ReFo: Dolphins @ Bills, Week 11
Ben Stockwell breaks down how the Buffalo Bills overcame the Miami Dolphins.
ReFo: Dolphins @ Bills, Week 11
Only two weeks ago the Miami Dolphins were 4-3 and heading into a pivotal midseason game against the Indianapolis Colts looking to cement their positioning for a playoff spot. After three losses in 12 days the Dolphins now find themselves at 4-6, third in the AFC East and all but out of the playoff hunt.
Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills were able to put a smile on their fans’ faces even if they struggled to kill off their opponents. That owed a lot to a fine defensive performance, the likes of which we expected heading into the year but have seen all too rarely.
This was another Thursday night encounter that didn’t really bring the profile or importance that you would hope for from a primetime game. However, there were still some performances and events to raise an eyebrow as the Bills got themselves off of a three-game slide.
Miami – Three Performances of Note
Shooting Yourself in the Foot
When your offense is struggling to move the ball, and hasn’t scored in 90 minutes of football coming into the game, the one thing you can’t afford to do is compound those struggles with your own errors. The Dolphins did that from their second drive when Brian Hartline coughed up a fumble at midfield and that was the closest the Dolphins got to running a play in the Bills’ half of the field until late in the third quarter. That drive coughed to a halt outside of the Bills’ 30 yard line.
The offense allowed pressure to get to Ryan Tannehill on one in three drop-backs, there were a pair of drops early on and an offensive pass interference by Hartline stole precious momentum from the Dolphins on their desperation final drive. The Dolphins had more success in the final quarter than the first three combined, and they will hope they can build on this offensive momentum and look to get off of the slide when they host the Seattle Seahawks who will be making the longest domestic road trip in the league for an early kickoff. Those two factors play in the Dolphins favor next week, as well as a few extra days rest, if they fail to win that game the season really could spiral out of control in the next month.
Center of Attention
One of the real bright spots this season for the Miami Dolphins has been the play of second-year center Mike Pouncey. After a couple of down weeks in the Dolphins’ prior two losses he returned to his early season form this week with another faultless outing in pass protection and a strong showing as a run blocker. Late in the second quarter Pouncey was stood up at the line by Marcel Dareus on a rush to Pouncey’s left, but aside from this the former Florida Gator was a strong presence in the middle of the Buffalo line. Pouncey often worked on double teams as the Dolphins’ interior offensive line tried to neutralize the impact of Dareus and Kyle Williams but he also showed an ability to handle these two on his own, making solid blocks to help open creases for his running backs. However, the blocking around him simply wasn’t up to the same standard to allow the Dolphins to create the sort of rushes to really open up a Buffalo defense that has been gutted by a few teams this season.
The real strength of the Miami defense coming into this season was the heart of their front seven, but in this game the quartet of Randy Starks, Paul Soliai, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett were a real disappointment. Between the four of them they registered seven stops, and the defensive tackles in particular struggled to make an impact against the Buffalo running attack. Starks was the only one to have any real success, particularly against Kraig Urbik, but the pairing were really handled for most of the game.
The struggles inside didn’t allow Miami’s fine linebacker pairing to make plays going forward as they have so often this season and they became rather invisible as a result, unable to curtail C.J. Spiller. Starks and Soliai are on a real downturn in form in the Dolphins’ losing streak and they need to turn it around to spark the rest of the defense into life.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
Spiller Carries the Load
With Fred Jackson once again absent through injury the weight of the Buffalo offense fell onto the shoulder of Spiller this week and, though he failed to cross the goal-line, the only real letdown was that he didn’t get more work. The Bills’ offense really sputtered when Spiller was taken out of the offense and Tashard Choice was inserted into the lineup. The Bills’ first drive ended when they strangely decided that a 3rd-and-1 situation could be best converted by a direct snap to Choice in the wildcat formation rather than giving the ball to Spiller in some manner, having already gained 9 yards on two carries to set up the short yardage situation. Though he did miss the potential for a big gain on the prior play, the only real sniff of a big play he got all day, Spiller showed in this game that he isn’t simply a big play back. His longest rush of 20 yards boosted his yards per carry average but he was able to grind out yardage collecting just shy of 3.0 yards after contact per carry. Spiller also added just shy of 40 yards through the air as he showed again that if and when he can earn a full workload he will be able to fully justify his draft spot of ninth overall just two years ago.
Is it a Byrd? Is it a Plane?
After exploding onto the scene in 2009 with nine interceptions in his rookie season, Jairus Byrd has flown under the radar ever since in spite of putting in three seasons that were better than that rookie campaign. Last night was one of Byrd’s best games of the season as he re-emphasized his standing as one of this season’s All-Pro safeties. Recording a season-high three stops, Byrd also collected one interception and came just shy of another. It’s worth noting that considering what the officials called against the Dolphins on the prior drive Byrd might count himself fortunate that he wasn’t whistled for interference on Hartline on that play, but credit still goes to him for making an excellent play on the ball, rescuing George Wilson who had allowed the route behind him.
Byrds’ consistency has been exceptional this season. While sometimes safeties don’t have the chance to make plays every week, but they do get the opportunity to blow them and take negative grades as a result. It is then impressive that Byrd has only two negatively graded games in coverage (the Bills’ past two games), has only drawn one penalty (last week) and has missed only two tackles in coverage all season. It’s often said that players in small markets, like Buffalo, don’t get the respect they deserve on a national stage and Byrd certainly should be getting more credit as an elite safety in the NFL.
The Buffalo Bills may not have got a dominant game from one of their pass rushers, but what they got from starters Mario Williams and Kyle Moore was a solid presence in the passing game from both ends. You might have expected Williams to be able to take over his matchup against Jonathan Martin, but four hurries, including a sack, and a further two stops in run defense is still one of his better returns of the season. On the other side, Moore put behind him a poor first start at Gillette Stadium last weekend with five pressures on 28 pass rushes as he made plays against both tackles as well as showing the awareness to get pressure, and a sack, when pass plays broke down for the Dolphins. With Dareus and Williams not making much of an impact as pass rushers in this game (one pressure each and a batted pass for Dareus) the onus was on the edge rushers to make an impact and they did just that. Even Shawne Merriman chipped in with a clean-up sack to take Tannehill down off of the back of pressure from Moore on the opposite side.
– The eight stops recorded in this game by Reshad Jones were a season-high and more than doubled his count on the year, raising it to 15. These were also his first stops since the Dolphins’ Week 5 win in Cincinnati.
– Bills’ tight end Lee Smith spent all 14 of his snaps in this game either pass protecting or run blocking. For the season, Smith has gone out on a routeonly four times compared to 39 snaps in pass protection.
– Slot corner Jimmy Wilson recorded a career-high 10 blitzes on pass plays this week. These were not productive, however, with Wilson yielding only one hurry.
PFF Game Ball
Though he failed to bring in one interception Jairus Byrd more than made up for it with a spectacular diving pick that really took the sting out of the Dolphins’ comeback attempts.
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.