The Buffalo Bills went into Miami already severely shorthanded to take on the Dolphins and left even more depleted while falling to the Dolphins 21-19.
It took me a while today to climb my butt into the office and start digging into the details of this game, but the more I look at it from a distance, the more positives there are to take away from the loss.
Missing both starting safeties, starting 2nd-year corner Dane Jackson, three key interior defensive linemen, and their starting center, the Bills went into the Miami heat and put together a valiant effort. In the process, they also lost rookie CB Christian Benford who had been starting this season, WR Jake Kumerow who was having some good snaps the last two weeks, RG Rick Bates who went to concussion protocol, Spencer Brown who left the game with “heat illness”, Greg Van Roten who was already filling in for Mitch Morse. Then, basically, every receiving weapon on the team left at some point during the second half with cramping from dehydration. It was a war of attrition, and Miami won.
The Dolphins didn’t get to have the ball much, by design, but they made the most of it and credit to them for doing what they needed to…what they were supposed to do. However, there were a number of plays that could have gone the Bills’ way and didn’t. I am here to talk about those, not pat Miami on the back. So let’s take a look.
The first thing that jumps out came early in the game as the Bills did what they always do and scored on the opening drive of the game. Then a depleted defense comes out and forces a punt after five plays and the Bills get the ball back at their own 12-yard line. I am a believer in run balance, but this was another example of ditching Motor when he’s playing well for Moss who usually gets off to a slow start. He would go on to have the biggest play of the day for the Bills’ offense, but in this instance he got two consecutive touches to the left and did nothing with either, leaving BUF in a 3rd & 8. The next play was the sack-fumble (the second of each of those on the day already) and Miami got the ball from the 6-yard line and capitalized to score. The Bills answered with a 14-play, 75-yard drive resulting in an Isaiah McKenzie touchdown. Great to be up 14-7, but this could have been a 14-0 at best kind of game to start.
The next big one that stood out was the clock mismanagement at the end of the first half. Buffalo had burned their final timeout just inside the two-minute warning, but it came before a 3rd & 18 where an incomplete pass would have stopped the clock anyway and preserved the TO. On the Bills’ possession following the punt, they got down to the Miami 41 with 14 seconds left and killed the clock with a spike. Josh Allen founds McKenzie for a short gain, but backup center Greg Van Roten botched another snap to Allen (#2) and Allen was forced to throw and the clock expired. That would be an ominous moment of foreshadowing.
Miami got the ball to start the second half but the shorthanded BUF defense held firm again and forced a punt on four plays. The Bills would drive all the way to the Miami 6-yard line and struggle from there. On a dead clock, Van Roten false started and set them back 5 yards. Then Allen goes incomplete, but since the goal of the game plan was to keep the Miami O off the field, that 1st & 11 play should have been a run to get the clock rolling. Instead, Allen goes to Gabe Davis on 2nd down and it looks like a sure-fire TD but somehow Gabe just loses hold of it and it’s incomplete. McDermott may have wanted to challenge it there. Incomplete again and they have to settle for 3 instead of what should have been 7.
The defense holds again and forces a 3 & out giving the balls the ball and the lead with 2:00 left in the 3rd quarter. This is where Moss cracked a really nice 43-yard run that showcased all the skills you want to see: vision, bounce, and acceleration. A couple of plays later and they are at the MIA 26-yard line. Moss gets 1, Allen incomplete to McKenzie, then Allen finds Knox but nowhere near the 1st down line. Faced with a 4th & 4 on the MIA 20-yard line, this is exactly the area where I expected this super aggressive offense to go for it. Instead, they go the conservative route and Bass shanks the FG. That’s 3 more points off the board, 7 on the last two drives. Tua finally finds a couple of big plays, Waddle for 32 then Waddle for 45 on a 3rd & 22, for the Fins and they get the TD after a Bills penalty for a hit to the head that wasn’t flagged in their favor earlier in the game.
Regardless, it was 21-17 Miami at that point and Buffalo knew they were going to have to score a TD and take some time off the clock here. For the most part that’s what they did, they took 8:19 off of a 10:05 clock and worked their way down to the MIA 2-yard line. Short yardage situations on 3rd and 4th down were something that stood out to me a lot in the Titans game in Week 2 due to the Bills’ tentativeness. This was 1st & goal and Moss is their power back, but Motor is in here and only gets a yard. Then they are almost forced into an Allen-designed run but the Fins sniffed it out for a loss. After trying to jam a ball into Diggs streaking across the back of the endzone and failing, it was 4th & 2 at the MIA 2-yard line and Allen had McKenzie open towards the boundary of the endzone and simply threw a junker straight into the ground. That’s another 7 off the board (17 total). His frustration was obvious as it’s a throw he makes far more often than not and I’ve never seen him dirt it like that and it was a concerning lack of confidence in the push, upfront. He may have injured his hand though as he was examined on the sideline after the turnover on downs and eventually X-rayed after the game.
Despite turning the ball over on downs, and trailing by 4 points, the defense came out with Miami pinned deep and held firm. On the punt, the Fins’ Thomas Morestead was backed up in his own endzone and booted it right up the backside of one of his blockers. As the ball popped up in the air, there was a brief moment of hope that Buffalo would recover, but it ricocheted out the back of the end zone for a safety to make it 21-19. So, the Bills would be getting the ball back only needing a FG to win.
In about a minute, they went from their own 23-yard line to the Dolphins’ 43, and things were looking promising. They had burned all their timeouts in some strange moments but had 27 seconds. Only needing a few yards and a spike to give Bass a realistic shot at a 55+ yard kick, Allen reads something and goes incomplete deep right. Why they aren’t looking for something over the middle on that play is a head-scratcher. The next play is incomplete to Davis but the Bills get hit with a holding call that takes them out of FG range and makes it 2nd & 20. The clock is stopped at least, but when Allen broke the pressure to connect with McKenzie on the next play, he is forced to sprint towards the sideline but pulls up short and the clock keeps running…running all the way down and the Bills would never get the spike. It was another unfortunate moment of clock mismanagement and the crushing disappointment could be felt from the field to the booth.
While things didn’t go Buffalo’s way there are some positives. The Bills had nearly 500 yards of total offense, and 400 of that was Josh Allen passing. He also led the team in rushing with 47 yards but it’s a large burden. All last season, I had to combat the narrative of “throw it every down” and this was an excellent lesson to oppose it. Dating back to the start of last season, the Bills have lost every single game in which they call at least 50 pass plays. I believe the total number in this game was 73. If the numbers I saw from Cover1 are correct, Allen was under pressure 43% of the time and was sacked 4 times, including the major fumble that was recovered by Miami.
The Goldilocks Zone for the Bills’ offensive efficiency is about a 60/40 pass/run split and even 65/35 is effective, but this game was 75/25. I know they struggled running the ball early, but they also only ran the ball 6 times in the first half. In the second half, they found much more ground success, 15 carries for 101 yards, but by the half, players were suffering from that heat exhaustion and it’s not like they slowed down passing either.
Considering how thin the secondary ended up once Benford went down, they played pretty well. Rookie Kaiir Elam had 25 coverage snaps and only gave up 2 catches for 10 yards and Tyreek Hill who always roasts the Bills was held to 2 catches for 33 yards. Jaylen Waddle gashed the defense a couple of times for gains of 32 and 45 and Tua put up yards per completion and yards per attempt that would lead the league in both, in a one-game sample size. However, 99 of his 186 passing came on 3 completions. What I missed the most was the interior D-line presence of Oliver, Settle, and Phillips. The Bills stuffed the run overall but have thrived in opponents’ backfield so far this season and, with those guys out, they only managed 3 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. Given the context, the defense played better than expected but also not nearly as good as the bar they had set through the first two games.
The name of the game is going to be getting their players healthy at this point. The O-line was decimated and it caused a lot of issues. The Bills head to Baltimore in Week 4 to face a Ravens team that has been putting up big numbers on offense. Buffalo will need to be as healthy as possible.
Thanks for reading! I still believe word of mouth is the best way to help, so if you enjoy what I’m doing, please tell somebody. And if you have a comment, I’d love to hear it! Liking, subscribing, and sharing go a long way too. And, as usual, be well, stay safe, and Go Bills!