3TFO: Dolphins @ Bills, Week 16
The Dolphins started their season 3-0. Following a stretch where they lost six of eight and had some unfortunate off-field issues, they’ve won three in a row again. To even have a chance to make the playoffs following such a tumultuous season is pretty astounding, especially if you consider they lost two starting offensive lineman to the situation. However, their business is not finished yet. If they win their last two games, they’re in the playoffs.
While the Dolphins have plenty to play for, the Bills will close out their season as they’ve closed out an alarming number of recent seasons: jockeying for draft position. In what’s becoming a troubling theme for the 2013 Bills, E.J. Manuel will sit out his sixth game with his third injury. Buffalo will likely look to upgrade their backup quarterback spot in the offseason, but for now, Thaddeus Lewis draws another start. It was Lewis who beat the Dolphins in Week 7.
Miami’s looking to take care of business, but the Bills gave them some problems in SunLife Stadium. Here are a few of the matchups that you should be watching this time around.
Williams vs. Clabo
Mario Williams may start his games at ROLB, but if he’s rushing the passer, there’s a good chance that he’ll be doing it from the left side, matched up with the opposing teams’ right tackle. Williams has played 499 pass rushing snaps this season, and on 301 of them, or 60.3%, he has rushed the passer from the left. In the Week 7 matchup in Miami, Williams ate Tyson Clabo’s lunch to the tune of two sacks, two hits, and another two hurries. That was probably the low point of Clabo’s season as over the next couple days, GM Jeff Ireland would trade for Bryant McKinnie, moving Jonathan Martin to right tackle, and Clabo out of the starting lineup. However, the McKinnie-Incognito-Pouncey-Jerry-Martin offensive line lasted all of one week, and Clabo was forced back in.
Since returning to the starting lineup, Clabo has done nothing short of turn around his season. In the last seven weeks, he’s had one negatively graded game (Week 12 vs. Carolina) and has compiled +7.4 grade. Additionally, he’s given up three sacks, four hits, and 10 hurries over that time, after giving up 8-6-18 in his first six games as a Dolphin. That includes his zero-pressure performance against the Patriots last week, preventing Rob Ninkovich from getting close to his quarterback. Although Williams poses a more substantial threat to Clabo than Ninkovich may have provided, it’s become abundantly clear that he needed a little bit of time to adjust in Miami. Clabo should also receive some help from Miami’s backs. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas have been on the field for 559 pass plays, staying in to block on 195 of them, or about 35%.
So, Clabo will certainly get some help from the backs, in addition to some two tight end sets. The Dolphins use 12 personnel (1 back and 2 tight ends) 4% more than the NFL average, and they love using it on first down to run the ball or setup a play-action. Of their 223 plays with 12 personnel on the field, they’ve had an even split with 113 passes and 110 runs. Additionally, 119 of those plays were on first down, and with the Dolphins not a consistent run team, they could look to take some play-action shots while double-teaming Williams with a tight end.
Tannehill: Heating Up
Despite a tumultuous season with his offensive line playing roulette and being one of the worst units on the team, Ryan Tannehill has taken a step forward in his progress. Even though he was lapped by three other rookies in the 2012 quarterback class during their first seasons, Tannehill has certainly closed the gap on Robert Griffin III, and even Andrew Luck during their sophomore campaigns. While Russell Wilson has separated himself from the pack, with a competent offensive line, it’s not out of left field to think Tannehill could see another step forward next season. Despite leading the league in sacks, he checks in at No. 9 in PFF’s QB rating, as well as grading out as the sixth-best quarterback (+19.1) behind Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, and Matthew Stafford.
A big factor in Tannehill’s success this season has been getting the ball out quickly. The quick-hitting slants with Brian Hartline are a staple in the passing game, and even Mike Wallace is providing more of an outlet to his quarterback as well. The second-year pro out of Texas A&M’s average time of release is 2.59 seconds, and his average time to sack is ninth in the league. Stone statues such as Brady, Manning, and Palmer are all at the top of that category, but seeing Tannehill up there shows how truly leaky the offensive line has been this season. Getting the ball out quickly has allowed the Dolphins’ quarterback to be fairly accurate — his 72.6% Accuracy Percentage ranks 12th in the NFL.
That number slips to 56% and near the bottom of the league’s passers when he’s pressured; the only thing preventing Tannehill from a major breakout. With Buffalo’s defense improving throughout the season, forcing turnovers, and getting healthier in the secondary with Jairus Byrd and Stephon Gilmore returning from early season injuries, we’ll see if Tannehill can continue his good run of performance and carry his team one step closer to the playoffs.
Spiller vs. Dolphins LBs
With Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll looking like they avoided a major injury and appear on-track to suit up, the main area of attack for the Bills will be the Dolphins’ LBs with C.J. Spiller. Despite playing nearly 300 fewer snaps than Fred Jackson, Spiller has just 29 fewer touches than his teammate. Spiller has more yards on the ground, despite being handcuffed by a high ankle sprain for a decent chunk of the season. Spiller hasn’t had the impact that he had last season, but Miami’s linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, and especially Philip Wheeler, have especially struggled in pass coverage. Spiller saw just 14 snaps against the Dolphins in Week 7, but should see a bump in playing time.
The aforementioned Wheeler was benched in the second half of last Sunday’s game against the Patriots. His first season with the Dolphins is not going as planned, as Wheeler has struggled in nearly facet for his new club. He’s graded out negatively in run defense (-11.8) and pass coverage (-7.0), before rallying with a positive pass rush grade (+3.1). However, he also leads the team with 17 missed tackles, which is something that could spring Spiller loose for one of his big plays. Wheeler is allowing a 113.4 rating, 75% completion and 10.4 yards per catch in pass coverage, all of which rank in the bottom 10 for 4-3 OLBs. Thaddeus Lewis draws another start for the Bills, so Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett are unlikely to let Lewis chuck it around the yard against a very strong Miami pass defense.