The Buffalo Bills lost to the Miami Dolphins in Week 3 of this season, dropping a 21-19 decision in a game where everything that could go wrong, did. The Bills suffered terribly in the Florida heat, and their roster was already limited coming into the game. Buffalo was actually right at the end of kicker Tyler Bass’ range as time expired, but wideout Isaiah McKenzie didn’t go out of bounds, and quarterback Josh Allen couldn’t spike the ball before the clock hit all zeroes.
Buffalo avenged an earlier divisional loss last week by defeating the New York Jets, 20-12. If they can do the same thing this week against Miami, then they’ll put themselves in a position where they can clinch an AFC East title with just one more victory.
Whereas the temperature at kickoff in September between these two teams was 90 degrees with 54% humidity, it’ll be the polar opposite this weekend — with the emphasis on the “polar.” The temperature is forecast to be 30 degrees at kickoff on Saturday, and there will be snow falling, as well.
How will the Bills come away with a win this week? They’ll need big performances from their top players. Here are five (or more!) that we’re watching this week.
QB Josh Allen
Buffalo’s quarterback was dynamite in the first matchup between these teams. He threw for 400 yards, completing 42-of-63 attempts with two touchdown passes. He fumbled three times in the game, losing one. Allen was able to throw it to all levels of the field against Miami’s defense, and while the Dolphins were able to harass him at times — keeping the Buffalo offense off balance just enough that they couldn’t score touchdowns — the Bills had the ball for 40 minutes of game time, and gained nearly 500 yards of total offense. That’s not a recipe for sustained success against a club, so the onus will be on Miami to devise a plan to stop the Buffalo offense. Mother Nature might play a part in grounding Buffalo’s passing attack, but Allen’s arm strength and willingness to run make him a dynamic force in any weather. His elbow seems to be feeling better, and he’ll have a new target (potentially) in slot receiver Cole Beasley, who signed with the practice squad earlier this week. If the Bills can keep the chains moving like they did in the first matchup, I have confidence that they can punch the ball into the end zone this time around. Allen will be out for blood on Saturday.
FB Reggie Gilliam
Yeah, this one is out there a little, but hear me out. How can the Bills and offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey help keep the offense ahead of the chains? Run the ball. How can the Bills run the ball most effectively? By using their big blocking fullback to help clear the way for Devin Singletary, James Cook, and Nyheim Hines. Gilliam actually had a big day by his standards in the first meeting — he caught two of three targets for a total of 22 yards — and if he can play this week after missing last week’s sloppy weather contest against the Jets, it will help the Bills run more efficiently. An efficient run game means play-action, and if Allen can do that, then look out. If Gilliam is active and he can appear on 25% of the team’s offensive snaps, Buffalo’s running backs will reap the rewards.
Will we see an active Beasley this week? If so, what does he have left? His chemistry with Allen should come in handy, and if he’s able to turn 2nd & 10 into 3rd & 3, then he’ll provide a sorely needed boost to an already outstanding offense. What will Isaiah McKenzie do, then — will he return to a more play-specific gadget role, or will he remain in the slot for half the snaps? Can we see some more of Khalil Shakir, please? Allen seems to trust him, as he’s thrown him a few memorable 50/50 balls this season, but he has appeared on more than 50% of the offensive snaps just once, and that was against the Pittsburgh Steelers when McKenzie was out with a concussion. It will be interesting to see who mans the slot when the chips are down, and the rotation at the position is something worth watching as the playoffs draw near.
Jackson missed the first meeting due to the scary neck injury he suffered against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2, but he played every snap last week. Defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier said things were going well with Jackson in the lineup, but from my seat, all I saw was a Mike White-led Jets offense completing nearly every pass thrown Jackson’s way. Granted, my seat is on my couch, while Frazier’s is on an NFL field, and his resume includes induction into the Black College Hall of Fame, so he obviously knows a few things that I don’t. What I do wonder, though, is whether we’ll see Kaiir Elam this week, especially after watching the Los Angeles Chargers have success playing press man coverage against Miami’s speedy wideouts. In any case, Jackson is the guy I’m watching, even though it feels a little odd to be watching him because I want him to grab some bench.
S Jordan Poyer
The key plays in the September loss each happened on Miami’s go-ahead scoring drive, and they were each bombs to Jaylen Waddle. One was a 32-yard completion on the first play following a missed Tyler Bass field goal (that was caused by an Emmanuel Ogbah block). The second was a 45-yard completion on 3rd & 22 that gave Miami a 1st & Goal. Buffalo’s secondary when those plays happened? Elam, Taron Johnson, Damar Hamlin in his first start, Jaquan Johnson, and Ja’Marcus Ingram in his first game action off the practice squad. Those plays have a significantly smaller chance of happening if Poyer is back there. With the All-Pro safety back to guard against those deeper tosses, Buffalo should be able to do what the Chargers did last week in limiting what Miami wants to do. If the Bills play press and force quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to throw the ball outside the hashes, they’ll be in good shape. Poyer hasn’t had an interception in a while. I’m thinking he comes up with number five on the season this week.