Week 12 Game Preview: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins
After nine games of sheer futility on offense during which the Bills scored a total of eight offensive touchdowns, they have escaped from the abyss the last two games and have scored eight touchdowns combined in their victories over the Jets and Jaguars.
“There’s things that obviously we’ve done better,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said.
In the next breath, though, he was quick to point out that his is an offense that has a long way to go, and 65 points the past two weeks doesn’t exactly mean the Bills are about to take off and challenge the likes of the Saints, Rams and Chiefs.
“You’ve got to do a good job each week,” Daboll said. “Each week is a new week of coming in here … I’ve got a lot of respect for the guys in the room that we work with and continually grinding it out, worrying about one week at a time, taking care of the opponent. Really, it comes down to execution between the white lines of throwing, catching, protecting, blocking, playing fast, doing the right things. One week has no bearing on the next.”
He's right, of course, but there are some positive developments, starting with the contributions of two young receivers who have been given more opportunities, Isaiah McKenzie and Robert Foster.
Foster was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Alabama where Daboll was the OC last year. He was active for the first six games but never played more than 29 snaps, and he caught only two passes for 30 yards, dropping more than his share. The Bills flip-flopped he and another undrafted rookie, Cam Phillips, from the practice squad to the active roster, but Phillips got hurt and Foster was called back up for the Jets game.
That day he caught a 47-yard pass from Matt Barkley on the first play of the game and finished with three catches for 105 yards, Buffalo’s first 100-yard receiving performance since mid-2017.
McKenzie was signed off the waiver wire after he’d been cut by the Broncos, who had made him a fifth-round pick in 2017, and he made his debut against the Jets. He was a multi-dimensional threat with 32 rushing yards on three jet sweeps, 14 yards on one reception, plus 75 yards on returns.
Against Jacksonville, Foster caught a 75-yard touchdown pass while McKenzie scored on a six-yard jet sweep.
Miami has struggled on defense this season, and there should be some opportunities for the Bills to attack down the field, and both Foster and McKenzie should be involved in the plan. On the other hand, Kelvin Benjamin may not. He played a season-low 40 percent of the snaps against Jacksonville and it seems clear the Bills are already looking ahead to 2019, when Benjamin is gone, to see what the young players can produce.
If the Bills are going to go into Miami and win, the run defense will have to be better than it was last week when the Jaguars ripped through the middle of the Bills front seven for 226 yards. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier pointed out that his unit was better in the second half, but there’s a caveat: Leonard Fournette got ejected in the third quarter for his role in a brawl, and the Jaguars had to throw more in the fourth quarter after they fell behind.
“After we were up 14-0, things turned a little bit in the run game,” Frazier said, referring to the two 74-yard touchdown drives Jacksonville put together in the second quarter. “But sometimes, it’s as simple as a mindset and an attitude change. (Sunday), it was a combination of the two, just making sure we got the right frame of mind, but also taking a look at what we were doing schematically to see if we could help ourselves in that way, as well. So, a combination of the two.”
This is the 155th regular-season meeting and the Dolphins, thanks to that 20-0 run in the 1970s, still have a commanding lead in the series at 59-44-1. Buffalo swept both games in 2017 and 2015 and got swept in 2016. Last year, the Bills won the season finale on New Years’ Eve in Miami, and that victory, coupled with Baltimore’s loss to Cincinnati, qualified the Bills for the postseason, ending their 17-year drought.
BY THE NUMBERS
15 - The Bills have now allowed one more touchdown pass this season than they did all of 2017 when they led the league with just 14 allowed.
-- RB LeSean McCoy has rushed for just 426 yards and is averaging a career-worst 3.3 yards per attempt.
-- QB Josh Allen’s four rushing TDs are the most ever by a Bills rookie quarterback.
-- WR Zay Jones was blanked by Jacksonville last week and he’s still sitting on team highs of 37 catches and 392 yards.
-- WR Deonte Thompson, who was just signed last week, played 19 snaps against the Jaguars but did not make a catch.
-- WR Kelvin Benjamin is clearly being phased out as he played a season-low 40 percent of the snaps against the Jaguars and had just one catch for 32 yards.
-- OG Vlad Ducasse has been replaced in the starting lineup by Wyatt Teller and he was inactive last week.
-- TE Charles Clay missed his second game with a hamstring injury and his status this week will most likely be questionable. He was limited in practice Wednesday.
-- CB Levi Wallace started his second straight game and the rookie played 96 percent of the snaps against the Jaguars. Wallace appears to have won the job opposite Tre’Davious White.
-- OG John Miller suffered an oblique injury and he did not practice on Wednesday.
-- CB Lafayette Pitts suffered a concussion last week and he did not practice Wednesday while in the protocol.
The Bills are still showing a reluctance to turn loose Josh Allen as once you take his scrambles out of the equation, he attempted only 19 passes and completed eight in the win over Jacksonville. Against a Miami defense that has struggled in all areas this season, this might be the week offensive coordinator Brian Daboll opens things up. Miami ranks tied for 22nd in points allowed, 29th in yards allowed, 21st in passing yards and 29th in sacks. Allen made several big plays with his legs as he rushed for 99 yards, but he may be able to stand in the pocket and deliver in this game.
The Bills remain one of the toughest defenses in the league, though they stumbled last week by allowing 226 rushing yards to Jacksonville, even with Leonard Fournette forced to sit out the fourth quarter. The Dolphins will try to gash Buffalo inside with Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake, and the interior of the Bills’ line must shut it down. Ryan Tannehill was somewhat efficient in his return to action last week for the Dolphins, and one of the keys for the Bills will be to corral pesky Danny Amendola who leads Miami with 48 receptions.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bills MLB Tremaine Edmunds vs. Dolphins RB Frank Gore. Edmunds leads the Bills with 78 tackles, but the 20-year-old rookie is often out of position due to over-pursuit and he needs to tighten things up. This week, Gore presents a challenge because the Bills were vulnerable up the middle on the ground against the Jaguars, and Gore is averaging 4.5 yards per attempt, the bulk of that between the tackles.
Bills RB LeSean McCoy vs. Dolphins LB Kiko Alonso. These two have history as they were traded for each other back in 2015 when Alonso went to the Eagles for McCoy. McCoy has been bitter about it ever since because he still can’t believe that’s all the Eagles got in return. They’ve had some interesting matchups since Alonso joined the Dolphins, and this would be the perfect week for McCoy to show how he used to play. He has just 426 yards this season, 3.3 per carry, as the Bills offensive line has struggled.