The NFL matchup of the week between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins brings a multitude of discussion topics. Chief among those topics is likely: “Can the Bills slow down the Dolphins offense?” This question has merit considering the Dolphins just hung 70 points and 726 yards of offense on the Denver Broncos last weekend.
Don’t get me wrong, Miami’s performance in Week 3 was very impressive, but there are a few things we have to remember.
- The Dolphins need to play good defense against quarterback Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense, both of which have notoriously done well against the Dolphins defense.
- Divisional games tend to be lower-scoring and closer final scores.
- The week before their 70-point outburst, the Dolphins scored 24 points versus the New England Patriots... they aren’t going to score 70 points every week.
In this article, we’ll dive into how the Patriots were able to limit the Dolphins to 24 points and see what type of strategies the Bills can implement on defense to be successful.
Miami Dolphins Season Statistics
Here are some notable statistics from Miami’s offense so far this season.
- They rank sixth in the NFL in passing plays thrown to the “short middle.”
- They rank fourth in the NFL in passing plays thrown to the “deep middle” and first in yards gained throwing to the deep middle.
- In passing plays thrown to the short left, short middle, and short right they rank first, second, and third in average yards gained respectively.
- They rank third in the NFL in rushing plays run around the left end.
- Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa ranks tied for third-quickest in the NFL in PKT time (time from snap to throw) with 2.2 seconds, according to FantasyPros.
- Tagovailoa ranks first in the NFL in air yards per attempt with 6.0, according to FantasyPros.
- Tagovailoa ranks first in the NFL in throws that travel 10+ yards, according to FantasyPros.
- Dolphins running backs De’Von Achane and Raheem Mostert are first and fifth in average rushing yards before contact, respectively.
Dolphins vs. Patriots notes
The Patriots held the Dolphins to “only” 24 points in their Week 2 matchup, including only seven points in the second half. The Patriots used a three-deep safety look quite often in this matchup. They played zone coverage for 71% of the snaps, running one-high coverage look 16 times, two-high safety coverage 13 times, and also mixed in robber and Tampa-2 coverages.
The Dolphins gained 389 yards of total offense in this game, but the Patriots were able to force one turnover, sack Tagovailoa once, and hold the Dolphins to 4-of-10 on third downs. Miami made it to the red zone three times and scored two touchdowns and one field goal. There were only two other drives where the Dolphins drove into Patriots’ territory — one drive ended in a blocked field goal and the other was a missed field goal.
Let’s take a look at some film...
I like this concept for the Bills to incorporate. It doesn’t necessarily have to come out of a three-deep safety look, but I think the robber technique allows the safeties to see how routes develop in front of them. The Patriots covered this play well but the linebacker on the bottom of the screen started reading Tagovailoa’s eyes, which led him to covering nothing but open turf. If instead he took a quick glance back at the wide receiver, he would’ve realized everyone else vacated the area and all he needed to do was expand further in the flat.
I think penetration and gap discipline are going to be key components of Buffalo being able to slow down Miami’s run game. In this play, you can see the Patriots defensive tackle had outstanding penetration, which forced the running back to bounce way outside. Additionally, New England had run support from their safety, who filled the run lane perfectly.
Here, No. 23 on the Patriots shows the ultimate example of staying disciplined and just reading his keys to be successful at his job. The Dolphins used tons of motion and misdirection for this play, but number 23 didn’t fall for it. Great play.
Notice every Patriots defender kept their eyes on what Miami’s receiver were doing, instead of trying to read Tagovailoa’s eyes. The “robber” safety came down and jumped Tagovailoa’s first read, which made him come off it — by which time the pressure got home for a sack.
The Patriots showed blitz and brought blitz, except for one defensive back in the middle. After pretending to blitz for a couple of steps, he backed out and ended up undercutting the slant route. Key takeaways from this play: Tagovailoa got antsy under pressure; the defense showed one thing and did something different; eliminate Miami’s first read.
Keys on defense for the Buffalo Bills
- Mix things up, and keep Tagovailoa guessing what coverage the defense is in. I’m a big fan of the robber coverage. Have the linebackers react and play on the underneath routes and have the “robber” safety come down and jump the second-level routes.
- Rally to the football to make tackles, limit both “YAC’s” — that is yards after catch and yards after contact.
- The linebackers and defensive backs need to keep their eyes on wide receivers in the passing game and adjust the depth/width of their zones accordingly. Reading the quarterback’s eyes won’t accomplish much in this game.
- 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.
- Expect a pass on third down. The Dolphins pass 86% of the time on third down, regardless of distance.
- Win in the red zone. The Dolphins are going to get their yards, but when they get into the red zone the defense must have an extra defender over the top (the end out-of-bounds line). Pack things in tight and hold them to field goals.
- “Taking away the middle” is easier said than done. The Dolphins are very effective at using leverage and spacing to get wide receivers open. That being said, Tagovailoa does want to throw over the middle. Getting him out of rhythm should be the goal regardless of where the ball is thrown.
- Don’t let Achane and Mostert get a big head start. As stated above, Miami’s running backs are first and fifth in average yards before contact. Getting defenders on them early in the play with penetration and gap discipline will go a long way toward slowing down the Dolphins’ run game.
- Miami motions a ton — the Bills' defense can’t get caught up putting their eyes in the wrong places while this happens. Each player needs to stay focused on their keys and do their best to win their individual rep on that play.
All of the above points are way easier said than done. Right now, all the fanfare is about the Miami Dolphins’ offense, but the Buffalo Bills have a pretty stout defense themselves. Miami has speed all over the place, but if Buffalo plays sound fundamental defense and can tackle well I think they can find success. Head coach Sean McDermott has a chance to flex his defensive scheme intelligence and I’m sure he has something special up his sleeve to challenge this Dolphins offense. Not to mention, the Bills have plenty of their own firepower on the offensive side of the ball. Get your popcorn ready, this one should be fun to watch.