The Miami Dolphins outlasted the Buffalo Bills in September, winning 21-19 in a game marked by brutal heat and big plays. Miami was able to make a few more of those splash plays, including a pair of long completions to Jaylen Waddle and a fumble recovery inside the Bills’ 10-yard line to set up their first score.
On Saturday night, there won’t be any extreme heat to discuss; instead, it will be the snow and the cold of Western New York taking center stage. With a win, the Dolphins would move to just one game out of first place in the AFC East, and they’d guarantee themselves the tiebreaker with Buffalo by virtue of a season sweep. If the Bills win, though, the division might not be a lock, but the proverbial fat lady will begin warming her vocal cords.
There are quite a few stellar players on this Miami squad, and the Bills need to contain those players if they want to leave this one with a three-game lead in the division. Here are our five Dolphins players we’re watching this weekend.
QB Tua Tagovailoa
It does snow in Alabama, but it doesn’t snow like this — and the wind coming off of Lake Erie is something else, too. I expect that Miami will look to dial up a long ball early in this one to show just how unafraid of the weather they are. Over the last two weeks, Tagovailoa has had trouble finding open receivers after his first read. The Los Angeles Chargers, in particular, had a great deal of success by masking their coverage, jamming Miami’s speedy wideouts in Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill at the line of scrimmage, and flooding the middle of the field with defenders. On a cold, windy night, this kind of plan sounds like a ticket to success for Buffalo. Making Tagovailoa throw to the hashes while the corners play inside leverage is the way to go here. Bringing some extra pressure to flush him to his right will help, too. Last week, we saw linebacker Tremaine Edmunds featured more as a pass rusher than he’s been in quite some time. I expect that to continue this week. Hitting Tagovailoa and making him think his first read is good when it’s really not is the key to success.
RB Raheem Mostert
Another key to success will be making the Dolphins one-dimensional, which Buffalo was able to do in the first meeting between these two teams. The Dolphins gained just 41 yards on 17 carries, and nine of those yards came on a rush by Waddle. Mostert gained only 11 yards on his eight carries, adding zero catches on two targets, as well. If the weather is like they’re predicting, then the ability to run the ball is going to give the Dolphins options in the play-action game. If Buffalo can stuff the run once again, all of that eye-candy and play-fake stuff can go by the wayside, as Buffalo’s defenders can key in on Tagovailoa knowing full well that they’re going to be able to stop the ground game. Buffalo was without Ed Oliver and Jordan Poyer last time, and by the end of the game, Tremaine Edmunds was down, too. All of those guys are back healthy, and even without star pass rusher Von Miller, the Bills’ defense has the talent to continue stopping Miami’s rushing attack. Keeping Mostert in check will help.
OT Terron Armstead
It’s not that I’m not worried about Waddle and Hill, but it’s that they’re obvious picks — and we talked about them the last time Buffalo and Miami played, too. Sure, Tagovailoa is obvious, but he’s the guy chucking the rock to these receivers. The key to protecting the quarterback and giving him time to make those throws, though, is Armstead — who is dealing with myriad injuries this week. He’s listed as questionable thanks to toe, pec, and knee injuries. How healthy is he? Can the trio of A.J. Epenesa, Shaq Lawson, and Boogie Basham take advantage at right end (Greg Rousseau tends to line up at left end)? If his mobility is limited at all, sending defensive backs off the edge could be a fun way to test that. Armstead is an excellent lineman, but if he’s less than 100%, the Bills need to take advantage.
EDGE Bradley Chubb
The new guy is just another horse in a stable full of fantastic pass rushers in Miami. He joins Melvin Ingram, a constant thorn in the side of the Bills over the last few years, and Jaelan Phillips, who’s really coming into his own, as athletic menaces to deal with outside. Then, consider defensive tackle Christian Wilkins as the member with a twist of the pass-rush brigade, and this Miami team is clearly built to sack quarterbacks. Chubb wasn’t with the Dolphins for the first meeting, and if he’s lined up across from Spencer Brown, it’s a big-time mismatch in Miami’s favor. The Bills will need to help to that side with tight end Dawson Knox and the running backs in order to keep quarterback Josh Allen clean.
S Jevon Holland
I called him a corner last time — my fault — but all this tough safety did was make plays in the first meeting. Miami used him as an extra pass rusher, they used him in middle coverage at multiple levels, and they relied on him to change the game. All he did to reward that faith was force a fumble on a strip-sack of Allen early in the game that set the Dolphins up with a goal-to-go situation, leading to their first touchdown of the day. Holland has two interceptions and five pass breakups on the year, and his 1.5 sacks for the season all came against Buffalo. Allen and center Mitch Morse will need to identify where he is before the snap in order to ensure that they aren’t caught napping again if he’s coming off the edge.