taylor could dismantle them on the defensive line and in the linebacker corps.
Slowing down the Bills’ electric offense will be a tall task for the Dolphins. Buffalo enters on a four-game win streak, seemingly hitting their stride as they approach a difficult portion of their schedule. With the Bills about to face the Patriots and Seahawks in the weeks following their showdown with the Dolphins, they will surely recognize how important this win is.
In addition to having the motivation, the Bills have the talent. Their speed and shiftiness on offense could make the Dolphins’ defense look silly all day. If Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy can get into a flow for the Bills, the game will not be competitive for very long.
While I obviously could be wrong (I did predict historic days for Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown against Miami), the Bills’ personnel is designed perfectly to create issues for a Dolphins defensive group that lacks athleticism and discipline against play fakes or alternative formations.
Things seem bleak for the Dolphins, but a win would give the team an immeasurable surge of confidence heading into the bye week, as they near the easiest portion of their schedule.
With that being said, I still wouldn’t hold your breath, Dolphins fans.