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Dolphins Week 18: Insider look at Bills’ offensive coordinator change, Stefon Diggs, more

The AFC East comes down to a winner-take-all showdown between the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills in Week 18. We get a closer look at the Bills with some Buffalo Rumblings help.

Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins welcome the Buffalo Bills to Hard Rock Stadium later today to complete the annual home-and-home series between the AFC East rivals. Of course, today’s game is more than just the standard meeting between the two teams, as the division championship is on the line - and for the Bills, it could mean the difference between making the playoffs or missing out entirely.

The Dolphins are locked into the playoffs, guaranteed to either be the second seed with a win and the AFC East title or the sixth seed as a wild card team. Buffalo would move into the second seed position with the win and the division championship, or they could land in either the seventh seed or find themselves on the wrong side of the cut line, based on if the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon or not.

Miami played at Buffalo in Week 4 this season, a game that was wildly in the Bills favor. The Dolphins started the game well, trading early touchdown drives with Buffalo, but soon found themselves on the wrong side of turnovers, allowing Buffalo to come away with the 48-20 victory.

Can Miami make up for that loss? What changed for the Bills, who were a .500 team at midseason but have turned that into a 10-6 record and a chance at claiming the AFC East title? We get a closer look at the Bills and how they are different from that Week 4 team thanks to Matt Byham from Buffalo Rumblings.

You can check out my side of the conversation as I answered questions about the Dolphins here:

It has been a minute since the Dolphins lost to the Bills back in Week 4. Now, as we head into the Week 18 AFC East title game, there have been plenty of changes for both teams, though the change at offensive coordinator for the Bills seems to have been the biggest, and the catalyst for them to make this run toward a possible division title. What does Joe Brady bring to the offense that Ken Dorsey did not?

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Perhaps the best term to describe what Brady does differently is found in his “creative potential” on game days. Brady, though previously the quarterbacks coach, appears to take a more holistic approach to calling an offense, whereas Dorsey was very clearly a quarterback whisperer. Dorsey was adept at improving Josh Allen’s efficiency, but at the expense of taking away some of what made Allen who he is. Specifically, Allen’s numbers out of playaction this season are incredible — and something Dorsey wanted to run more of. The problem was that Allen prefers looks out of shotgun, regardless of efficiency. The biggest issue most noticed about the offense under Dorsey was a lack of quarterback runs, whether designed or otherwise. To an outsider, it appeared as though running was essentially off-limits for Allen.

In fairness, there isn’t a ton to go off of regarding Dorsey’s career as an offensive coordinator, given his dismissal after 10 games into his first season as an OC. It’s clear that head coach Sean McDermott wasn’t interested in giving the whole thing more time, believing the change was needed to turn around the season. In the end, it’s very likely the job was more than Dorsey was ready for at this stage.

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Joe Brady spent a lot of time under head coach Sean Payton (I’m admittedly not a Payton fan) and, as such, seems to approach ball that way. That’s not to say I believe the concepts are poor. Just that I see limitations within Payton’s leanings. There’s more of a commitment to spreading the field with Brady. The biggest difference is the way Brady’s incorporated running back James Cook into the offense as a receiver.

I’ll be honest here — and also mention that I’m very far from an expert on much of these matters: I remain undecided about whether Joe Brady is the answer the Bills need at OC. It’s not that I’m unable to see the positives he’s brought to the team, the unit, and so on. He also gives a fantastic interview and by all accounts he’s a great guy. I felt the same of Dorsey. I just don’t know that Brady is all that different from what the team had in Dorsey, apart from someone who has OC experience at the college level and then with the Carolina Panthers. But, like Dorsey, Brady also doesn’t have a ton of experience and I wonder if he’s capable of countering the league now that opposing defensive coordinators have tape on his tendencies. It’s difficult not to notice the dip in production with the passing game overall.

It feels to me like the Buffalo Bills have tried to do too many things on offense this season, while failing to more deeply develop any single concept. Whether it’s dominating in 12 personnel with tight ends Dawson Knox and Dalton Kincaid, dominating the line of scrimmage with a very physical ground game, or employing the quick-strike passing game that’s been such a staple of Josh Allen.

This is a challenging question to answer right now because the Bills’ offense still feels like a huge work in progress in ways.

The Bills’ offense spreading the ball around has definitely impacted Stefon Diggs’ production, with the star receiver only surpassing 50 receiving yards once in the last seven games. Back in Week 4, Diggs put up 120 yards with three touchdowns on the Dolphins and had his highest yards per reception average at 20.0 yards. Is there something going on with Diggs, or is this just another part of Brady’s system? Should we expect Diggs to be just a member of the group of receivers on Sunday night, or is he going to be the guy who torched the Dolphins earlier this year?

Buffalo Bills v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images

You know, I don’t believe that Diggs’ production has declined due to spreading the ball around. Yes, he’s not producing a ton right now. But a dive into his game logs reveals a fairly similar situation. He’s essentially 26 yards per game off pace from the last seven games of 2022 compared to this season:

  • 2022 final seven games: 36 receptions (55 targets), for 444 yards, 4TDs
  • 2023 last seven games: 30 receptions (55 targets) for 262 yards, 1 TD

(Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference)

McDermott and Brady continually say that they need him to be more involved and/or that they have to find a way to get him more involved. But they have to say something on the subject when the press continually ask about Diggs. The interesting thing is that he is still very involved. He’s still the top dog in targets, and he’s the player Josh Allen looks to in critical moments.

But defenses are doing whatever they can to take him out of the game. That appears to have opened up opportunities for players like rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid and running back James Cook, which, yes, naturally reduces opportunities for Diggs. It also doesn’t help that Allen’s missing Diggs more often than preferred.

Denver Broncos v Buffalo Bills Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images

I don’t think he’s falling off a cliff, nor dealing with a significant injury. I do think there’s a bit of snap maintenance at play. Though it’s arguable if that’s worth doing if the team fails to make the playoffs. Regardless, Diggs has been observed taking himself off the field more often in recent weeks.

As for what to expect against the Dolphins: Tough to say. Diggs can and will go off at any moment, just like Hill. He lives for huge games, and this weekend couldn’t be a bigger one for the Bills.

We are going to dive into Dolphins fans nightmares by bringing up Josh Allen. The Bills non-Pro Bowl quarterback (sorry - it had to be done) is near the league lead in turnovers this year, throwing at least one interception every week except two this year, along with six fumbles (three lost) this year. What can the Dolphins do to force Allen into making a mistake and capitalize on a turnover or two?

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

We’ll get to your question in a second, but I’m compelled to pause a moment on the narrative about Allen being a turnover machine. I’m sincerely wondering if most people have taken a second to notice how many touchdowns Josh Allen has this season — those throwing and rushing? Most people seem hung up on a far smaller number that’s been assigned to his interceptions. If you haven’t, fear not — I’ll share them with you here now.

Forty-two (42): 27 passing TDs, 15 rushing TDs

Moving on...

Josh Allen’s turnovers have gained legs of their own it seems. He could throw five in a season and armchair analysts would take plenty of time to point out just how damaging they were to his team.

That brings me to a key point I’ve enjoyed sharing, which is just my opinion, of course. Allen has thrown 16 interceptions this season — the most in a single season for him, with one game to play. But I will boldly proclaim that Allen’s interceptions are blown way out of proportion and taken way out of context. Stats don’t always tell the complete story.

Buffalo Bills v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Jeff Dean/Getty Images

Most don’t see the end-of-half arm punts where little danger is involved, or even take the time to notice when the turnovers happen, how they happen, and what the outcomes of those turnovers are. Last week against the New England Patriots, Allen’s poorly thrown deep pass joined the INT crew. It was a bad play. That turnover? It led to zero points. So while most are quick to point out a player’s turnovers (poor Jameis Winston), they seldom take the time to see what harm comes from them.

I’m not trying to ignore Allen’s turnovers. Yes, even when they don’t lead directly to points, turnovers often prematurely end a drive. Josh Allen might throw a cluster of interceptions in the first half then come out after halftime and be the main reason the team carries a lead inside of two minutes.

Since their bye week, the Bills defense has held everyone under 270 yards passing - including under 200 yards in each of the last three weeks - and has only allowed one team to reach 100 yards rushing over that span. In fact, since Week 7, the Bills have only allowed three 100-yard rushing performances for a team, and they have only allowed 300 yards passing once this year. What is working so well for the Bills this year, and what can Miami do to challenge it?

Syndication: Democrat and Chronicle Jamie Germano/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s going to sound corny, but head coach Sean McDermott has this team believing in itself, and believing in each other. It’s likely not unique to the league, but McDermott tasks them with really taking ownership of their roles, and the amount of motivation within that defensive group is inspiring. All season, they’ve fought through adversity due to major long-term injury loss — at all levels of the defense. Their linebacker duo is currently comprised of players that no one gave a chance to outside the locker room. And everyone was wrong.

But specifically, what’s working? Pressure. Efficient pressure. They published a masterclass in shutting down the vaunted Dallas Cowboys passing game. In recent interviews, McDermott credits the symbiotic relationship happening between the pressure group (defensive line) and the stop group (defensive backfield). That their ability to feed off each other has created more opportunities for chaos — and that allows Buffalo’s pair of linebackers to make game-changing stops.

Buffalo Bills v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images

How can the Dolphins stop it all? Counter the pressure, and play more physical than the man they line up opposite. This extends to the skill players. If the Bills are able to force Tagovailoa into holding the ball and going through several of his reads, it’s not going to favor Miami. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver is on a tear, and he’s far more pass rusher these days than he was in prior seasons. The Dolphins have to do very well what they’ve done very well this season. They weren’t able to pull it off in Week 4, so it’s going to be very interesting to see how they approach this game on offense, and what McDermott does to trying to thwart it.

The DraftKings Sportsbook odds have the Bills favored for this game, though it is just a 2.5-point line as of Friday. How confident are you in the Bills this weekend? Do you think it is as close as the line would make it seem, or are you expecting a typical Bills blowout of Miami? Do you see a path for Miami to win this game?

New York Giants v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

There’s a lot on the line, in terms of football. A lot. Key will be how each team handles the pressure of the playoff-like atmosphere, and if they find the right blend of motivation to play winning football. I don’t know what to expect, but if I’m a Dolphins fan (is it Dolfan?) the injuries concern me. Of course there’s a path for Miami to win! They are 11-5, and they have a nightmare of an offense to defend against with the top-scoring O in the NFL.

As left tackle Dion Dawkins said this week, what happened in Week 4 involved two different teams. There’s little reason to expect the same type of game, and no telling who will come out on top. However, the Dolphins do already have a playoff spot locked up, while the Bills don’t. Buffalo winning guarantees their postseason ticket, and it would come with the two seed. Miami’s injury situation is really unfortunate, but I believe they have enough talented depth to surprise people in Week 18. I also can see every reason why McDaniel might choose to sit players or pull them early in a game they don’t need to make the playoffs, especially considering what happened at the end of last weekend’s game against the Ravens.

I could see this being a close game, but there are plenty of pundits who say otherwise. None of us knows, of course.

There is a scenario in which Sunday night’s game with the Bills facing a win-or-go-home situation. If the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers both win, and the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts do not tie, the Bills would be eliminated from the playoffs. Is this a scenario Bills fans are even acknowledging, or is the expectation that the Bills are in the playoffs, it is just a matter of seeding at this point?

Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It’s crazy to think that the Bills’ fate is either the two seed in the AFC (if they defeat the Dolphins), the seven seed if they lose and other games go their way, or out entirely.

Yes. Most Bills fans are very much in tune with these scenarios. Remember, as a fan base, there were 17 years of playoff-less football where too often fans were left playing the “what if” game while living very much on the outside. Bills Mafia is well-versed in playoff scenario simulations. Times have changed, thankfully for Bills Mafia but, yes, everyone realizes what’s at stake. Most didn’t see this season playing out the way it has, having to claw it out the final week.

That said, many were ready to write the playoffs off when the Bills were 6-6 and set to face an unfriendly slate of opponents. To this point though, the Buffalo Bills have fallen short of very lofty expectations — and they have much to prove.

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