Run from it.
Destiny arrives all the same.
It’s fitting that the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins would be playing on the final week of the regular season to determine the AFC East champion. The two franchises have seemingly been on a collision course since the beginning of 2022 when Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel strolled into Miami with his joggers and sneakers oozing with street cred and helped quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the entire franchise rise to division contender status. Last year, the Bills’ tight playoff win over the Dolphins without their preferred starting quarterback still left some Miami fans wondering what may have been if quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had been around to face Buffalo that year and whether the 2023 narrative would be different had he suited up.
Now it’s time to find out.
So before the battle of destiny plays out, I had two simple thoughts for the Bills in the lead-up to their potential epic showdown. “Minor suggestions,” perhaps:
I’m once again asking the Buffalo Bills for more play action
Against the Miami Dolphins in Week 17, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was 9-of-10 for 159 yards and three touchdowns. That’s a 90% completion rate and 15.9 yards per attempt. The Ravens absolutely shredded Miami’s defense with play action. The Dolphins have dealt with their share of injuries on that side of the ball recently and non-preferred starters can be even more susceptible to play action, misdirection and motion. Make sure they’re out of play as much as possible.
On the season, Josh Allen is 89-of-126 for 1,196 passing yards, with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. That’s a 70.6% completion rate, 9.5 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 113.7. Yet the Bills under previous offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey and current offensive coordinator Joe Brady have kept Allen’s usage of play action low for the better part of the last two years, with his 2023 mark sitting at only 22.7%. That rate puts him 26th in usage, yet he’s eighth among that same sample in passer rating when play action is used. It continues to be one of the biggest knocks on the most recent Dorsey/Brady offensive system, and if it doesn’t show up to a meaningful degree against the Dolphins, I’m not sure when it would.
Liver and onions
Tua Tagovailoa has been an effective quarterback overall for the last two years. Because of the nature of him as a divisional rival and the fact that his rise aligned with Mike McDaniel and wide receiver Tyreek Hill arriving, people who aren’t Dolphins fans might be unsettled on exactly how good he is.
But regardless of the arguments over Tagovailoa’s EFFECTIVENESS, there are markedly fewer arguments about Tagovailoa’s QUALITIES — and driving the ball downfield to create explosive plays while operating out of structure would not be something chalked up as a strength of his even by Tagovailoa apologists.
When under pressure, Tagovailoa is fifth-worst in the NFL in passer rating among quarterbacks with 100 dropbacks or more.
When forced to hold the ball for 2.5 seconds or more, Tua remains an efficient passer, but that’s not where the scores come. His touchdown-to-interception ratio when holding the ball is 10:7, compared to 18:5 when under 2.5 seconds.
Tua has been extremely effective. The idea that he can consistently be a playmaker when necessary isn’t supported by data or the film. And so that’s exactly what the Bills need to make him do.
Every defense cedes something. There are no perfect play calls. If there were, defensive coordinators would simply call that one play over and over again. There will always be things that every defensive call is susceptible to. One of the keys to game-planning for quarterbacks is to try and put things on the menu that they have a distaste for. Consciously decide to cede things that the quarterback is less effective doing. Telling a weaker-armed quarterback that the flaws in your defense lie in the hole shots he’ll have to make on the sideline in-between a sinking corner and a half-field safety would be an example of this. And so it is true with Tua. Make him be a playmaker.
...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!