The Buffalo Bills travel south for a “playoff” game this week, as they close their season with their second matchup against the Miami Dolphins. Kevin Nogle, managing editor of The Phinsider, was gracious enough to answer some questions about the game and the upcoming offseason for Miami, who has been eliminated from playoff contention. We appreciate Kevin’s insight!
1) Looking into your crystal ball, who is Miami's quarterback on opening day in 2018?
Ryan Tannehill. Adam Gase wanted to come to Miami to work with Tannehill, so it does not seem to make sense for the Dolphins to try to move on from him after one season of play under Gase. Everything seems to point to Tannehill being back to full strength well before training camp—he is already running stairs at stadiums and doing straight running on the field, so it should not be a concern. I would expect the team to select a quarterback in the late part of the draft so they have a developmental quarterback as a backup. If there is any concern about Tannehill's knee, that draft pick could be earlier in the selection process.
2) What are the biggest differences between Kenyan Drake and Jay Ajayi? How has Drake been successful when Ajayi struggled?
Drake is a better receiver out of the backfield and he is faster than Ajayi. They are both physical runners, though I would probably say Ajayi is a little better in that regard. Drake's success really comes down to the short gains. While the offensive line seems to be playing better late this season, it is the fact that Drake will take a three-yard gain when that is all that is there, then come back and try again. Ajayi seemed to want to break the big run every time he got the ball, which sounds great, but would lead to losses and putting the team in bad situations. There is also thought that Ajayi did not always pick up the right player in pass protection, while Drake seems to be doing a better job at that. Finally, the concerns of Ajayi's knee, the issue that led to him falling in the draft in the first place, seem to have come back to some degree, with the Dolphins wanting to move on before anything happened.
3) What have been the biggest surprises (positive or negative) for Miami this season? Where will the Dolphins need to make the biggest upgrades in the offseason?
The injuries are probably the biggest surprise. Ryan Tannehill, Raekwon McMillan, Tony Lippett, Ja'Wuan James, Nate Allen, William Hayes, Anthony Steen, Julius Thomas, and Jermon Bushrod are all starters or key contributors who are on injured reserve. They also have Lamin Barrow, Isaiah Ford, Koa Misi, and Vincent Taylor on the sidelines from injuries for the year. It has been a strange year.
As for non-injury surprises, Drake's play is definitely up there. Jordan Phillips has been playing really well at defensive tackle, and Xavien Howard has come on late in the season to show the potential we say in training camp. Those have all been really nice surprises.
The Dolphins have several needs that have to be addressed this offseason, with the offensive line, tight end, and linebacker near the top of the list. Julius Thomas did not respond to being back with Adam Gase as was hoped, so Miami does not have that threat tight end that would help open up the offense. McMillan's injury ended his rookie campaign in the preseason and took away Miami's starting middle linebacker, so getting him back will be a part of the upgrade of the linebackers, but the team has to find a good coverage linebacker so tight ends like Charles Clay no longer carve up the defense. And, the offensive line has felt like it is the biggest need every year for this team over the past decade. Hopefully, they finally figure it out for next year.
4) The Dolphins have been much better at home this season than they've been on the road. In a game that is ostensibly "for pride only," how focused do you expect Miami to be?
I think they are going to come in trying to prove something. They felt like they wasted a chance losing in Buffalo and in Kansas City the past couple of weeks, so now they want to show they are better than that. I think the idea of playing spoiler for the Bills will also be motivation. Plus, this game is at home, and they really do look good at home. Of course, all of that is conjecture, and they could come out and play flat again, so we will have to wait to see what Dolphins team takes the field.
5) Tyrod Taylor has been very successful against Miami throughout his time as Buffalo's starter. What are your keys to limiting his effectiveness on Sunday?
Convince the coaching staff to start Nathan Peterman again? Although if that happened, he would probably throw for 500 yards and six touchdowns because Bills versus Dolphins. I really do not know what the deal is with the Dolphins and Taylor. It is the same thing as Thad Lewis. For some reason, the Bills’ quarterbacks always play out of their mind against the Dolphins. Adam Gase said this week of Taylor, "I think he has done a great job of one, protecting the football, and I think he has done a great job where a lot of guys, when they play our defensive front, they do panic, and those guys get to them, where he has done a good job of staying in the pocket and when he does see a lane or he can get outside of the pocket, he does it and really hurts us when he does, whether he runs it or they scramble drill us and we don’t stay tight on the defender or stay tight on the receiver and he gets us for a big play. I think his patience has just been really good against us. He is not affected as much (as) some of the other guys that we’ve played with our pass rush. He just does a good job of taking each play as it comes. If something bad is going on, he’s finding a way to get out of it.”
He continued, "It’s tough when you play a guy that’s athletic and he has a really good feel in the pocket. Then he’s hitting the receivers or running backs when we’re playing them. It makes it extremely tough. When you got the guy that you got in the backfield, then it makes it even scarier, because if he gets the ball to him (LeSean McCoy), and there’s a lot of space, that’s when you’ve got some issues.”
I think the Dolphins need to stay disciplined when it comes to Taylor and keeping him in the pocket. If he is allowed to get outside the pocket and start running, Miami is in trouble.
BONUS--Who wins on Sunday and why?
I'm going to go with the Dolphins because it is in Miami. I know the Bills will be coming into the game looking to end the playoff drought, but I think the fact that it is in Hard Rock Stadium will give the Dolphins the impetus to split the season series this year.