ReFo: Bills @ Dolphins, Week 7
Ben Stockwell breaks down a back-and-forth affair between two division rivals looking to surge up the standings in the suddenly tight AFC East.
ReFo: Bills @ Dolphins, Week 7
After the optimism of a 3-0 start the Miami Dolphins now sit at a disappointing 3-3, with a
mistake riddled defeat to the Buffalo Bills leaving them reeling in the midst of a three game skid. The Dolphins showed why, in fits and starts, they had started 3-0 but critical and poorly timed errors left them with too much to do and highlight a team now struggling and needing to rebound
if they are to make the strides that their off-season aggression seems to demand from them.
For the Bills this was a performance that created and capitalized on those errors to ride out the momentum the Dolphins built either side of half time to get out of Miami with a victory that, for the time being at least, brings them back into an AFC East race compressed courtesy of New England’s two losses in three games. This was a performance built around the defense, with the offense doing just enough with what the defense created to edge themselves over the finish line for the victory. There were solid performances on the offense but it was a stellar and timely defensive display that earned the Bills this victory.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
Robey and Williams build the early momentum
Possibly the biggest points swing in this game came courtesy of the Buffalo Bills’ secondary (and Ryan Tannehill).The two first quarter interceptions put points on the board for Buffalo in the first instance and (almost certainly) took points off the board for Miami in the second. The first interception by Nickell Robey (+2.5) marked the dream start for any defense; force a third and intermediate close to your opponent’s goal-line and gamble on jumping the short route. Robey was on the whip route by Brandon Gibson the whole way and took it back for a crucial six points. For the game Robey let up only one completion for five yards and got his hands to another pass intended for Rishard Matthews to force an incompletion early in the fourth quarter. This marks a continuation to a solid rookie season for Robey who is letting up just 0.54 yards per coverage snap in the slot this season, third best in the league at this point.
The second, pivotal first quarter turnover came after the Bills had established a two score lead (winning the battle of field position through accumulation to set up a drive started inside Miami territory) with the Dolphins driving to try and wrestle back some of that deficit immediately. Again on a third down play Tannehill looked for Brian Hartline on a crossing route but misread the coverage and threw directly to right corner Aaron Williams dropping underneath the route. Take away either of these interceptions and they swing points in Miami’s favor that could alter the result. That was the theme of the Bills’ victory, making the crucial plays and making those plays count on the scoreboard.
Strong return for Stevie Johnson
Having missed last week’s overtime defeat to the Bengals due to injury Stevie Johnson returned not with a bang but with consistent contributions as one of the few steadying influences in a Bills’ offensive performance that struggled to match their defensive counterparts. Working predominantly on short targets (five of six catches on targets within ten yards of the line of scrimmage) Johnson consistently made the first man miss to pick up crucial yardage after the catch. After an early drop Johnson responded with a third down conversion late in the first, breaking a tackle from Nolan Carroll to get the Bills out from the shadow of their own goalposts. He made similar effort plays on third down conversions in the third quarter especially at the 5:24 mark; though only a seven yard gain Johnson took a pass targeted only a yard downfield breaking a tackle from Jimmy Wilson before spinning on the contact of Reshad Jones to ensure the Bills converted. This play ensured the Bills avoided a three and out that would surely have seen the Dolphins build their momentum further having just taken a 21-17 lead on the previous play. As it was (courtesy of another Johnson third down conversion on the next set of downs) the Bills sustained that drive to pull within one at the start of the fourth and the Dolphins never regained the momentum they had at the start of that Bills’ drive.
Williams caps it off and steals the show
It was hard to miss the impact Mario Williams had on this game, precisely the sort of impact the Bills were expecting to get when they invested so much time and effort (and no small amount of dollars) to get his signature in spring 2012. Against a clearly outmatched pair of offensive tackles (Jerry Hughes had a strong day as well with six hurries) Williams cashed in with seven pressures which, as only his third highest mark of the season, shows you what a productive start he is off to. Williams got underway with a hit on Robey’s pick six on the opening drive and would take down Tannehill again on the opening play of the Dolphins’ third drive of the game. After a quiet second and third quarter (coinciding with the Dolphins’ resurgence) Williams re-emerged in style during the fourth quarter to make a telling impact on the game. At the 7:02 mark he took the wind out of the sails of Miami’s best drive of the fourth quarter beating Tyson Clabo inside to exploit a gap in the Dolphins’ pass protection hitting Ryan Tannehill before he had barely got the top of his drop. He followed that up with arguably the play of the game, again beating Clabo and knocking the ball away from Tannehill as he wound throw under duress to force the turnover which the Bills’ ground into the go ahead score.
Miami – Three Performances of Note
Arguably the two best defenders on the Dolphins’ defense this season (in the absence of Cameron Wake) continued their fine seasons as Randy Starks (+7.1) and Jared Odrick (+4.1) proved a thorn in the side of the Bills’ offense, particularly in the first half. Doing their best work in the passing game Starks and Odrick combined to record ten pressures on Thaddeus Lewis with four of those (1 Sk, 1 Ht for Starks; 2 Ht for Odrick) taking the Bills’ signal caller to ground. In contrast to Mario Williams’ performance Odrick and Starks did most of their good work in the first half with only one hit (by Starks, early in the fourth quarter) coming after the interval. Prior to the break the Dolphins’ interior duo picked on a guard each but struggled to have the same impact after the break, falling away with the rest of the team as the Dolphins failed to capitalize on the swing of momentum they built for themselves either side of the half.
Miller and Thomas get their gains
Only carrying the ball a combined 21 times Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas might wonder whether they could have helped the game with a heavier workload. Both runners were as busy breaking tackles as they were carrying the football combining to force 12 missed tackles on their 21 carries, with Thomas setting by far a career high with seven missed tackles forced as a runner. Having forced ten in his first four career games back in 2011 Thomas had forced only fourteen until his stellar display against the Bills yesterday. Joining him in a career day was Miller who broke five tackles having broken only one on 50 carries prior to this game. The Dolphins got some crucial plays through the air to haul themselves back into the game in the third quarter but in such a close game, with the Bills really struggling to bring down either of their ball carriers you do wonder if they went a little too pass happy as the momentum, but not the scoreline, ebbed away from them.
Struggles continue on the edge
Offensive tackle was a concern for the Dolphins entering the season with question marks over Jonathan Martin’s ability to take over at left tackle and the hope that Atlanta cast off Tyson Clabo could continue his fine form of recent seasons in Martin’s stead at right tackle. In various guises those fears have come home to roost this season but none more-so than yesterday with consistent pressure and crucial plays coming through the tackles in pass protection. Both Clabo (-3.7) and Martin (-4.2) registered season low grades in pass protection with Clabo surrendering nine pressures (2 Sk, 7 Hu) and Martin seven (3 Ht, 4 Hu) contributing to Ryan Tannehill being pressured on 16 of his 23 dropbacks in this game. Both tackles were beaten inside, outside and via bullrush as Buffalo’s edge rushers kept them off balance at every turn both one-on-one and with Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams catching them off guard to their inside shoulders on stunts as Miami’s tackles keyed in on the edge rushers and didn’t execute smooth takeovers as they switched assignments with their guards. The Dolphins have rolled the dice again at tackle by acquiring Bryant McKinnie from Baltimore but it’s fair to say that finding a fix here could have a crucial role to play in whether the Dolphins can get their season back on track before this losing streak extends further.
-Philip Wheeler matched a season high (set before the bye week against Baltimore) with half a dozen defensive stops, matching Reshad Jones to lead the Dolphins’ defense this week.
-For the fourth time this season Marcell Dareus led the Bills’ defense in stops with four to take his season total to 26, comfortably the most in the league among defensive tackles.
-Ryan Tannehill continues to be more productive when blitzed than when not. This week Tannehill had a 98.7 NFL passer rating when the Bills’ blitzed compared to 52.5 when they didn’t. After another two interceptions against base pass rush yesterday only one of his seven interceptions this season have come when blitzed.
PFF Game Ball
Quiet as he was while the Dolphins’ climbed back into the game Mario Williams exploded to life when it counted, on consecutive drives stole the momentum from Miami before swinging it decisively in Buffalo’s favor within the game’s final three minutes.
Follow Ben on Twitter @PFF_Ben
Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.