The 4-2 Buffalo Bills came into Miami Gardens, Florida to face the 2-4 Miami Dolphins. The following is my reaction to the game after watching the game live Sunday and then re-watching it in its entirety Monday morning. If you are not interested in revisiting the game then please feel free to scroll through to just the individual film studies. If you want more analysis or want to talk about anything Miami Dolphins, follow me on twitter @TomLikeFootball. For now, this is my weekly review for DolphinsTalk.com
The narrative throughout the week
Buffalo was the safe pick in this game. They had won their last four games since going 0-2 and firing their Offensive Co-ordinator. The Bills promoted their Running Backs Coach, Anthony Lynn and Buffalo fired off a 4-win streak thanks to the performances of LeSean McCoy and a dominant Linebacking corps. On the Miami side it was a game that was difficult to preview. Following Miami’s 30-15 win over Pittsburgh last week, many observers discredited the game as simply a one-off. Commentators highlighted that Ben Roethlisberger was banged up, and that Jay Ajayi went for 204 yards, something that would never happen again… Steelers Head Coach Tomlin’s awful record against under .400 teams was another excuse that cropped up throughout the week.
Hardly anybody was talking about what the Dolphins did well and following the news earlier in the week that the teams second best player on Defense, Strong Safety, Reshad Jones was out for the season; many felt that it was more of a foregone conclusion. The return of Richie Incognito following the ‘bullying scandal’ in Miami as well as the return of Charles Clay, Reggie Bush, Dan Carpenter, Justin Hunter and Mike Gillislee were other talking points.
It was clear that heading into the game that the key for Miami was to STOP THE RUN. Buffalo entered the game boasting the NFLs best rushing attack averaging 166.3 yards per game. Miami entered the game with the Leagues 31st run Defense as they surrendered 147.0 yards per game on average through six weeks. If Miami was even to think about making the playoffs then it needed to start winning games in the division. To do this the Dolphins would need to stop the run on Defense and get production out of running back Jay Ajayi to lighten the load for Quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins, Week 7
The Dolphins for the second time this season and for the second week in a row had their desired starting five Offensive Linemen. On Defense the team brought in Michael Thomas at Free Safety to replace the injured Reshad Jones as Isa-Abdul Quddus moved over to the strong side. The Dolphins also went with the starting defensive line that I advocated last week of Wake, Suh, Phillips and Branch. The Dolphins got in a rhythm offensively early, something we have not seen much of this season from Miami. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed a big 3rd & 13 conversion to Kenny Stills as he found the receiver in a soft spot of zone coverage. It was a pretty pass from Tannehill, however, it all starts upfront as he had plenty of time to operate. Tannehill exploited zone-coverage again on a 3rd & 6 as he completed a pass to Stills. The Dolphins eventually settled for a Field Goal on their opening drive as they put together a mammoth 15 play, 64 yard, 7 minute 24 seconds opening drive.
The Defense looked good early, with the Defensive Line being a particular bright spot during the first opening drive (something that would happen throughout the games entirety). Cameron Wake looked dominant early and exploited his matchup against Right Tackle Jordan Mills. Wake should have registered a sack early but Taylor escaped. On the following play Wake exploited the clock running down and shot out of a cannon round the corner as he sacked Taylor on a 3rd & 11. It was an obvious passing situation due to the down and distance so the Ends could pin their ears back and not worry about having to defend the run. Due to Taylor allowing the clock to wind down, it also meant that Wake did not have to wait for the ball to be snapped but could simply go on the next noise/ snap he heard from Taylor. Below is exactly what the Miami Dolphins thought they were getting when they handed Ndamukong Suh all that money before the 2015 season. Ndamukong Suh eats up the double team inside which allows Miami’s ends to go to work on the outside as they have one-on-one match ups.
Wake beat Mills the play before and the Bills failed to adjust as they kept McCoy in the backfield but on the right hand side to chip block Andre Branch on his way out of the backfield instead of Wake. The Dolphins pass rush got home quickly and Wake exploited his one-on-one by using a speed rush as he converted speed into power and managed to rip by Mills on his way to the Quarterback.
The Bills were forced to kick a Field Goal and the game was level at 3-3. Buffalo then blocked a punt as Williams allowed a rusher inside to make a play. The play before, the Dolphins were called for holding and the Bills were gifted tremendous field position. The Bills first touchdown was a speed option as Tyrod Taylor ran right while Reggie Bush darted left. It was difficult for Miami to contain after Wake bit on the initial run by Bush as both Taylor and McCoy were rolling out right with either Taylor taking the football in or pitching the ball to McCoy to score. 10-3 Buffalo, special teams hurt Miami.
Coming out of Boise State nobody doubted Jay Ajayi’s talent. What many scouts were concerned with and what caused him to fall to Miami in the 5th round, two drafts ago was injury concerns. Ajayi has the speed, burst and tackle-breaking ability that combined with his vision can make him a game-changing back and he has the size to be a bell-cow. Ajayi wants to cut back as early as possible and excels more in man-blocking runs rather than zone-reads. The following play was a 14-yard run that displays Ajayi’s one cut ability. I will not got through how it was drawn up as what is most important here is how quickly Ajayi diagnoses what is happening and adjusts by sticking his foot in the ground and making a cut up field. Below is the pre-snap look but what is most important is the second image.
Bills DE Jerel Worthy manages to penetrate into Miami’s backfield which is picked up by Pouncey, however, it threatens to disrupt the play. As you can see from the way the blockers are set up the play is meant to develop following the brown line. Yet, instead Ajayi is quick to react and sees that his RG Jermon Bushrod already in the second level and sees the hole emerging between his Center and Right Guard (red rectangle) as the Bills bit down hard on the left side all game long. Ajayi follows the yellow brick road and rattles off a 17-yard rush.
10-6 Buffalo Bills at Half Time.
The Miami Dolphins played well first half, however, they were behind due to poor Special Teams play and poor execution in the red zone. Miami was held to two field goals while the Bills capitalised on a blocked punt and went into half time with a four-point lead. McCoy entered the game on a pitch count and the Dolphins held him to just 10 yards off 6 carries in the first half. The Dolphins dominated time of possession 19:07 to 10:53 and outgained the Bills 194 to 110 yards.
The Dolphins should have gone up early in the 3rd Quarter after the Defense stopped the Bills on a 3rd & 1 and forced them to punt. Tannehill underthrew a wide-open Kenny Stills who was 2-3 steps ahead of coverage and the Dolphins missed a big-play opportunity. In this same drive Tannehill should have been picked off as he misread coverage and was fortunate that the DB could not bring it in. On the following Bills possession Suh disrupted the play as he came charging through the middle and Tyrod Taylor was forced to role out right yet was unable to make the first down marker on 3rd & 2 as Jason Jones managed to close down in time. One key adjustment that Rex Ryan and Buffalo made coming out of half time was that they started to dial up pressure on first down to stop the Dolphins having second and manageable as Jay Ajayi gashed the Bills in the first half. The 67-yard Buffalo touchdown pass was the result of Cornerback Byron Maxwell being caught napping in zone coverage as he kept his eyes on the QB for too long and the Dolphins Safety could not get over in time to help once Goodwin had blown past Maxwell.
With 3:55 remaining in the third quarter, Ryan Tannehill was still under 100 yards passing and the Dolphins relied on their emerging young Bell-Cow RB Jay Ajayi. Ajayi displayed good vision and once he makes hit cut showed that he can get dirty yardage inside through his use of good footwork and raw power. I really liked the play call from Adam Gase near the red zone where he called a zone read which saw Tannehill scamper off a 14-yard run and put Miami 6 yards outside the Bills end zone. It was a creative play call that the Dolphins needed to edge closer to Buffalo’s goal line. Jay Ajayi then rushed for a four-yard TD and the decision to go for 2 points was a gutsy call, which had great execution as Jarvis Landry ran untouched out of the backfield and into the flats to make it a 17-14 game.
Tyrod Taylor was elusive all game long and the Dolphins should have had 5+ sacks if not for Taylors ability to make tacklers miss. The Dolphins did, however, get to Taylor on a 3rd down, which resulted in an Ndamukong Suh sack thanks to some creative play calling from Defensive Co-oridnator Vance Joseph. Kiko Alonso and Jelani Jenkins are lined up either side of the Center showing a Double A gap blitz. You can see inside the brown circle that the Bills RG (Incognito) is relaying the protection adjustment, as the RT will now guard Suh who is lined up at DE while the RG will block the DT and the C will cover Alonso, with the LG picking up the other blitzing Linebacker. What happens is that Alonso drops back into coverage, while Jenkins blitzes and the Dolphins also bring their slot-corner Bobby McCain on a corner blitz. This confuses the Bills and leaves Suh in a one-on-one match up which he is able to exploit (as he is not double teamed like every other play). The end result is an Ndamukong Suh sack thanks to some creative play calling.
The Bills then punt and manage to pin Miami back on their own 1 yard line. In the image below we can clearly see just how much respect Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills have for the left side of Miami’s offensive line as they load the box to that side.
The Dolphins get a 1-yard run out of Ajayi to give them a tiny bit more breathing room. The next play that is called is well designed and even better executed. The Dolphins are manning up in blocking assignments and RG Jermon Bushrod will double the Tackle with Pouncey to create a hole for Ajayi before moving into the next level and engaging with the Bills ILB.
This play works tremendously and we can see Bushrod clearing out the Linebacker in the second level and Ajayi’s cut once he sees Bushrod push the ILB just enough to one side to create a crease for him to burst through.
What happens next is simply Ajayi making tacklers miss as he uses his power to overwhelm two tacklers and even throws in a stiff arm for good measure.
Ajayi is off to the races and manages to rattle off a huge 53 yard run from the Dolphins own 2 yard-line. Miami is able to flip the field against eight in the box thanks to great blocking and the vision of its Running Back whose style favours one-cut running.
The Dolphins were extremely well prepared and coached throughout this game as Buffalo threw a wildcat at Miami resulting in a 10-yard loss as Suh and Mario Williams blew up the play. Mario Williams then drilled Tyrod Taylor on a 3rd & 15. The following drive for Miami resulted in a touchdown thanks to some extremely tough running from Damien Williams for the score. The most impressive play of this drive came on 3rd & 7 as Tannehill rolled out right and connected with Jarvis Landry for a 18 yard pick up as the receiver adjusted and worked with his QB over to the right side of the field. Miami kicks a PAT, 21-17.
The Defense was finally playing with the lead and able to pin back their ears and go to work in the pass rush. Wake, Branch and Suh were all disruptive and Isa Abdul-Quddus had a great pass break up on 3rd & 6 causing Buffalo to punt. The next series Miami scored a touchdown off a 56-yard Tannehill hook up with Kenny Stills, however, this play was more about the surrounding cast than Tannehill himself. Firstly Jay Ajayi did an excellent job in pass protection as he picked up a free blitzer which gave Tannehill the time needed to connect with Stills down the field.
Secondly, the ball was underthrown and Stills’ adjustment was excellent as he came back and located the football then adjusted to catch the underthrown ball before taking it to the house. Finally, Head Coaches Adam Gase’s decision to dial up a deep ball to Kenny Stills (who was Tannehill’s hot route) on a 3rd & 6 with just 2:35 to go as Miami is looking to burn the clock and has a Back who is averaging 8 yards a carry was a great play call.
The following drive, Miami performed well on Defense as Taylor was constantly harassed and had barely any time to throw. Yet the Bills were able to score a TD and convert the 2 points to make it 27-24 with a nervous onside kick thanks to some stupid decisions by certain defenders. Byron Maxwell got called for taunting before Kiko Alonso then Jason Jones pushed players out of bounds (only Jones’ got flagged). This game was chippy, yet it should have been a comfortable win for Miami who almost got itself into a dangerous position due to silly penalties. Miami held on and won 28-25 over a bitter divisional rival. Lets go ‘Fins!
Miami’s Defense really showed up today. It kept the team in it as the Dolphins failed to finish off drives in the first half and were slow at stretches in the third and fourth quarter. Jay Ajayi became the fourth player in NFL history with back-to-back 200+ yard games. He joins the illustrious company of O. J. Simpson (1973 & ’76), Earl Campbell (1980) and Ricky Williams (2002) with his accomplishment. Ajayi was a bell-cow and kept the offense ticking all game. A huge amount of credit has to go to offensive line for its job upfront in keeping Tannehill clean nearly all day and in helping create holes for Ajayi to exploit. The Dolphins lost the special teams battle, however, their Defensive Line managed to excel and meant that ultimately it did not cost Miami. A telling stat is that Tyrod Taylor dropped back 38 times and was under pressure for 19 of those. The Bills also gained 1.4 inches before contact in the run game, which tells you just how disruptive this front seven was. A great win for the Miami Dolphins and it appears the bye comes at the wrong time as this team has been hot over the past two stretches. The Miami Dolphins are looking like a physical, aggressive and tough team that is looking to beat up on people and dominate both lines of scrimmage.