Well, this is nice. Been a little while since our boys opened a season with a win. And over a Pats team that everyone has been crowing about as a shoe-in to make the playoffs? Even extra nicer.
But as they say, on to the next.
Last year, to do these Armchair Analyses, I would watch the opponent’s previous two games, to get a sense of their strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, that wasn’t possible this time, being only week 2. Still, I was able to catch a pretty good chunk of the Bills’ loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s all I have to go on.
Bills Lose to Steelers, 23-16
It was the kind of ugly, discombobulated game that comes by the handful in opening weeks. Defenses were ahead of offenses, and the scoring was paltry until the Steelers found some actual rhythm in the 4th quarter, putting up 17 of their 23 points in the final period. The Steelers' ferociously talented front seven took a different tack this week, usually dropping seven or even eight defenders back into coverage. Josh Allen of 2020 probably would have taken advantage of this by taking what was given – shorter but very certain yards closer to the line of scrimmage. Instead, Allen took and missed a few deep shots early, then seemed to go "Tin Cup" and stubbornly keep hurling the ball over 30 yards, just to prove to somebody that he could still do it. Well, he never found the accuracy, keeping his team to mostly field goals while Pittsburgh caught and then passed them.
Bills running back Devin Singletary was running well, averaging 6.5 yards per carry on his way to 72 total yards on the day. But this was as much the Steelers conceding modest gains in order to take away the patented Allen big strikes.
The Bills defense looked solid at times, but the Steelers offense wasn’t exactly looking like world-beaters. Ben Roethlisberger really does look mostly shot, with very little mobility or arm strength left, at least by his standards. And the Steelers once-formidable offensive line is now a shell of its former self. It’s no mystery as to why the offense only managed 177 net yards through the air. And it’s not like the O line was run-blocking all that great, either, mustering only 75 yards on the ground while averaging 3.5 yards per carry. Again, some of this was the Bills playing decent defense, but Pittsburgh is just not very intimidating on offense, very much like last season.
Dolphins Offense versus Bills Defense
Unlike the last two seasons, I think we actually have a slight advantage here. Yes, the Bills still boast an impressive linebacking corps. However, Milano, Edmunds, and the other notable front seven guys weren’t exactly tearing up the field last week. They weren’t bad by any stretch, and even had several nice tackles for loss. But again, it sometimes looked to be as much an indictment of the Steelers’ weak O line as it did the Bills’ superior skills. While the Steelers still have a few nice weapons like JuJu and Claypool, their talent pool in terms of skill guys isn’t as deep as the Dolphins. Even without Will Fuller, we saw just what Jalen Waddle and DeVante Parker can do. And then there’s Albert Wilson and Mike Gesicki – two guys who were very quiet in week 1 but whom we know can come up with big plays. I’ll also go out on a limb and say that Miles Gaskin will be at least as good as rookie Najee Harris was last week, and very likely will be much better. No, our offensive line wasn’t great against a really good Pats defensive front last week, but it was better than the Steelers O line was against the Bills. I guarantee that if the Bills try to drop seven or eight, Tua and our speed guys will obliterate them with quick slants or other fast-developing plays. Things could get interesting if the Bills start blitzing a lot, but our O line and extra blockers did well enough in this area against the Pats last week.
Dolphins Defense versus Bills Offense
It all comes down to one thing, of course: do we get 2018/19 Josh Allen or 2020 Josh Allen?
Was last week a sign of a long-term regression back to what he was in college and his first two years in the NFL, or was it just a blip while Allen shakes the rust off in his first week back to real action? If it’s the latter, then the defense is going to have some real trouble, just like it did last year, and just like nearly every defense the Bills faced.
But if Allen plays the same or improves only a little over last week’s rough outing, then I think our defense has a real shot to keep him and the Bills passing game in check. It does hurt to not have Raekwon Davis out there, applying some real pressure up the middle, but John Jenkins was a decent fill-in last week. I think this is going to be a game that Flores and the defense will really have to feel out. If they get the sense that Allen’s accuracy issues have carried over from last week, they can employ a similar strategy to the Steelers. Maybe not to the same extreme, given that the Fins don’t have a T.J. Watt or Cameron Heyward-caliber guy up front, but similar.
If Allen looks like he’s worked out the accuracy bug and has rediscovered his 2020 self, then it’s hold onto your hats, hope that our pass rushers like Ogbah and Philips can drag Allen down, and maybe X can nab an INT. It’ll take those kinds of big impact plays to slow down and overcome Josh Allen when he’s at or close to the best version of himself.
Summary and Prediction
Like last week’s game against a tough division opponent, it’s hard to have confidence in this kind of prediction. Buffalo has one hell of an ace to play, if Allen’s head and arm are right. Still, given last week’s performance, the fact that it’s in Miami, and that our offense is likely to only get better, I think we see our guys pull it off. I expect a close, back-and-forth game where a few small plays and our advantage in the special teams department make the difference. Sprinkle in our guys’ motivation to wash the putrid taste of last year’s season-ending embarrassment of a loss up in Buffalo out of their mouths, and I see us opening the season 2-0 against our current nemeses.
Dolphins 30, Bills 24
That's right - I have a much higher-scoring game this week, where I think both teams improve over their limited offensive outputs in Week 1. But I see our guys being able to keep the Bills offense in check, while our offense continues to build its consistency.
Off to a good start on my predictions this year, in terms of win/loss if not the exact score:
Let me know how you're feeling about the game down in the comments, everyone. I may even tolerate a reasonable Bills fan or two to offer a few words.