The Buffalo Bills’ defense held the high-powered Miami Dolphins offense to just 20 points in their 48-20 victory in Week 4. Thinking back to my Week 4 article about “how to slow down the Dolphins,” one of my keys to success for the defense was: “Make Tagovailoa get to his second or third read when he drops back to pass. According to Joe Marino during his appearance on WGR 550 on Wednesday, Tua Tagovailoa throws to his first read 81% of the time. Get Tagovailoa off of his first read and try to use that time to fluster him in the pocket.”
The Bills defense did just that. Here’s a little something to prove it:
According to @FantasyPts outstanding Data Suite, Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa threw to his 1st read 80.2% of the time in Weeks 1-3.— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) October 2, 2023
In Week 4 against the Bills, Tua went to his 1st read on 57.1% of throws.
Great job by McDermott's D forcing Tua to work deeper into progressions.
Once both teams settled in after the first two drives, the Bills’ defense did a fantastic job of getting Tagovailoa off his first read — and it led to bad throws, sacks, and interceptions. Follow along as I review (and we reminisce about) some of this past Sunday’s results.
Tagovailoa wanted to get the football out quickly to the flat on this play, but seemed like he didn’t want to throw it towards cornerback Tre’Davious White. He quickly turned to his second read — a deep out — but Bills safety Taylor Rapp had it smothered. By that point, Tagovailoa was getting antsy with pressure in his face and so he threw the ball high and behind the crossing route.
The Bills got creative for this play, showing a two-high safety look and switching to a three-high safety zone coverage at the snap. This allowed the corners to play heavily on the flat routes. Tagovailoa had to come off his first read and, as a result, was flushed out of the pocket. Since White had help behind him, he was confident enough to step in front of the short route and almost had an interception.
Here, Tagovailoa looked like he wanted to get the ball deep to Hill, but Buffalo’s two high safeties took that away. The Bills played a combo coverage here — White was man-to-man on his receiver, with everyone else playing zone. With all of this going on, Tagovailoa held the ball and allowed the pass rush to get home for a sack.
For this play, it appears as though Tagovailoa was either looking off the coverage or wanted to take advantage of wide receiver Tyreek Hill matched up against linebacker Matt Milano. But Milano covered the route well, and Tagovailoa has to look elsewhere. Either way, as soon as he broke off Hill, Tagovailoa decided to throw the seam route. It looks like he had already made up his mind about where he was going with the ball. Terrel Bernard did an excellent job of sinking with the route, which forced Tagovailoa to get the ball over his head, and this resulted in an overthrow into the waiting arms of safety Micah Hyde.
Tua was reading Hyde on this play to decide if he would throw the go-route outside or the deep crosser over the middle. Hyde did a nice job of holding Tagovailoa off just long enough for the pass rush to get a sack. White did an excellent job in coverage. Also, Bernard was able to get his eyes on the receiver (another one of my keys to success for the defense) and undercut the deep-crossing route.
In the red zone, the Bills had the advantage of another defender (the out-of-bounds end line), which allowed them to be a bit more aggressive in their coverages. The defense had every receiver on lockdown and left Tagovailoa with nowhere to go, which resulted in a throwaway.
The Bills were in Cover 2 for this play. Great depth by the linebackers and keeping their eyes on the receivers allowed the Bills to take away any quick throws from Tagovailoa. This play again ended in a sack by Buffalo’s pass rush.
Head coach Sean McDermott and the Bills’ defense had a sound game plan to stymie the Miami Dolphins, and it was well-executed throughout the game, which goes from the scheme, to the coaches, and those players on the field. Their ability to keep Tua Tagovailoa guessing coverages, playing aggressively, and taking away first reads allowed the defense to create sacks and turnovers. Buffalo’s pass rush was a force to be reckoned with and will only become more fierce once edge rusher Von Miller returns to the field of play. If the Bills want to reach their ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl, the defense needs to be able to affect the game like they did in Week 4. Well done by all.