The Buffalo Bills got back on track and took the lead in the AFC East with an incredibly dominant win over the Miami Dolphins, 35-0, on Sunday morning. Shutouts are exceedingly rare in the modern NFL and a clear indication that Bills’ defense is for real. However, I’ve seen a lot of chatter from fans that still weren’t happy with the performance of the offense.
Let me give credit to the defense first. I was able to steal the Bills’ DST late in my fantasy draft because most people outside of Bills Mafia hadn’t really seen the potential. I remember what this team was able to do in 2019 and, now that they have been together longer and reloaded the D-line with youth and speed, we’re seeing glimpses of what this unit is capable of. Even though the game got away from them in Week 1, the defense still had Pittsburgh shut out at the half and had only given up 6-points heading into the 4th-quarter of that one, it’s readily apparent that the defensive improvements have gone a long way.
Despite the scoreboard, the Dolphins aren’t a bad team and it’s a disservice to the Bills’ performance to suggest that. Miami was a 10-win team a season ago and they went into Foxborough and beat the Patriots in Week 1, something Josh Allen wasn’t able to do until his breakout third season in 2020. There are a lot of different factors involved, namely Tom Brady, but let’s acknowledge that it’s not easy to do. Buffalo recognized this and the defense showed up in hot and humid South Florida ready to play.
The Bills’ defense set the tone with a 3 & out to start the day and wreaked havoc in the backfield and forced turnovers like it was going out of style. By the numbers, it’s one of the best games I’ve seen from this defense. In total, they tallied 11-QB hits, 6-passes defended, 6-sacks, 9-tackles for loss, 3-forced fumbles, and an interception. They absolutely owned the line of scrimmage and made life nightmarish for Fins’ QBs Tua Tagovailoa and Jacoby Brissett. Tua got carted off the field with a chest injury when Dolphins’ coach Brian Flores thought it was a good idea to go for it 4th & 2 from midfield in the first quarter. A.J. Epenesa came flying around Miami’s right tackle, essentially unblocked, and he absolutely buried the Fins’ second-year QB. Even though the stat sheet won’t show it, Epenesa had a strong game causing all kinds of problems along the edge of Miami’s O-line. Tua wouldn’t return to the game but the initial X-rays don’t show any broken ribs, so let’s wish him a speedy recovery.
Brissett didn’t have a much better go of things, but he’s always showed a lot of heart on the field. His stints in New England and Indianapolis were situations where those franchises never wanted him as a starter so, even when he did play well, he was mostly an afterthought. I’ve always thought he was pretty solid and he’ll have a chance to show that if Tua can’t play.
Moving on from that quick aside, Bills’ first-round draft pick Greg Rousseau had himself a game as well, racking up 5-tackles, 2-sacks, and 2-tackles-for-loss. He, along with all the other pass rushers, greatly benefitted from Epenesa’s pressure. I have really liked what I’ve seen out of DT Justin Zimmer as well. When the rosters first got announced, I thought the depth along the D-line seemed a little excessive, especially with some potential salary cap savings on the table. Now that I look at it from a gameday perspective, the Bills have a huge advantage in mixing and matching personnel groupings and also benefit from being able to keep their guys fresh which will pay huge dividends down the stretch.
The secondary also played great (both did actually) and Taron Johnson is looking like the best nickel corner in the league. There are some guys that are good in coverage, or good tacklers, or have good ball skills, but Johnson has all that and the instincts to make it all work. He plays like a ball-hawk safety and had himself a game with 2-passes defended, 1-sack, 1-TFL, 1-QB hit, and 3-tackles. With Tre’Davious on the outside, teams are trying to go after Levi Wallace but he had 2-PD and came away with an interception. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde both had great games as well combining for 11-tackles, 1-TFL, 1-PD, and 1-QB hit. They are arguably the best safety tandem in the league and a big reason why I think this is the best secondary in the NFL.
As good as things were on the defensive side of the ball, things were still pretty rocky for Josh Allen and the offense. Even with a 35-0 win, Allen’s performance was still the topic of conversation amongst many Bills fans. Going 17/33 for 179-yards with 2-TDs and 1-INT isn’t a great line, but it’s not terrible either. In past matchups, Miami’s man defense had been chewed up by the Bills receivers but there was very little separation on Sunday. Allen started the game going 3/5 with a TD but went 4/11 with a pick the rest of the first half. The interception came from him trying to force the ball to Diggs, but he responded with a drive where he was 5/7 with a very nice TD pass to Knox. Allen went 5/10 from that point. There were glimpses of the electrifying playmaker many thought would be an MVP front-runner and there were moments where he looked indecisive and inaccurate, but the good moments far outweighed the bad. He shouldn’t have to be MVP for the Bills to succeed and they tested that with a run-heavy approach in the second half.
Devin Singletary had another nice game, this time cracking a 46-yard TD run on the Bills’ second offensive play. He finished with 82-yards and another eye-popping 6.3-yards-per-carry but fumbled out of bounds again. Zack Moss came in with the physical ground attack and added 8-carries for 26-yards and 2-TDs, but he fumbled too and they lost possession on that one. Seeing the RBs ball it the ground four times already in two games so maybe I can understand Brian Daboll’s reluctance to run the ball last week, but I still believe in balance. It turns out a lot of the run plays got added on Saturday before the game, but Buffalo had 28-runs to 33-passes and the results speak for themselves.
Performance Grade: A
The Bills head home to welcome The Washington Football team to town in Week 3. Washington is coming off an emotional rollercoaster of a win on Thursday night and has had a few extra days to prepare for their date in Buffalo. After struggling to contain Daniel Jones and the New York Giants offense, Ron Rivera is going to have to gameplan very carefully for a QB who can do everything Jones did and more. If Washington’s defense shows up in 2020 form, they can make life difficult for the Bills, but the Bills’ defense can return the favor. It should be a competitive game but I expect Buffalo to get the W in front of their home crowd after the disappointing home-opener.