The Buffalo Bills’ injury report released on Friday afternoon was an unpleasant sight ahead of the weekend.
Nine players were listed as either “questionable “ or “out” for Buffalo leading up to Sunday’s clash with their AFC East rival, the undefeated Miami Dolphins. The list included the scratches of cornerback Dane Jackson, safety Micah Hyde, and defensive tackle Ed Oliver—all starter’s on Buffalo’s defense. Hyde’s running mate at safety Jordan Poyer, defensive tackle Tim Settle, center Mitch Morse and wide receiver Gabe Davis were listed as questionable, although Davis said he’s “100%” going to play.
The particular positions impacted by the sudden glut of injuries matches up particularly poorly with the strengths of the Dolphins. Micah Hyde is arguably the best deep-ball defender in the league and a large part of the reason why opposing quarterbacks experienced a sub-30 passer rating when throwing deep against the Bills in 2021. His loss while the team prepares for a duo of explosive receivers in Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill (dubbed “The Blur Brothers”) is particularly ill-timed. Ed Oliver would surely be helpful in forcing Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to stay consistently out of rhythm and in the second phase of the play, where his effectiveness wanes (123.8 pass rating with time to throw under 2.5 seconds, 108.3 when throwing at or past 2.5 seconds per PFF, 101.2 before 2.5 seconds and 73.2 at or after that same mark in 2021).
So, it’s time for the new guys to step up.
A pair of rookie cornerbacks in sixth-round pick Christian Benford and 23rd overall selection Kaiir Elam will line up across from two of the most dangerous receivers in the league—without their usual complementary safeties behind them. For Elam, it will likely be the most extensive action he’s seen so far in 2022 and may serve as his toughest test of the entire year. He’ll have more than a few opportunities to show off his straight-line speed (4.29 40-yard dash at the 2022 NFL Combine) against the fastest receiving duo in football. For Benford, it will be an opportunity to cement a starting role opposite Jackson upon his return. Many were shocked when he received the nod over Elam to begin the regular season, but a strong performance against Miami, with Elam operating ostensibly full-time on the opposite side, could mean big things for his young career.
With starting three-technique defensive tackle Ed Oliver and his backup Jordan Phillips both out, practice squad players Brandin Bryant and C.J. Brewer take center stage. While it’s possible Tim Settle will be ready to go, he may be limited even if he plays. Bryant isn’t new to the Bills, having originally signed with Buffalo’s practice squad in 2020. Brewer, however, is a rookie undrafted free agent from Coastal Carolina who played against the Titans last week, recording two tackles. When adding in free-agent defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, who’s played 61% of the defensive snaps for the Bills so far this season, it’s another pivotal position that will be mostly or entirely manned by new faces.
Part of building a championship roster is building championship depth. The NFL season is long and getting longer, and injury luck remains a thing that has largely been on the Bills’ side in recent years. Now that the tables have (at least temporarily) turned on Buffalo, let’s see if the new guys are up to the challenge.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!