The Buffalo Bills didn’t make it look pretty on Sunday, but they were able to survive a deluge of mistakes and a feisty Dolphins team to advance to the next round of the NFL playoffs.
While we take stock of the win and what the performance on the field means for the rest of the season, we’ll dive into another edition of Studs and Duds.
As a reminder, this column looks simply at the performance in the most recent week, or weeks in this case, identifying who stepped up and who struggled and what those performances might mean for the Buffalo Bills going forward. Some heroes will just have one-off great games while some struggles could signal major issues, so we’ll make sense of that together here.
SIGN UP FOR $1K FIRST BET OFFER!CLAIM NOW
FIRST BET OFFER!CLAIM OFFER
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.
I’ve mentioned the offensive line here more times than I care to count, but they continue to be this team’s Achilles heel. They were ranked 23rd in the NFL this year by Pro Football Focus, with only Jacksonville’s line recording a worse PFF run-blocking grade than the Bills over the course of the season.
Rodger Saffold and Spencer Brown both ranked among the worst at their position in the league, and the unit was a disaster on Sunday as well.
Josh Allen was sacked seven times and was pressured on a career-high 47.8% of his dropbacks. That means basically half the time Allen dropped back to pass, there was a defender in his face. I know Miami was sending a lot of blitzes, but that is a horrendous showing from the offensive line. Plus, with the way Allen plays football, that added pressure often causes him to escape the pocket and look to make something out of nothing, which can often lead to him trying to do too much and turning the ball over.
The Bills will not advance beyond next week if Allen gets pressured that much again.
Ken Dorsey’s playcalling
However, the playcalling also needs to adapt.
The Dolphins were sending blitzes throughout the afternoon, and the Bills took advantage early with some deep shots to Stefon Diggs. However, Buffalo offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey kept dialing up those deep shots even after the Dolphins had picked one off and Allen had started misfiring.
On one drive with 10:53 left in the fourth quarter and Buffalo clinging to a three point lead, the team dialed up deep shots on the first two plays off the drive. Both fell incomplete and then Allen was sacked on third down, which forced the Bills to punt after only running 59 seconds off of the clock.
It was inexcusably bad in terms of both execution and strategy.
The Bills likely should have adjusted to a more quick-hitting passing attack, as Miami did, which would have allowed them to scheme more plays for Stefon Diggs. After posting six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown in the first half, the Bills’ top receiver had just one catch for 14 yards in the second half.
While some of that is on Allen and also on the Buffalo offensive line for not allowing plays to develop, Dorsey needs to help his quarterback out by calling quick passes to Diggs to get the two back in sync. The Bills can’t allow another half to go by with Diggs being used so infrequently.
The Bills turned the ball over three times on Sunday, and they had two additional fumbles that they were able to recover. There was likely no bigger factor that kept Miami in the game than the turnovers. In the first half, the Dolphins’ average drive started from their own 44-yard line, and the Bills’ first turnover in the second half directly resulted in a Miami touchdown when they fell on the ball in the end zone.
Buffalo was able to escape with a win on Sunday, but they outgained Miami by almost 200 yards, so this game never should have been this close. If they make similar mistakes against the Bengals, it will lead to the end of their season.
Now for the good news.
I covered this in the game preview, but there was likely no hero quite as big as Elam and no play as big as his interception of Skylar Thompson in the third quarter. After a Milano sack forced a 3rd-and-19 from Miami’s own 17-yard line. Elam leaped up to pick off a fade intended for Tyreek Hill. He also broke up a 4th down pass with 2:17 in the fourth quarter which allowed the Bills to get the ball back and run out the clock.
They were two huge plays for the rookie, who had his best game of the season a few weeks ago against these same Dolphins, and at the time we called for Elam to see the field more. Still, he was splitting snaps with Dane Jackson on Sunday until Jackson suffered a knee injury.
But it’s time for Elam to see the field regularly.
This year’s first-round pick allowed just one completion on Sunday with two passes defended and the interception. He had a 0.0 passer rating allowed when he was targeted. Of course, none of this surprised the Bills’ veterans as they mentioned that he is a student of the team and prepares like a veteran.
He also seems to be a genuinely good person, who took time before the game to chat with a young girl currently battling cancer. Even without the goodwill, his good play means he should be starting opposite Tre’Davious White next week.
Gabe Davis (and Stefon Diggs)
After the Patriots game, I mentioned that Davis had been generally a bit disappointing in his first year as the team’s full-time second wide receiver. He had just a 51.6% catch rate, dropping nine passes, and also had eight games where he was held to under 40 receiving yards.
However, Davis shined for Buffalo in the playoffs last year, and he started out this year’s postseason doing the exact same, hauling in six of his nine targets for 113 yards and a touchdown. He also made a beautiful sliding catch in the first half, where he was able to get both hands under the ball before it touched the ground to ensure a huge gain.
Davis was extra important on Sunday since Buffalo seemed to go away from Diggs in the second half, as I mentioned above. Still, Diggs deserves to be in the studs section after putting up seven catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. The Bills just can’t forget about him next week against the Bengals.
The Linebacking Duo of Milano/Edmunds
After the game last night, there was a discussion on Twitter, led by former NFL linebacker Will Compton about the best linebacker duos in the NFL. He listed Milano and Edmunds as the third-best in the league, and it’s hard to argue with that.
Tremaine Edmunds has been phenomenal all year, and we discussed last week that the extension for Roquan Smith may make it hard for Buffalo to re-sign Edmunds, but they really need to prioritize it. The linebacker used his length on Sunday to rack up four passes defended, while also notching five tackles and a huge tackle for a loss on a third-down run.
Meanwhile, Milano, the team’s only AP All-Pro, led the way with 10 total tackles, eight solo tackles, and two sacks. He did uncharacteristically miss a tackle on a Dolphins fourth down conversion, which allowed Miami to put up three additional points, but that was really the only mistake from this duo on Sunday.
STATES: OH, MD, AZ, LA, KS, CO, IL, IN, MI, PA, VA, NJ, TN, IA, WVGET THE APP
FIRST BET INSURANCECLAIM NOW