Last Sunday did not go as planned for our Buffalo Bills, as the home team dropped its season opener to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fortunately, one game does not an NFL season make, and this year, the Bills and every other professional team will have one more game than normal to play in the regular season. The saying used to be that each Sunday was one of sixteen opportunities to win, but now there are seventeen chances at victory.
As far as early season matchups go, a date with the first-place Miami Dolphins is about as big as it could be for an 0-1 Buffalo team. A second straight loss doesn’t bury the Bills, but it does put them in a big hole before Autumn officially falls.
Which players are we watching this weekend? Here’s our list.
QB Josh Allen
Yep, I know—I wrote just last week that Allen would be too obvious a pick each week, so I was going to leave him off this list this year. After a performance where Allen completed just 59% of his passes for 270 yards (on a whopping 51 attempts), he is definitely back in play as someone we need to highlight. Granted, his subpar outing not only wasn’t his fault (see the entry below), but it wasn’t even all that subpar by the standards of normal humans. Allen struggled against one of the league’s best defenses because they dominated the line of scrimmage, which allowed the Steelers to bring an extra rusher—also known as a blitz, for those who haven’t heard the term in a while since it just didn’t happen on Sunday—on just one of Allen’s dropbacks. That is an amazing number given that Allen was under duress for the majority of the game. He missed some opportunities last week that, had things gone differently, Buffalo might have been able to gut out a win. If he can continue his dominance of Miami, against whom he has a 114.3 passer rating, 17 passing touchdowns, 340 rushing yards, and three rushing touchdowns in just six games (five of which were wins), then the Bills will probably be celebrating a victory on Sunday. If not? Well, let’s hope that doesn’t happen. Allen needs to step up on Sunday, and I’m confident that he’s up to the task.
The Offensive Line
I literally could have just made our five players to watch each of the big fellas up front, but I’m up for breaking rules this week, so I’m going to lump the group together as one whole. The front-five (six if you consider Ike Boettger and his ten snaps) was used, abused, and dismantled throughout the afternoon by the Pittsburgh defensive front. The good news is that Miami doesn’t have Cam Heyward or T.J. Watt on their roster. The bad news is that any team is capable of running the stunts that seemed to confuse Buffalo’s offensive line plenty on Sunday, and those communication issues can crop up regardless of the talent across from them. In particular, Jon Feliciano and Dion Dawkins need to be much better. Fun fact that I’m putting here mostly to alleviate my own nerves: for all our hand-wringing about the offensive line, Sunday was the first time that group had played together in a regular season game. It takes time to gel, but the Bills can’t afford another day where Allen is running for his life while the defense is allowed to drop seven players into coverage.
DE Efe Obada
The Bills brought Obada in for his pass rush skills after he broke out in a big way last year with the Carolina Panthers, but in his Buffalo debut, he was a ghost on the field. Obada played fewer snaps than any Bills player to appear on defense, as he logged just 15 snaps on Sunday. He did not register a statistic—not a tackle, hurry, pressure, anything—which isn’t exactly how I thought it would play out. I was beating the drum for Obada not only to make the roster, but to play a significant role on defense this year. He needs to step up sooner rather than later.
LB Matt Milano
How is his ankle? It was a good sign that Milano was a full practice participant on Thursday, but the Bills can ill afford to lose Milano after their defense looked so strong overall against Pittsburgh. When Milano was injured last year for Buffalo’s Week 2 matchup with the Dolphins, Miami was able to exploit the intermediate level of the field on slant and seam routes all day. Even though tight end Mike Gesicki put up a goose egg in Week 1 this year, he’s a dangerous receiver who has killed the Bills. Milano’s health is a huge component to the Bills’ success.
S Micah Hyde
With Miami wideout Will Fuller V set to make his season debut, the Bills will need to make sure that they’re on top of their game with regard to stopping the deep ball. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hasn’t shown much willingness to chuck it deep, but he also hasn’t had a weapon like Fuller, who was a dynamic deep threat for Deshaun Watson when he was with the Houston Texans . Hyde is generally Buffalo’s centerfielder, with Jordan Poyer taking on a more versatile role, and while both will be important, Hyde is the one I’d look for when it comes to limiting deep throws. He was on the injury report with a neck injury, so his health and practice status is worth monitoring over the coming days. Editor’s Note: The Dolphins announced Friday that Fuller will miss the game due to personal reasons.