The start of the Miami Dolphins’ 2021 schedule feels like the schedule makers looked at the 2020 schedule and thought it seemed fine. Miami opened both seasons at the New England Patriots, then have the Buffalo Bills at home in Week 2. Where last year, the Dolphins lost both of those games, they have already come away with a win at the Patriots this season. Can they move to 2-0 on the year compared to last year’s 0-2 start?
It is not going to be easy as the Bills are coming off a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was a strange game from the Buffalo point of view because the team did not seem to be in sync, yet were still racking up big chunks of yardage. They appeared to outplay the Steelers for much of the game, but still found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreline. For a team that has Super Bowl aspirations this year, an 0-2 start would be unacceptable, especially given that it would put them two games, plus the tiebreaker, behind the Dolphins - and both of Miami’s wins would be in the AFC East.
What can the Dolphins expect from the Bills this week? How concerned are Bills fans after a Week 1 loss at home? I turned to Corey Giacovelli from Buffalo Rumblings, SB Nation’s Bills site, to get a closer look at Miami’s division rival.
Kevin Nogle (KN): The Dolphins - and really all of the AFC East - have for years been trying to stop Tom Brady with pressure, especially up the middle. Miami has used that same blueprint when it comes to trying to slow down Josh Allen, and it has been a miserable experience, mostly because they have not been able to keep him contained, allowing him to run for somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 yards per game. Last week against the Steelers, we saw a different blueprint, where Pittsburgh sat back, allowing their front four to rush, then dropping everyone else into coverage. Allen seemed to try to force some passes and the inaccuracy started creeping back in. Is this a system that you think could work against Allen - putting seven or eight guys in coverage rather than blitzing and trying to get him in the backfield - or was this just a one-game apparition?
Corey Giacovelli (CG): I think it really depends on the performance of the offensive line. Coach Sean McDermott was adamant after the game that he was not pleased with their performance. Pittsburgh was able to drop all of those guys into coverage because they were able to get to Allen with only four or three rushers. Allen had no chance to even think about extending plays because there was nowhere he could go with the football. This blueprint could work but if the offensive line decides to give Allen time, then he will be able to go through all of his reads or see if he has a chance at running.
KN: Brian Daboll has completed the AFC East tour, having been a coach for all four teams. I know Bills fans have loved him over the last few years, but there were some questionable play designs and calls against the Steelers. Was this a function of Daboll trying to do too much? Is his faith in spread formations too much for the offensive line with no running back support? Is the offense pushing too hard to prove it is a top-tier unit?
CG: I do believe in Brian Daboll and the way he was calling the game, once again a lot had to do with the performance of the offensive line and not getting enough time to let plays develop. One questionable call you could be referring to was the 4th and 8 near midfield in the second half. The issue with this was that Allen believed that Pittsburgh jumped offsides which is the only reason they snapped the football. The plan appeared to be to try and draw them offsides and if it failed then call time out then attempt the field goal. The other questionable call was the 4th and 1 when they attempted that swing pass that was completely blown up. Daboll admitted that this was a copy of a similar play the Bills ran years ago that went for a touchdown. The problem was that the Pittsburgh corner stayed on the outside instead of motioning across the formation with the receiver. Hopefully we will see more of the running game this week but time will tell.
KN: The Bills had four fumbles on Sunday, though they only lost one. The Dolphins in 2020 were all about the takeaway, then continued that in Week 1 this season, focing four fumbles - with two recoveries - in Week 1. Are you concerned about ball security for Buffalo?
CG: Ball security is always in the back of my mind when watching a Bills game. I do not blame Josh Allen for losing the first fumble where Watt chopped his arm, not many quarterbacks would have held onto that football. However, he did have a fumble when he was on the run which has always seemed to be a problem throughout his career. He needs to just take his medicine and slide instead of fighting for those couple extra yards. It will be interesting to see the amount of touches that Devin Singletary has who had the other two fumbles because that has been a problem for him in the past.
KN: The Bills defense took it to the Steelers offense last week, despite not coming away with the win. What is the key to attacking Buffalo’s defense?
CG: The key is blocking in the trenches. The Bills secondary thrives when they are getting pressure on the quarterback and the ball is coming out quickly. This is due to the secondary being strong in the initial couple seconds after the snap. The issue becomes when there is no pressure and the quarterback is able to hold onto the ball in that 3-5 second range then the secondary tends to falter a little in coverage resulting in successful plays. Cornerback Levi Wallace got picked on in the second half last week so it is worth watching if Miami does the same depending on if Parker or Waddle is lined up across from him.
KN: A Week 1 loss in a 17 game season is not going to crush the Bills - or any team in the NFL. But, teams that have Super Bowl hopes do not start the season 0-2. A loss here puts Buffalo essentially 2.5 games behind the Dolphins in the division, while a win puts the Bills in the top spot in what will likely be a three-way tie and the division is essentially reset. Is this a “must-win” game for Buffalo? How are the fans reacting to a loss to a team that was 11-0 last season and finished 12-4?
CG: The initial reaction after last week was of course the end of the world scenario that fans tend to fall into. We had comments ranging from fire Brian Daboll to even people saying that Allen is overrated and to give Mitch Tribusky a look. Then as the days went on people began to realize that a majority of the blame goes to the offensive line and even a little special teams after allowing that big block punt for a touchdown that swung momentum for good. However, I do believe this is a must-win for Buffalo because of the confidence it would give this team for the rest of the season. Every game this season matters due to the firepower in the AFC. Every division has a strong case to make for at least two teams fighting for playoff spots at the end of the season. Most people say that 10 wins is enough for the playoffs but given the AFC, it might be pushing 11 or 12.