The Miami Dolphins were beat down in Buffalo Sunday. The Buffalo Bills out-played Miami in every phase of the game. The Dolphins couldn't match the intensity that the Bills displayed and lethargic play and untimely errors ultimately led to the defeat.
The Dolphins locker room was characterized by frustration after this game. The game itself was characterized by Bills' domination and Dolphins' mistakes. The good news? This is just one game. The Dolphins have the rest of the season to respond from this ugly loss. In the mean time, it provides an excellent teaching tool.
Here are my thoughts and takeaways from the 29-10 trouncing that the Bills laid on the Dolphins:
1. There's something about Buffalo
The Dolphins have lost to the Bills in Buffalo three consecutive seasons, with the last two being particularly embarrassing 19-point differences.
Not to take away anything from the Bills, but the Dolphins looked flat on all phases of the ball. Miami looked, as they did last season in Buffalo, uninspired and lacking enthusiasm.
Could it be the city of Buffalo sucking the life out of this South Florida football team?
In all seriousness, the environment was hostile at Ralph Wilson Stadium Sunday and the crowd was pumped up after a speech by Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. The Bills fed off of that energy. Miami did the opposite.
Each time Miami sniffed at a morsel of momentum, the Bills snatched it away with a big play of their own. Bills running back CJ Spiller was a producer of two momentum stealing plays-- a kickoff return for a touchdown and a 47-yard run that led to a touchdown.
2. Miami's offense lacked intensity, efficiency and execution
The Dolphins didn't face a third down of under seven yards until the end of the first half. The Dolphins were in unfavorable down-and-distance situations for nearly the entire game.
Overall, the Dolphins offense was lethargic and failed to match the intensity that the Bills defense played with. For that reason, this offense was exposed on Sunday. Miami's offensive line was dominated. Shelley Smith was victimized multiple times today in pass protection and was the cause of at least two sacks on Tannehill.
Tannehill was sacked four times on the day and the run game was inconsistent behind the shaky line. The line also had a holding penalty that stalled a promising third quarter drive and sapped any chance at momentum that the Dolphins had.
The line is not the only subject of blame with this offense. Too many drives stopped short due to dropped passes. Miami, yet again, left a huge chunk of yards on the field due to simple mistakes. Lamar Miller had two devastating third-down drops, one of which he could've turned into a huge gain and momentum swinger.
And finally, we get back to the quarterback. With everything said above being taken into consideration, Tannehill was inaccurate and inefficient. Tannehill faced pressure that made him flashback to 2013, but he missed on plenty of throws.
Tannehill's ball placement was off and he put many passes behind his receivers. Tannehill missed potential touchdown passes on consecutive plays in the third quarter, forcing Miami to settle for a field goal.
I was particularly alarmed by Tannehill's inability to pull his offense out of the dumps. You can make all of the (somewhat valid) excuses you want about why Tannehill and the offense as a whole struggled, but the fact is he now wears a "C" on his chest. Tannehill is the leader of this offense, and the unit sinks or swims with him.
Dolphins OC Bill Lazor and the Dolphins fanbase was reminded that the execution of players (or lack their of) ties directly into success of the offense. Lazor didn't call the best game, but his players failed to execute and lost far to many one-on-one battles.
3. The loss of Knowshon Moreno was (and is) devastating
Moreno left this game on Miami's second drive due to what is being called a dislocated elbow. Moreno's energy level was much needed in this game, but maybe even more so was his ability to run tough and get yards after contact.
As previously mentioned, the Dolphins offensive line wasn't playing great. The Bills defensive lien was getting penetration on nearly every play. But some creases and opportunities were missed by Lamar Miller. Not to mention the fact that Miller isn't the fall-forward type power back that Moreno is.
The loss of Moreno is a crushing blow. Moreno will be out at least a month, and during that time the Dolphins offense will be sorely missing his leadership, ability and energy on the field.
Those qualities that Moreno brings to the field and to this team cannot be understated.
4. Special teams were awful
Mistakes were rampant against the Bills, but none stood out more than the special teams gaffes.
The Dolphins allowed a blocked punt (the first for the Bills since 2006), allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown on a blown assignment by newly signed linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, and to make matter worse Jarvis Landry muffed a punt late in the fourth quarter on a ball that he should've let bounce into the endzone (pictured above).
Miami allowed ten points from special teams mistakes, a total that could've easily been 21 if Buffalo had been more efficient in the redzone.
5. Defense was good considering circumstances
Miami's defense played well overall, but Buffalo moved the ball with ease at times against the Dolphins defense. The Dolphins defense played soft in key times in the game, such as after Mike Wallace's one-handed touchdown catch to cut the Bills' lead to six. The ensuing touchdown drive by the Bills was a dagger to the heart and yet another momentum killer for Miami.
While the front seven was solid against the run, hold one game-changing run by CJ Spiller, the secondary seemed lost at times. The Dolphins secondary had multiple coverage breakdowns in which they allowed Sammy Watkins to be open by seven yards. Watkins finished the day with 117 receiving yards on eight receptions.
The Bills only ran for a 3.4 yard average that was boosted greatly by CJ Spiller's 47-yard scamper in the third quarter.
Six times the Dolphins defense allowed the Bills into the redzone. Only once did the Bills score a touchdown. That ability to tighten the screws when backed up deep is encouraging.
The Dolphins defense played well overall when considering the situations they were put in. Seven Bills' drives started at (at least) their own 40-yard line.
6. This was just one game
Unlike last season, the Dolphins have 14 more games to rebound from this loss. This team has time to prove that what was shown Sunday is not how this team should be defined. How this team bounces back from this frustrating loss will define the character of this team and show the difference in leadership between 2013 and now.
This game was infuriating to watch, but it was a necessary reality check early in the season. Many teaching points were taken from this game, and the team should become stronger through this loss.
Remember, the Bills are a match up nightmare for the Dolphins. Like Philip Wheeler said after the game-- some teams are built to beat others. The Dolphins are built to beat the Patriots, the Bills are built to beat the Dolphins.
16 teams are 1-1, including the World Champion Seattle Seahawks. There's no need to panic, the season is young.
But, man, it was great to see the Dolphins undefeated for a week!
- Bills were able to dominate on defense because of their ability to create pressure when rushing only four. The Bills front four was dominant and controlled the game.
- This game felt similar to the late-2013 contest between these two teams. Lack of energy, offensive line being dominated at line of scrimmage.
- The Dolphins were surprisingly ineffective when pass rushing and only hit EJ Manuel on two of his 26 dropbacks. The Dolphins produced zero sacks on the day.
- Ryan Tannehill was sacked four times by four different Bills and was hit an additional five times. It was a rough day that's piled onto a rough start the the QB's third NFL season.
- Any good looking offensive play usually ended with a mistake. Whether a penalty, tipped pass or drop, things didn't go Miami's way. Another momentum drainer.
- Are sloppy play and slow starts going to become a trend for the Dolphins? The errors need to get cleaned up and it needs to happen fast.
- After keeping the punter off the field until the fourth quarter last week, the Dolphins punted on every drive in the first half.
- The play that represented the day: when Jarvis Landry muffed the punt, the ball bounced straight to Bills linebacker Randell Johnson. It was that kind of day for both the Bills and the Dolphins.
- The Dolphins linebackers played well, though Jason Trusnik was way out of position on a few of the most important plays of the game, including Spiller's 47-yard run. Jelani Jenkins had a team-high 13 tackles in his first start.
- Dolphins HC Joe Philbin elected to run the clock out at the end of the first half in the midst of the Dolphins best offensive drive of the game. It was a decision that left many head-scratching.
- Three of Brian Hartline's first four passes of the season were chain-moving third down receptions. Some things never change.
- Hartline was not free of the dropsies that overcame some of the Dolphins offensive weapons. Hartline dropped a perfect deep throw from Ryan Tannehill late in the fourth quarter.
- Lamar Miller's inability to catch the ball consistently is a huge hindrance on this offense.
- The Dolphins may be searching for a running back soon in wake of injuries to Moreno and Miller on Sunday. Could Daniel Thomas find his way back to Miami? Personally I'd rather see the Dolphins give Damien Williams and Orleans Darkwa a shot.
- Miami was outscored in every quarter. Shows the thorough domination that took place.
- Dolphins were outscored by 19 points in Buffalo for a second consecutive time.
- My bold prediction of a 35-17 victory for Miami was way off. I highly underestimated the effect the Bills crowd would have on the game.