The Miami Dolphins will travel to Buffalo for a matchup against the Bills on Saturday night. Yes, it’s that time of year when the NFL adds a day to their schedule — and college football doesn’t fill Saturdays. And this game will be appointment viewing.
The Dolphins are reeling after two losses. It wasn’t just that they lost — it was how. Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel has enjoyed a formula for success that went uncontested until Week 13. But the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers have founds ways to slow down Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins offense. And that has gunked up the works for the entire team.
The Bills, meanwhile, seem to have gotten through that phase of their season. They have an offense that can adapt and a defense that’s elite. So it could be a tough matchup for Miami.
Let’s dive into some burning questions.
1. How can Mike McDaniel adapt his offense after seeing defenses create a blueprint for the Dolphins offense?
This was a topic in my takeaways earlier this week. But it’s the single most important question for the rest of the Dolphins’ season. When their offense clicks, they’re unbeatable. When their offense falters, they are extremely beatable.
So now what?
The Chargers and 49ers did an excellent job taking away the intermediate area and the middle of the field in the passing game. That means limiting Tua’s ability to find his receivers somewhere between 10 and 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. That area has been where Tua feasts on getting Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle the ball — and they’re so fast that they can generate yards after the catch.
Now, Tua has to find ways to attack the short game to combat what teams are doing against Miami. Another option: fire the ball deep. But you can’t toss up deep balls every play and hope to score five 70-yard touchdowns. So the Dolphins will have to build out their attack to include more passes closer to the line of scrimmage.
“A lot of the times, this year when we found success, the first read on a deep route would be open. So essentially, we never needed to check it down a lot this year,” Tagovailoa said Wednesday. “It’s good lessons that we’re learning now in the season, getting into the grind time of the schedule.”
The quick game will be what gets the Dolphins offense on track against a Bills defense that has an incredible defensive line but an unimpressive cornerback corps.
2. What point of emphasis do the Bills choose on offense?
The Bills have done a great job of demonstrating their ability to run the ball in recent weeks. Their DVOA, an advanced statistic, has shown their efficiency on the ground improving over the last three weeks, with a top-10 rushing offense. But that’s not the best way to attack the Dolphins defense. Miami struggles to defend the pass.
So Josh Allen might have himself a day.
He has been quiet — taking a bit of a backseat, perhaps in part due to an elbow injury. Rather than miss a few games and rest it, he has played through it. But they seem to be limiting his pass attempt totals. They might not be able to do that in this game. Allen and Stefon Diggs can absolutely put up numbers on this Dolphins defense, with top cornerback Xavien Howard struggling (with the worst coverage grade of his career on PFF).
I suspect the Bills will lean back into their passing offense. And if the Dolphins figure out what’s ailing them, this game could turn into a shootout.
3. Did you know?
Here are a handful of interesting statistics, courtesy of our research department at FOX Sports.
- The Dolphins defeated the Bills, 21-19, in Week 3 and are seeking their first season sweep of Buffalo since 2016
- Tagovailoa was held to a career-low 35.7% completion percentage in Week 14 (minimum 10 pass attempts)
- The Dolphins are 1-5 when they are held below 20 points this season (7-0 when scoring 20-plus points)
- Miami is 5-1 in its last 6 divisional games, dating back to last season
- Allen scored one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown in the Bills’ Week 14 win. The Bills are now 24-1 (including playoffs) when Allen scores both a passing and rushing TD.
- With a win, Allen (49-24 regular season record as Bills starting QB) would become the third quarterback in Bills franchise history to record 50 or more regular season wins.
- The others? Joe Ferguson (77-86 record) and Jim Kelly (101-59 record).
4. Do we see Tre’Davious White match up against Tyreek Hill?
If White was completely healthy, this would be as compelling a matchup as any. But White is slowly recovering from an ACL injury, and he just got off a pitch count last week. So it will be interesting to see how much — if at all — he plays against Hill.
“It was good to have him back where you didn’t have to have him on a pitch count,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Tuesday. “Just let him go out and play and get a chance to experience a full game. So that was really encouraging. There were some good moments in that game and There were some moments when you kind of know he’s not quite back where he wants to be.”
Doesn’t sound like Frazier loves the idea of putting White against the best receiver in the NFL. But I bet we see these two players battle here and there.
Tyreek Hill explains why he left the Chiefs for Dolphins
Dolphins WR Tyreek Hill on his departure from the Kansas City Chiefs and a potential playoff matchup vs. his former team.
5. How much will the weather change the complexion of this matchup?
While I don’t typically put a ton of stock into weather, the forecast for this game feels notable: 20-mile-per-hour winds, a few inches of snow and a temperature in the low-20s.
Tua has played some of his worst games in cold weather. And it’s going to be cold Saturday.
“It could be snowing. It could rain. I don’t know. I think for me at least, I can speak for myself, it’s a mindset thing,” Tagovailoa said Wednesday. “And if I’m too focused and worried about if it’s too cold, can I grab the ball, can I not, then I would say I’m focused on the wrong things.”
Because of his issues in the cold, Tua spent some time training in 20-degree weather last offseason. He hosted a throwing session in Maryland last winter.
That’s not good news for Miami, which has been enjoying its temperate weather in Florida. With Tua having an accurate but not electric arm, the wind could be problematic for the Dolphins deep game. So, again, it’ll come back to Miami establishing the quick passing game.
It’s not like the cold is going away for the Dolphins. It’s likely to be cold in Foxborough, where Miami will play in Week 17. And then the road to the Super Bowl is likely to go through either Buffalo or Kansas City. The Dolphins need to figure out how to make their offense work in adverse conditions like the ones they’ll play in on Saturday.
As for the Bills, they’re used to this weather. The one question will be how much Allen can throw into that wind — and whether his arm strength looks diminished from his elbow injury.
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Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.
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