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3 key takeaways from the Buffalo Bills loss to Dolphins: Josh Allen shines but injuries mount

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Buffalo Bills Josh Allen
Miami Dolphins defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah (91) grabs Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The Buffalo Bills headed into Sunday’s showdown in Miami with a laundry list of injuries but the confidence that their depth would carry them to victory. 

At the end of the day, while the effort was valiant, the Bills were unable to overcome the combination of injuries and their own mistakes in a 21-19 loss to the Dolphins. 

So what should we make of the loss and Miami now taking the lead in the AFC East? Does this change the outlook for Buffalo’s season in any way?

Here are the three key takeaways from the game, as I see it. 

The injuries could be a real issue, especially on the offensive line

Coming into the game, the Bills were down six defensive starters and starting center Mitch Morse. They would proceed to lose seven players on Sunday, five of whom were unable to return to the game. 

In the first quarter, Jake Kumerow injured his ankle and was done for the day. In the second quarter, Christian Benford, who is already starting for Tre’Davious White, injured his hand and didn’t return. Right tackle Spencer Brown also left the game in the second quarter with heat illness and didn’t come back. right guard Ryan Bates and backup center Greg Van Roten were then both injured in the fourth quarter and didn’t return. 

Lastly, both Dawson Knox and Isaiah McKenzie left the game in the third quarter and missed most of the quarter before being able to return. 

While most NFL teams have to contend with injuries, the Bills were down 11 starters at one point during Sunday’s game. That’s a lot for anybody and could become a real problem if these injuries linger, particularly on the offensive line. 

The Bills’ offensive line hasn’t looked good to start the year. 

According to FantasyPros, Josh Allen has had just 2.1 seconds in the pocket per dropback before he’s hurried or has to throw the ball. While some of that is obviously designed quick-hitting passes, when you watch the game you can also see Allen throwing passes to his check-down options before pressure bears down. 

Pro Football Focus has Dion Dawkins as the only Bills offensive lineman with a current season grade over 57.2 (out of 100). Which makes sense when you see how Tennessee controlled the line of scrimmage last Monday and how Miami pressured Allen continuously on Sunday. 

Spencer Brown has been recovering from offseason back surgery and dealt with heat illness on Sunday, so it was make sense not to rush to judgment on his early performance but Rodger Saffold has been far and away the Bills’ worst offensive lineman according to PFF, and Greg Van Roten hasn’t been much better.

If the Bills are going to be without Mitch Morse or Ryan Bates for an extended period of time, the issues on the offensive line need to be addressed. The team missed many opportunities to win the game on Sunday, but the offensive line was directly responsible for a few major mistakes. 

With the game tied and the Bills setting up to spike the ball with three seconds left in the first half and kick a field goal, the exchange between Van Roten and Josh Allen wasn’t clean, forcing Allen to abort the spike and throw a quick pass to Stefon Diggs, who was tackled before going out of bounds. The clock ran out and the Bills were unable to try to add three points, which could have been crucial to the outcome of the game. 

Then, with the Bills down 21-19, the offense drove down to the Dolphins’ 43-yard line, which is within Tyler Bass’ range, and had 22 seconds left to gain more yardage and attempt a game-winning field goal. Only, David Quessenberry, who was filling in for Spencer Brown, was beaten by Emmanuel Ogbah and grabbed to avoid giving up a sack. The holding penalty moved the Bills out of field goal range and cost the team a shot at three more points. 

With all the work Buffalo did on the defensive line this offseason, attention now needs to be paid to the offensive side. Even without the injuries, this unit is not playing well enough. The team can’t keep relying on Josh Allen to Houdini himself out of trouble and create magic. 

 

The Bills’ proved they have the depth to take them to a Super Bowl win

This may seem counter-intuitive given what I said above, but I truly believe this game was a mostly positive step for the Buffalo Bills. The Miami Dolphins are a good team and likely playoff contender, and, on paper, the Bills shouldn’t have had a shot to beat them with so many starters missing in a road game on a short week. 

But the Bills depth pieces stepped up, for the most part.

Jaquan Johnson and Damar Hamlin were solid when coming up in run coverage and they patrolled the middle of the field well aside from one crucial play when they allowed a 46-yard completion on 3rd-and-22 to set up the Dolphins’ go-ahead touchdown. Was it a mistake? Of course, but it was also one clear slip-up in a long game in challenging conditions. 

Hamlin was effective when blitzing off the edge. Cornerback Kaiir Elam was also strong in run defense and played his zones well. This beleaguered secondary gave up just 125 yards through the air apart from that one deep pass to Jaylen Waddle. The run defense without Ed Oliver and Jordan Phillips held the Dolphins to 2.4 yards per rush.

That’s more than anybody could have expected. 

In the weeks ahead, the team will likely welcome back Jordan Poyer, Tre’Davious White, Ed Oliver, Jordan Phillips, Dane Jackson, and Christian Benford. Hamlin and Cam Lewis and others will return to reserve roles, but they will now be tested, and they have the confidence that they can hang with one of the better teams in the league. 

They showed that they were ready if Buffalo needs them to step up during the playoff run. While that wasn’t enough for a win on Sunday, it could very well prove to be the kind of depth that’s enough for a win in February, and that’s all that matters. 

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Bills responded to this the way they did the Patriots loss in early December of last year. The Bills felt they had the superior team but weather and extenuating circumstances led to a close loss. The team then left no doubt who was the better team when they faced the Patriots later in December and then in the playoffs. 

This loss could be the same type of catalyst. 

 

Josh Allen is a marvel but was maybe asked to do too much 

Josh Allen is other-worldly. We know this. He accounted for 447 of the team’s 497 yards on Sunday. He completed 42 of 63 passes to 11 different receivers and put the team on his back when teammates were dropping like flies around him. 

He was pretty much the only reason the Bills were in the game, and he also simply didn’t have enough at the end of it to get them over the line. His missed pass to Isaiah McKenzie is pass that Allen can make routinely. His decision-making on the final drive seemed a bit hurried or frazzled. He was pushed to his absolute limit because of his desire to will this team to victory. 

His post-game embrace with Tua Tagovailoa is a perfect indication of just how gassed he was. 

It’s hard to blame him. He was doing everything in a heat that felt like it was close to 110 degrees at field level. But you also have to wonder how sustainable this is. 

On the 17-play, 73-yard drive that ate up eight minutes of game clock and ended with Allen bouncing the pass to McKenzie, there were only two plays called for somebody other than Allen before they reached Miami’s six-yard-line. On the 20-play, 87-yard drive that ended in a Buffalo field goal early in the 3rd quarter, only three plays were run for somebody other than Allen. 

While it may make sense to keep the ball in the hands of your best player, it’s also a lot to ask him to keep up this pace for 18 games plus the playoffs. Yes, the Bills’ run game has been non-existent, even though Zack Moss did break off a 43-yard scamper, but if the Bills can’t trust anybody other than Allen to make a play or consistently gain yards, they’re going to run the risk of wearing him out or having him get hurt, which almost happened with Allen was forced to get x-rays on his hand after the game

The young quarterback is the force that drives this team. That shouldn’t change, but having a few weeks where he doesn’t have to carry the whole offense would also be a welcome sight for the long-term hopes of this team. 

For more Buffalo Bills coverage, visit amNY Sports

Jaquan Johnson Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills safety Jaquan Johnson (4) takes Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

 

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