Week 17 Game Preview: Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills
To the surprise of no one, Bills coach Sean McDermott said Wednesday that he certainly is looking forward to having LeSean McCoy back in 2019 and seeing him bounce back from what has been a terrible season for the 10th-year running back.
“Overall, I’m really excited about where we’re going and LeSean being a part of that,” McDermott said. “I know this year wasn’t what he had hoped it would be and the biggest thing I want to see is what we’re going to do to get it to back to where it needs to be. And so I think he’s committed to that cause, as are we. LeSean’s a pro, he’s played at a very high level for a long period of time and I expect him to get back on track.”
And now back to the real world. McCoy has been in decline all season, and that likely isn’t changing when he turns 31 before the start of the 2019 season which is his last under the contract extension he signed with Buffalo in 2015.
McCoy has 488 rushing yards, nearly 200 fewer than his previous lowest mark which was 637 in his rookie season with the Eagles in 2009. That year, he started only four games and was the backup at his position. This year, McCoy was supposed to be the focal point of the Bills’ offense as they had major question marks at every other position group on offense, most notably quarterback.
But McCoy was held to 22 yards by the Ravens in the season opener, and it never improved from there. He has had just one 100-yard game, that against the Jets on Nov. 11. In the other 12 games he has played (he sat out two with injury, and left early in the first quarter of two other games), McCoy has topped 50 yards only three times.
One of those games came in Miami when he had 52 yards on 15 carries in a 21-17 loss. Sunday, when the Bills close their season by hosting the Dolphins, McCoy’s role may be limited.
Last week, McCoy was benched for the first play of the New England game due to a disciplinary situation meted out by McDermott, who refused to go into what the issue was.
“Yeah, that’s between LeSean and myself and I appreciate him being accountable,” McDermott said, referring to the fact that after the game, McCoy admitted he was in the wrong and that McDermott put him in his place. “We’ve moved on and that’s where we’re headed. That happens from time to time. Nobody’s perfect. But again, I appreciate him being accountable. And I’m not perfect in this case, he wasn’t perfect and we addressed it and we’re moving forward.”
Rookie Keith Ford started, and he ended up playing 30 snaps to McCoy’s 31, and Ford outgained McCoy 33-9. McDermott has made the decision to test young players in the final few weeks, and it stands to reason that Ford will get an additional look in the finale, meaning McCoy may not play much.
McCoy is scheduled to count $9 million against the salary cap next season, but if the Bills cut him, they would save $6.5 million. It seems like a foregone conclusion, no matter what McDermott said, that McCoy is likely dressing with the Bills for the final time.
This is the 106th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead the series 60-44-1. The Bills lost 21-17 in Miami on Dec. 2 when Charles Clay dropped a would-be game-winning touchdown pass. Last year in the season finale, the Bills beat Miami and clinched their first playoff berth in 17 years.
BY THE NUMBERS
536 – Josh Allen’s rushing yardage total this season, which is 44 yards shy of the team record for a quarterback, set by Tyrod Taylor in 2016.
- WR Robert Foster has topped 50 yards receiving in three straight games, the first Bills rookie WR to do that since Lee Evans in 2004.
- OG Ike Boettger played a career-high 28 snaps last week against New England as he split time in a rotation with guards John Miller and Wyatt Teller.
- DE Eddie Yarbrough seems to have fallen out of favor in the second half of the season. He has played just seven snaps in each of the last two games as he has lost time to Mike Love.
- MLB Tremaine Edmunds leads all members of the Bills’ front seven with 90.8 percent of the defensive snaps played this season. The only players who have played a higher percentage of snaps are DBs Tre’Davious White and FS Jordan Poyer.
- WR Isaiah McKenzie was targeted eight times in the New England game and made only one catch for eight yards. A couple balls were uncatchable, but he also had a couple of drops.
- WR Deonte Thompson suffered a toe injury at New England and did not practice Wednesday.
- RB Chris Ivory is expected to do more in practice this week and after being held out last week, seems like a good bet to be active.
- CB Ryan Lewis remains in the concussion protocol and his season is probably over.
- LB Julian Stanford suffered an ankle injury last week and he did not practice Wednesday.
TE Jason Croom. The Bills took a notable step last week by benching Charles Clay, their starting tight end for four years. Clay has had a terrible season, and it now seems clear they will move on in the offseason even though he has one year left on his contract. Croom seems to be in line to take over, and he caught four passes for 55 yards in the loss to New England. Croom, however, has a long way to go. Against the Patriots he lost a fumble inside the 10-yard-line while struggling to gain more yardage, the second time he’s done that this season. And he still has to get better as a blocker, but he does possess the skill set the Bills need for the position, at least as a pass catcher and playmaker.
The Bills split the running back snaps evenly between LeSean McCoy and Keith Ford last week in New England, a clear indication that they want to see what Ford can do as they evaluate whether to bring him back in 2019. McCoy is probably about to play his final game for the Bills, so it would make sense to continue the delegation of snaps that way, assuming Chris Ivory is inactive again. Miami’s defense has been vulnerable to the run all year, so the Bills will likely try to exploit a unit that ranks 30th in the NFL.
The Bills struggled terribly against the run in the loss to New England, yielding 273 yards, but they remain No. 1 in the NFL against the pass in terms of yardage. So, even though Frank Gore is out, the Dolphins will probably try to hammer the Bills with Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage and grind it out that way, especially on a day when the temperature isn’t expected to rise out of the 20s.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bills LBs vs. Dolphins RB Kenyan Drake. In the first meeting in early December, the Dolphins’ offense did virtually nothing against Buffalo’s defense, particularly on the ground as they managed only 60 yards and 2.6 per attempt. Drake can be a dangerous threat, though, especially with the Bills playing without injured LB Matt Milano this time. Rookie WLB Corey Thompson was exposed by the Patriots last week, and rookie MLB Tremaine Edmunds continues to struggle with over-pursuit and bad angles.
Bills QB Josh Allen vs. Dolphins front seven. In the first game, Allen set a Bills’ record for most yards rushing by a quarterback as he torched Miami for 135 yards on nine runs, most of those scrambles. The Dolphins had no answer for when Allen broke the pocket, and his running was why the Bills nearly won the game. This time, the Dolphins will surely learn from how the Lions and Patriots defended Allen the last two weeks as he has just 46 yards rushing combined.