The Miami Dolphins are not a good pro football team. They’re not, however, attempting to be a good football team. At least their front office is not, and they’re not RIGHT NOW.
Tanking is a strange phenomenon in the NFL. Many analytics gurus will champion the “short-term pain for long-term gain” process of dismantling any talent currently on your roster unlikely to be present at the point in time organizational winning is envisioned. They will tout the brilliance of former Cleveland Browns executive Sashi Brown and nod vigorously at the roster maneuvers of the 2019 Dolphins.
Brian Flores isn’t likely tanking though. He’s most likely trying to win every game he possible can to show his players that his message, if adopted, will lead to winning. This is why he’s flip-flopped between journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and future 30-for-30 subject Josh Rosen. If he was in on the tank, he’s find the QB most likely to secure him the highest draft pick (i.e. the worst one) and play them to ensure the organization’s own 2020 assets are of as much value as possible.
As I watched film on the Dolphins in preparation for this article, it was clear to me that Brian Flores knows he has a talent deficiency on the current roster. He’s doing what he can to minimize it and put his team in the best position to win, but the Buffalo Bills need to snuff out any hope the Dolphins have of getting their first win of the season at the expense of their New York rivals.
How? I have some thoughts...
Prepare for the screen game
When Chan Gailey coached the Bills, he was able to manufacture offense without a surplus of blue-chip prospects through the use of the screen game. Miami offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea is trying to mask talent deficiencies by implementing a robust screen game, and the Bills need to be wise to the fact that big chunks of yardage can come against teams who fail to recognize what may be coming from Miami.
You might not need to blitz much
As I just mentioned above, a good bit of preparing for the Dolphins comes into not letting them beat you in the screen game. One of the ways you can avoid being caught with a numbers-disadvantage screen side is to limit your blitzing. Being caught in a blitz with a well-timed screen play can be the source for a lot of easy passing yards, which is what a team with inferior talent needs to be able to steal a game from a playoff hopeful.
It’s okay to play man-heavy
Ryan Fitzpatrick has anticipatory skills. He doesn’t have the physical skills necessary to be an upper-echelon starter in the league, but his ability to trust his eyes and let it rip has seen him stick around much longer than a late-round pick from Harvard (I’ll bet you didn’t know that about him) rightfully should. I feel more comfortable in man against him than in zone for this reason. The receivers for the Dolphins aren’t of the caliber where man coverage will spell immediate doom for the Bills.
You might think this point stands in opposition to the one made above, as zone defenses don’t have their backs to the line of scrimmage as often and as such are less susceptible to screen passes. That’s absolutely true, and I recognize that zone is and will continue to be the primary call against all teams. However, man coverage more than you might think served the Bills well against the New England Patriots (where Chad O’Shea and the vast majority of the Dolphins’ coaching staff were last year), I would imagine it should serve the Bills well here.
The Dolphins’ D has two solid players
Reshad Jones is on the injury report as of the time of this writing and might not play this Sunday. Xavien Howard has struggled with knee injuries three of the last four years but looks like he’ll see the field this week. Christian Wilkins was one of my favorite players in the 2019 NFL Draft, but he’s not at the level yet where game planning around him is an absolute must, much like the Bills’ own Ed Oliver is not a one-man wrecking crew yet.
Make no mistake: Xavien Howard is a good player. He’s patient in man coverage and fights back to the ball when he’s beaten on a double move. This may be a game where Cole Beasley shines more so than John Brown, who I suspect will see a shadow named Howard this game.
Let’s take Robert Foster out for a spin
If Reshad Jones can’t go on Sunday, it should be a green light for what has ailed the Bills’ offense: the lack of vertical connections in the passing game. Freed from Zay Jones’s presence in front of him on the depth chart and hopefully recovered from his groin injury, the time to unleash Robert Foster as a deep threat for this team has come. Knowing that John Brown will likely be followed by Xavien Howard allows the Bills to send Duke Williams and Foster on deeper patterns while Brown works his underrated route-running against Howard underneath. If you happen to get 2-man the entire game, Cole Beasley will be in for a big day.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan for Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter @BruceExclusive and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” every week on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network.