Buffalo Breakthrough: How the Dolphins Can Slow Down Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy
Christmas Eve presents the Dolphins with an opportunity to give their fans an early present with a win at Buffalo. If Miami wins on Saturday they could have a playoff spot clinched by Christmas night. The playoff scenario that makes that possible is the following: Miami wins at Buffalo and the next day Denver loses at Kansas City. Sounds simple right? The permutation is, but Miami actually making good on their end? Not so easy. Miami’s struggles at Buffalo are well documented. In the Ryan Tannehill era, Miami has gone winless in their 4 visits to the now named New Era Field. While there have been a number of unheralded Bills who have proved to be a thorn in Miami’s side, it is tough to name a Bills’ duo more potent than the one they currently possess in Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy. Since both became offensive starters for the Bills in 2015, they have each had their moments in the sun against Miami—Tyrod Taylor especially (few can forget the show he put on against Miami’s in its home opener during the 2015 season). While McCoy hasn’t had the same luck against the Dolphins, his sheer play isn’t totally to blame. In two of his three meetings against Miami as a Bill, he started the game with a bad hamstring. So it’s no surprise the Pitt product struggled mightily in both of those games. In Week 3 of the 2015 season (the Dolphins’ home opener), McCoy carried the ball 11 times for a measly 16 yards; his one saving grace on that afternoon was a 1st quarter touchdown reception. McCoy struggled once again in Week 7 of this season. Hampered by an ailing hamstring once again, McCoy carried the ball only 8 times to the tune of 11 yards. However, on the one occasion LeSean McCoy was able to play Miami at full strength he punished them all afternoon. In Week 6 of the 2015 season (at Buffalo), McCoy had 16 carries that lead to a whooping 112 yards on the ground. Not to mention he averaged 7 yards per carry and contributed one touchdown on a long run.
The point I’m trying to get across is this: If Miami wants to beat Buffalo and place one foot inside the playoff door, containing Taylor and McCoy will be the master key to the game. While Miami did an excellent job defending both in Week 7, the Bills didn’t have offensive weapons such as Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins available. This time around they will, which will have the potential of making this year’s Christmas a not so merry one for Miami.
Below we relieve some of the ghosts of Dolphins’ past as well as the present.
Tyrod Taylor isn’t as dangerous with his feet as let’s say Colin Kaepernick (the most recent dual threat QB Miami faced) but make no mistake, Taylor can use his feet to extend plays and as we’ll touch on later, escape pressure. Here, the Virginia Tech product buys time by using his feet and then finds former Dolphin Charles Clay open for a big gain. Clay is another name the Dolphins must account for. With all the weapons the Bills possess, it’s no surprise they rank in the top 10 for points per game.
No matter how much you attempt to contain him, Tyrod Taylor will find a way to escape a collapsing pocket at least a handful of times during the course of a game. However, applying pressure to the Bills’ signal-caller hasn’t been much of a challenge this year for opponents. The Bills allow 2.9 sacks per game which is second worst in the league; the only team allowing more would be the winless Cleveland Browns. Miami made sure to take advantage of the Bills’ weak pass protection in the teams’ most recent meeting; the Dolphins brought down the Bills’ QB 4 times on the afternoon. On this play, Jason Jones tracks down a scrambling Taylor and is able to bring him to the ground. Plays—such as the one by Jones—will be in great demand for Miami this Saturday. Taylor will surely be looking to escape the pocket as the likes of Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh attempt to pounce on the former Hokie.
What makes Tyrod Taylor so dangerous is his well rounded offensive game. Not only can he use his feet to hurt you as previously mentioned, but he can also make any throw to take the top off of your defense. Here, Taylor fires deep and lands his beautiful deep ball in the waiting hands of speedster Marquis Goodwin. Miami has managed remarkably well with the absence of Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones. However, this was one of the few plays during his absence that had you longing for the Georgia product. It is paramount that Miami’s improving secondary continues to show growth. The likes of Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and the aforementioned Goodwin look primed to test the Dolphins’ emerging defensive backs.
LeSean McCoy is simply put a top five running back in the National Football League. The stats suggest that as well; McCoy is in the top five in both rushing yards and touchdowns. Not to mention he averages over five yards a carry. As mentioned previously, claims of success against Buffalo’s star tailback should be tempered. On this play, McCoy slices through Miami’s run defense for a 49-yard touchdown run. This electrifying run came in the one game McCoy found himself healthy against Miami as a Bill. As we mentioned earlier, McCoy has gone into the other two meetings with an ailing hamstring.
Since it’s hard to place too much stock into the Dolphins’ run defenses good outings against McCoy due to the running back’s injuries, we decided to take a look at how Vance Joseph’s defense has managed to limit other Pro Bowl running backs.
Going into Week 14, the main concern for the Dolphins was David Johnson. As the Cardinals made their way to Miami, few could take their mind off of the potential nightmare matchup for the Dolphins’ defense. However, the concerns regarding Miami being able to stop Johnson on the ground were put to rest early in the contest vs Arizona. Here, Vance Joseph dials up the safety blitz; Micheal Thomas does an excellent job and makes the tackle on Johnson. If Miami is going to have any chance in limiting “Shady” McCoy’s production, a total team effort such as the one in this play will consistently be needed throughout the afternoon.
While a total team effort is needed most times to stop an elite running back, sometimes lone individual brilliance can be enough to get by on certain instances. This is one of those instances. On a likely running down, Ndamukong Suh is able to shed his blocker and meet David Johnson right before the star tailback can convert the first down. There have been plenty of moments throughout this season in which the Dolphins’ massive defensive tackle has been able to produce plays such as these. In the Dolphins’ colossal showdown in Buffalo on Saturday, Suh is going to have to be up to the challenge to make these types of clutch tackles on LeSean McCoy.
Here’s another example of individual playmaking: Andre Branch makes a great adjustment to put himself in position to make the tackle on the Cardinals’ Pro Bowl back. Against a shifty back who’s well known for his elusiveness, Branch makes a very difficult play for a moving defensive lineman look easy. These types of plays are why the Dolphins should seriously attempt to retain the impending free agent; Branch has been a pleasant surprise on the Dolphins’ resurgent defensive line. While the likes of Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh should be expected to come to play at Buffalo, it is imperative that Andre Branch does as well. The Dolphins’ defensive line will be the key unit in the game.
The Dolphins run defense not only has its performance against David Johnson to feel good about, but also their even stronger defensive showing against the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell.
With defensive plays such as these, the Dolphins held the only running back in the NFL who averages over 100 rushing yards per contest to only 53. Clogging the middle of the field and not allowing McCoy to get around the edge will be pivotal for Miami.
A win on Saturday could very well be the final step in securing a playoff berth for the Dolphins. It seems only fitting that the opponent and the location are the Bills and Buffalo. Until Miami clinches a postseason spot (which could very well happen this weekend), the memories of how the 2013 season ended will remain a talking point. One of the two games Miami could have won in order to reach the playoffs that year as we all know was at Buffalo. The Dolphins not only lost, but were also shutout. However, it seems the football universe has given Miami a mulligan (albeit against a much more potent Bills team).