You know it, I know it, we all know it – the last seven times the Dolphins have faced the Buffalo Bills, they’ve typically been beaten worse than the drums in Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.”
Miami’s point differential in these last seven games is -135, which equates to a deficit of nearly three touchdowns per game. Accordingly, only one of the last seven games was even a contest. Among the rest include previous year’s 35-0 shutout and the 26-56 playoff-aspiration killer at the end of the 2020 season.
For as long as Tua has been a member of the Dolphins, the Bills have been a force to be reckoned with. They’ve come into games with aggressive defensive gameplans that exploit Miami’s offense’s weaknesses and rely on their own offense’s explosive production to put the game out of reach early (and often). Between an athletic and capable defense, a rock-solid head coach in Sean McDermott, and the offensive connection of Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, there’s been no stopping the juggernaut known as the Bills.
After handling the defending Super Bowl champs 31-10 in week one and annihilating the Titans 41-7 on primetime last week, there is no doubting the danger the Bills present to the entire league.
Similarly, there is no pretty way to paint the Dolphins’ last seven games against Buffalo. Before writing this, I propped my eyelids open with toothpicks to force myself through the four most recent games to glean where the Fins have gone wrong and what will be critical to finally stealing a win this Sunday.
A seven-game losing streak is long and daunting. But if the Dolphins snapping a string of defeats at the hands of the Ravens in Baltimore last week serves to remind us of anything, it’s that streaks are meant to be broken.
KEY #1: Convert on Third Downs and Generate Chunk Yardage
Through the last four matchups, the Dolphins have generated an average of 4.65 yards per play, while the Bills have eclipsed them with an average of 6.55. As you can imagine, a difference of nearly two yards per play can make a huge difference when each offense runs 60+ plays each game.
Generally, whatever team can run the most plays and control the time of possession has a considerable advantage. But with the disparity in yards per play between these two teams, this matchup has bucked that trend.
The Dolphins have won the time of possession battle and run more plays in three of four games, yet have lost every single one. Why is that?
Allen has shredded the Dolphins’ defense through the air thanks to chunk gains that typically exploit advantages in man coverage. If you can think back to Noah Igbonoghene getting roasted by Stefon Diggs or Nik Needham consistently being a step behind Isaiah McKenzie, you know exactly what I mean.
With these explosive plays, the Bills have put up quick points that make traditional ball control stats meaningless when playing the Dolphins. Reinforcing this fact is the issue of Miami’s offense having to dink-and-dunk its way down the field thanks to a traditionally weak offensive line. This approach has eaten clock but not led to many points.
In an extremely unfortunate combination, the Dolphins have also struggled mightily to convert on third down against the Bills – one game didn’t feature a Dolphins third-down conversion until nearly the fourth quarter. The inability to generate chunk gains or convert on third down has consistently given the Bills all the momentum in addition to tiring out Miami’s defense. Several of these games were close for as long as the defense could hold, but with so many three-and-outs, the floodgates have always opened eventually and allowed Buffalo to close out games that weren’t already out of reach.
To make a change on Sunday, the Dolphins will have to run the ball more effectively to secure first downs and create explosive plays to keep pace with the Bills, time of possession stats be damned. This is an area where an improved O-line and far more dangerous perimeter weapons could help greatly.
KEY #2: Find Out What R-E-S-P-E-C-T Means
You know what bothered me most while going back and watching these games?
The obvious lack of respect the Bills have had for the Dolphins as an opponent.
We certainly can’t blame them, as Miami has been nothing but a doormat to them for the past seven contests, but it is maddening to watch the Bills get away with schemes – especially on defense – that are able to be countered but never are.
When Buffalo knocked Tua out of the game in the first matchup last season, they were sending an extra rusher off the left side of the offensive line with obsolete impunity almost every time a passing play was called. Each time, the rusher came unblocked or would essentially ruin the play.
Then there’s the issue of the Bills playing almost their entire defense well within ten yards of the line of scrimmage, daring Miami to beat them with something other than an overused RPO scheme.
Knowing that the Dolphins lacked both the talent and the creativity to consistently push the ball downfield, the Bills have suffocated Miami’s offensive attack by crowding the box, forcing quick throws, and flooding short passing windows. There’s been no respect for the deep ball, and rightfully so. The Bills’ offense, by comparison, has been much cleaner in both execution and play design, easily manufacturing space for skill players and forcing the Dolphins’ defense to cover the entire field both vertically and laterally.
There is hope that new head coach Mike McDaniel will be able to counter the schemes that the Bills have had so much success with lately. If he’s able to force Buffalo to respect his ability to make adjustments and attack with variety, the Bills will be operating from a far less privileged position from a coaching perspective.
Protection adjustments, honest efforts to test the Bills’ deep, and more creative motion will be crucial in helping Miami’s offensive output. On defense, the game will be far more competitive if the Dolphins are able to dictate terms like the Bills always have on that side of the ball.
KEY #3: Don’t Press
I’m not talking about press coverage here. I’m talking about nerves.
In these past four games, Miami has cost the Dolphins more points than Buffalo has scored on the Dolphins.
I know it’s a confusing sentence, but you read it right. Go ahead, take another look – I won’t think less of you for it.
What I mean to say has to do with this fact: Miami has lost the turnover battle in every single game in the last four matchups.
Every. Single. One.
Combine that with all of the earlier issues that we’ve uncovered when these teams play, and it’s not hard to understand why the Dolphins have struggled the way they have. It’s true that Buffalo has got Miami’s number, but it goes deeper than that.
This Dolphins team has gotten so scared of getting beat by Buffalo that they’ve begun beating themselves.
Penalties, drops, costly self-inflicted turnovers, poor special teams play, and the team’s youth have all been harbingers of failure for this Dolphins squad. In several of these games – even the blowouts – there have been defining moments where the Fins are presented with an opportunity to take the reins early and put the Bills in a disadvantageous position.
Instead, Miami has consistently taken a loaded gun, fumbled it over to the Bills, and then been surprised when they’re bleeding out by the start of the second quarter.
One stat encapsulates this point perfectly: Over the last four games, the Dolphins have squandered a whopping eight red zone opportunities. In most of those situations, Miami didn’t even manage a field goal – they committed a turnover and handed the ball over to Buffalo, leaving points on the field after a promising drive. Against a talented and dangerous Bills offense, that repeat offense has hurt Miami more than anything else.
The Dolphins have infused the roster with more veterans this season, so they must hope that a team with more experience will be less prone to the unforced errors that have put Miami in unwinnable situations early on.
If Mike McDaniel can somehow convince the team to look past its recent legacy of defeat against the Bills, it will go a long way in making Sunday a fair fight.
(Thanks for reading! For more content, give me a follow on Twitter @EvanMorris72)