3TFO: Bills @ Dolphins, Week 16
The Buffalo Bills come in to this game with a record of 5-9, out of the playoff picture and looking for some momentum going into next season. At this point, they’ll be using the final two weeks for evaluation of certain positions and answering key questions, such as whether their quarterback can realistically lead them to the playoffs and a Super Bowl in the future.
On the other side, the home Miami Dolphins at 6-8 are still mathematically alive in the wild card battle, but realistically are in the same position of evaluation and playing for pride. With a rookie quarterback and first-year coach, however, they have a little more leeway in terms of finishing at or below .500 for the fourth-consecutive season.
Though this matchup has minimal playoff implications, the game should nevertheless be an interesting one between division rivals. Here are some areas to watch.
With both teams out of the playoff race there aren’t necessarily a ton of reasons to tune in for this one, but C.J. Spiller is unquestionably one of them. One of the league’s true homerun threats — though his long gain of the year is just 56 yards — Spiller averages 7.1 yards every time he touches the ball, largely due to his ability to make defenders look silly in the open field. His 55 forced missed tackles trail only Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin, and have come on far fewer touches — which is why his Elusive Rating of 99.9 leads the league. And though he’s been “criminally neglected” in the team’s offense this season, according to our own Sam Monson, it looks like the Bills may be starting to realize what they have with Fred Jackson sidelined — against the Seahawks, Spiller received his highest workload of the year as he played 81.7% of the team’s offensive snaps and carried the ball 17 times. And he did not disappoint, producing 103 yards and forcing five missed tackles on the ground.
In terms of winning the game, the Bills would be wise to feed Spiller the ball. But with two games left in a lost season, they may choose to go the route of protecting their running back. If that turns out to be the case, look for Tashard Choice to be the go-to guy in the running game. His first full season in Buffalo has been underwhelming, as he’s seen the field for only 18.8% of the team’s offensive snaps and run the ball just 41 times with a 4.0 YPC. Whoever gets the ball will have to deal with a formidable Miami run defense, which has allowed just 3.9 yards per rush on the season, led by Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. Both are among the league leaders at LB in terms of Run Stop Percentage.
With Bills tackle Chris Hairston moved to IR a couple of weeks ago, Sam Young has taken his place at RT, and performed well. In his first two games starting, against pretty formidable rushes in the Rams and Seahawks, Young rose to the challenge with just three pressures allowed and no sacks. Of course it helps when Ryan Fitzpatrick gets rid of the ball as fast as he does, with a league-low 2.4 seconds to attempt. The Buffalo tackle will still have his work cut out for him, though, as he’ll have to block arguably the NFL’s best pass rusher in Cameron Wake. Wake lines up almost exclusively opposite the RT at DLE or LE and plays more than 80% of the team’s snaps, so Young will rarely get a break in facing one of Miami’s less dangerous rushers.
Young’s three pressures have come from an outside rush on a stunt, an inside, and a bull rush. And while Wake favors the outside rush, he has a versatile repertoire of moves that will keep his Bills counterpart on his toes for the duration of the game. This should be an interesting matchup to watch.
Reggie Bush vs. 1,000 Yards
Though he only occasionally flashes the kind of talent we saw at USC, Bush has been a solid player since joining the Dolphins a year ago. He enters this game carrying a 4.5 YPC average and just 103 rushing yards away from his second-consecutive 1,000-yard season, a feat he never came close to in his time with the Saints. That mark looks to be extremely attainable this week, as he’ll face a Buffalo defense that comes in allowing a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry, though it will likely require Bush seeing more than his per-game average of 14 carries. Don’t expect the Bills to just roll over, however. Despite allowing over 5 yards per carry, they’ve actually graded pretty well individually — the Bills’ defense has amassed a cumulative run defense grade of +12.4, 16th in the league. Tackle Kyle Williams leads the way and is our second-highest graded DT against the run, though he could be limited this week.
The Dolphins are at their best running to the edges, where they average 4.72 YPC, and not surprisingly that’s also where Bush has been most effective, evidenced by his 5.3 per-carry average. He runs most frequently through the A-gaps, though, with 35% of his runs going to the immediate left or right of center. And that makes the role of Mike Pouncey — the only positively graded Dolphin lineman in run blocking — crucial in getting the Dolphin ground game going. He’ll have a tough matchup with Williams, who lines up slightly more often on the offensive left at DRT or RE. Look for Pouncey to often help to Williams’ side, leaving Marcel Dareus — Buffalo’s worst-graded run defender — one-on-one with a guard.
If he can make it past Williams to the second level, Bush will have to deal with the presence of linebacker Nick Barnett. Barnett has played roughly 90% of defensive snaps this season and is our second-highest graded 4-3 OLB against the run. He’s also second at the position in Tackling Efficiency, with just four total MTs — two of them coming defending the run — in close to 900 snaps on the season. This should be an interesting matchup as Bush averages just 2.1 yards after contact, one of the lower figures among running backs, though not unexpected given his size. However, with a ninth-ranked 31 total missed tackles forced, he’s decent at avoiding contact altogether.