Strong starts from both the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills have set the stage for a critical early-season showdown in Buffalo this Sunday. These two teams couldn’t be further apart stylistically, and this game will come down to who can force the other to play their style of football. First, we’ll take a look at how the Bills have had so much success defensively and how Miami and Tua Tagovailoa will need to execute this Sunday. Then we will go over how this defense can contain Josh Allen and limit his special, out-of-structure plays.
Muddy up First Reads and Collapse the Pocket
This was the best way to describe what the Bills defense has done the last two weeks. Sam Howell’s weaknesses played right into their hands in their most recent victory against the Washington Commanders. Let’s take a look at exactly what the Bills did to force Howell into four interceptions and nine sacks this past Sunday.
The Bills did a number on Sam Howell last week. Hard to tell how much is on Howell though.— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) September 28, 2023
-Late on reads
-Bailed from clean pockets
-Couldn't pull the trigger
-Tried to play hero-ball
Clearly didn't trust what he was seeing... Impressive game by the Bills. pic.twitter.com/7SnUr3Lagz
The Bills played sticky coverage and masked a lot of what they were doing. It made it difficult for Sam Howell to go to his first (or even second) read, which gave their pass rush time to get home. Even on plays where Howell had one of his early reads open, he struggled to pull the trigger. He wasn’t trusting what he was seeing and it led to the Bills defense taking this football game over.
When you hear that the Bills had nine sacks, you may think they have a dominant pass rush. Without Von Miller on the field, that isn’t the case. They’re good up front, but they still need their coverage unit to buy an extra second or two in order to get home. They use these two facets of their defense in unison and over the last two weeks they’ve been top-notch.
Play Your Style of Football
This is easier said than done when it comes to teams like Buffalo, but it really is that simple. They will try to mix their coverage looks in an effort to slow down Tua’s progression and keep him in the pocket. They’ve built their defensive line specifically to get home while rushing just four guys. It will be important that Tua continues to get the football out and be okay with checking it down.
On the opposite side of the coin, when Howell got the ball out and was confident, the offense moved the ball well.— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) September 28, 2023
When Howell got rid of the ball under 2.5 seconds: 12 of 14/108 yards/1 int/73.6 passing grade
Over 2.5 seconds: 7 of 15/62 yds/3 int/27.7 passing grade
This is where we are going to see a real clash. One of the really special aspects of this Dolphins offense so far in 2023 is how quickly they get the ball out of Tua’s hands. His 2.24 seconds in the pocket (on average) is the lowest in the league per PFF. That is a product of two things. First, the scheme is just fantastic. More often than not, one of Tua’s early reads is going to be open. Secondly, he is flying through his progressions and making the right decisions this season. Even when they take away his first or second read, he finds somewhere to dump it off.
The really unique aspect of this quick-hitting offense is how far they push the ball down the field in such a short amount of time. This is where Tua’s unique skill set puts a special spin on this offense. There is no better anticipatory thrower in the NFL than Tua Tagovailoa and his ability to quickly discern where defenders will be, allows him to throw to open space (down the field) inside two and a half seconds.
Keep Josh Allen Inside Structure
Josh Allen has grown as a quarterback since entering the league in 2018. He is able to have more success within structure now, but his bread and butter is always going to be creating outside of that structure. When Allen breaks the pocket, he has the arm strength and mobility to hurt the defense at all parts of the field. Let’s see some of his special out-of-structure plays this past weekend.
As is always the key with facing Josh Allen, you have to limit the explosive out of structure plays. Force them to methodically drive it down the field and capitalize on mistakes when they happen.— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) September 28, 2023
If you allow these chunk gains, they'll work you over all afternoon. pic.twitter.com/aslE9vMbaJ
If Josh Allen wasn’t a Buffalo Bill, I would remark on how much I appreciate his game. He is pure chaos on the football field and his play style really helps to show off his skill set as a quarterback. When things break down, he isn’t thinking about where he can dump the football off, he’s thinking about how he can buy time to make a game-changing play. It doesn’t always work in his (or the Bills’) favor, but it makes for exciting football.
You aren’t going to prevent him from breaking contain and making a play for an entire contest. He’s played this way his entire career and he will find openings when possible. The key is limiting those big plays, while also pressuring him in the pocket. This is usually achieved (unless you have elite interior pass rushers) by having your edges play contain and bringing one of your more athletic players on a blitz through the A or B gap. Now, this is going to leave holes in coverage, so you need to get home quickly. A well-timed contain blitz can get you a much-needed negative play or turnover on downs that could be the difference in this game.
The Bills will be a safe pick here for a lot of people. Josh Allen’s Bills have been the kings in the East for some time now. While last year the Dolphins had three close contests against Buffalo (winning one), the Bills have had their number in recent memory.
How can the Dolphins roll out of Buffalo with a victory? This one is likely to come down to efficiencies on offense and avoiding turnovers. This defense is built to rush the passer with their front four and they have undersized linebackers that can run sideline to sideline. The offensive line has become a strength for this team (whoa), so impose your will and run the football down their throat. It will be important for Tua to get through his progressions and be decisive with the football. Don’t give their pass rush the time it needs to wreck the game.
Essentially, the Dolphins are going to try to continue doing exactly what they’ve been doing so well this season and the Bills are going to try to get them off their game. The Bills are a fantastic team, one of the best in the AFC, but I don’t think they can hang with this offense. The only thing that could slow down Miami is Tua having a bad performance. We’re going to see an exciting, high-scoring game, and a Miami victory in Buffalo 34-31.