Dolphins film study: What Miami can learn from its first two meetings with the Bills
The Dolphins will have an abundance of film to peruse as they prepare for their wild-card round playoff game against the Buffalo Bills.
Miami split the regular-season meetings with a two-point home win in Week 3 and then a three-point road loss in Week 15. They’ll find successful game plans and some that are better left untouched in the rubber match.
Here are three things the Dolphins can learn from their first two games against the Bills.
Pressures aren’t enough against Josh Allen
The Dolphins are 2-8 against the Bills since quarterback Josh Allen entered the NFL in 2018 and his ascent in recent years has resulted in an annual conundrum for Miami. There has been an assortment of defensive game plans to try to limit a player who has arguably the greatest combination of throwing and running talent in the league. There have been blitz-heavy game plans and zone-heavy game plans and regardless of the tactic, the Dolphins have usually appointed somebody to spy Allen.
In most cases, it’s proven futile. Allen has a 106.1 passer rating against the Dolphins. He’s completing 63.7 percent of his passes and accounted for 31 total touchdowns and seven turnovers.
While many defensive coaches will say sacks are not the be-all and end-all for pass-rush success, outside of takeaways, it may be the next best ploy against Allen. His ability to evade pressure and extend plays for late throws or scrambles often renders blitzes and pressures useless.
In Weeks 3 and 15 against Buffalo, the Dolphins had a pressure rate of 43.9 percent and 35.7 percent, according to TruMedia, both higher than the defense’s season-long mark (34.2 percent). It didn’t faze Allen, though. In Week 3 when pressured, Allen completed 13 of 25 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. He was also sacked four times and lost a fumble. In Week 15 when pressured, Allen was 8 of 13 for 76 yards and two touchdowns, while being sacked twice and losing a fumble.
Allen’s 96.7 passer rating when pressured is the highest in the league among qualifying quarterbacks.
It’s a possession game, not a field position game
The first meeting between the Dolphins and Bills four months ago was Miami’s most-lopsided game in terms of the time of possession. Buffalo ran 90 plays and possessed the ball for a little over 40 minutes. But the Dolphins held Buffalo to just 19 points in the victory, mainly because of their success in the red zone.
The Bills were 2 of 4 in the red zone and failed to score touchdowns on their final two opportunities, which included turning the ball at the 2-yard line with 1:46 left. That game turned out to be more of an anomaly for both units.
When the teams played each other again in Week 15, Buffalo went 4 of 5 in the red zone and converted on all three of its goal-to-go opportunities. This season, the Bills have the ninth-best red zone offense (60.3 percent conversion rate), while the Dolphins have the 10th-worst red zone defense (59.3 percent).
The Dolphins were 3 of 3 in the red zone in Week 3 but 1 of 3 in Week 15. Regardless of who starts at quarterback for the Dolphins, it’s important to maximize possessions, finishing them with touchdowns instead of field goals.
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel has shown a willingness to go for it on fourth downs, even with his backup quarterbacks. The Dolphins’ 24 fourth-down attempts are tied for 14th-most in the NFL. On Sunday, leaving Highmark Stadium with a win may mean going for it on fourth down often when it’s within reason — and even passing up short field goal attempts.
Terron Armstead’s presence is second to Tua Tagovailoa’s
McDaniel on Monday said quarterback Tua Tagovailoa remains in concussion protocol and has not been medically cleared to return to practice, but he’s hoping to have more clarity on Wednesday.
If Tagovailoa, who has missed the last two games because of his second diagnosed concussion, can somehow return for the playoff game, Miami will have its leader and the league’s highest-rated passer back under center. The Dolphins’ offense has cratered without Tagovailoa, averaging 16 points in four games.
However, joining Tagovailoa on a shortlist of the offense’s most indispensable players is left tackle Terron Armstead. In the teams’ two meetings, both of which Armstead played, Buffalo’s pressure rate has been lower than its season-long mark. In Week 15, Tagovailoa was sacked twice but he threw for 234 yards and two touchdowns after a string of bad outings.
Armstead has effectively missed every game that Tagovailoa has been out because of injury (he left the Week 5 game against the New York Jets after the second drive). Those four games account for the offensive line’s highest pressure rates allowed all season, according to TruMedia.
If Tagovailoa can play, the Dolphins have the ability to go blow-for-blow with the Bills. But with running back Raheem Mostert unlikely to play because of a broken thumb and mounting injuries along the offensive line, Armstead’s presence and experience could help stabilize the unit in a postseason game.