If we’re measuring improvement, then this was a good game for the Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins, losers last week to the New England Patriots in a game that wasn’t as close as the 21-11 score, played much, much better in their home opener on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
The Dolphins had a lead midway though the fourth quarter before giving up two scores on two consecutive Buffalo possessions late in the fourth quarter.
If, on the other hand, the standard for the 2020 Dolphins is winning -- cold, unfiltered success -- then Sunday was another disappointment.
As my guess is most of the folks in the Dolphins locker room, and you, measure success only by the number of wins, then everyone realizes the Dolphins have problems.
Problem 1: The Dolphins are 0-2 after two weeks and lost both games to division opponents. The Dolphins find themselves two games behind the division-leading Bills after only two weeks. That’s already a sizable deficit to have to cut if Miami is going to be relevant later this season.
Problem 2: The Miami defense is broken.
The Dolphins defense last week was gashed by the running of Cam Newton and New England’s running backs. On Sunday, the same defense couldn’t seem to cover anyone in the passing game as Josh Allen threw for 417 yards and four touchdown passes.
The dagger this game came when Allen threw a 46-yard touchdown to John Brown to give the Bills their insurmountable lead.
That was a quick strike and it hurt. But the Dolphins defense gave up touchdown drives of 97, 84 and 73 yards earlier in the game, suggesting Miami couldn’t stop the quick strike or the methodical approach.
“We struggled to cover,” Coach Brian Flores said. “They have good receivers. I don’t want to put it all on the coverage guys. But we struggled to cover.”
The Dolphins couldn’t really stick with Buffalo receivers. And they didn’t mount much pressure on Allen, who was not sacked all day.
The game was close, by the way, because the Miami offense played relatively well. Inconsistent, but good enough to win most games.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, who three interceptions the previous week, was good this game. He completed 31 of 47 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was 1003.
So the offense generally wasn’t the issue although receiver Preston Williams dropped a key TD pass from 1 yard out that might have changed the course of the game.
The issue today was defense. Or lack of it by the Dolphins.
The first half was different than last week in that the Dolphins weren’t gashed by runs off the quarterback read-option. The Bills didn’t even try it, although they did rush for 93 yards in the first half.
But while the Miami defenders plugged the holes in its run defense, they sprung a leak in the pass defense.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen completed 15 of 22 first-half passes for 249 yards. His passer rating at the half was 136.4. And it actually could have been better (or worse, depending on your perspective).
Because there were Buffalo receivers running open all half and Allen, for whatever reason, sometimes didn’t see them or didn’t connect. The Dolphins obviously weren’t helped by the loss of cornerback Byron Jones in the first quarter.
Jones, who signed an $82.5 million contract with Miami in the offseason, injured his groin defending a pass in the first quarter. He didn’t return and his status for Thursday’s game at Jacksonville is uncertain.
With Jones out, the Dolphins had to press both Noah Igbinoghene and Nik Needham into the game more than originally planned. Igbinoghene responded with decent coverage and even recovered a fumble.
Needham struggled with penalties in the secondary and gave up multiple completions.
He wasn’t alone. And it wasn’t all on him.
Because the Dolphins defensive front didn’t show much of a pass rush at all to help matters. The Dolphins had one sack.
Now, recall this front added Shaq Lawson, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Kyle Van Noy as free agents and they simply didn’t factor early on -- even though Van Noy played much more this game than he did a week ago at New England.
The Bills scored more points than New England. And the Dolphins lost again.