CAPACCIO: Bills-Dolphins: Arrow Up/Arrow Down

October 23, 2016
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By Sal Capaccio

Twitter @Salports





Punched in the gut. Kicked in the teeth. Whatever form of physical dominance you want to use, that's what the Miami Dolphins did to the Buffalo Bills Sunday, winning 28-25. It was a role-reversal of sorts. Like the two teams switched uniforms. The Dolphins did to the Bills what the Bills have been doing to other teams. They beat them at their own game.  The bully got bullied in South Florida.  And with the Patriots coming to Orchard Park next Sunday, the Bills are looking at their four game winning streak suddenly turning into a losing streak if they don't figure out what happened, quickly. 

It’s also the first time in five weeks I have to start with my Arrows Down:

Arrow Down

Run Defense

The source of pride for Rex Ryan and his coaching staff took a direct hit. Miami manhandled them at all levels. Jay Ajayi ran for 214 yards. As a team, the Dolphins piled up 256 on the ground and 454 overall. They ran for 6.1 yards per carry. The numbers weren't deceiving. The play was as bad as the stats indicate.

Tackling 

This obviously goes hand-in-hand with the run defense. But, even on passes that were caught, the Bills did not bring players down well enough and fast enough. Mostly in the run department, however, and mostly Ajayi, who ran through arm tackles and carried defenders far too often.

Linebackers

Again, I know it sounds like just rehashing what's above, but specifically, Zach Brown and Preston Brown, weren't home enough to fill the cutback lane and stop Ajayi. They attacked the stretch play too aggressively and allowed the rookie running back to hit that cutback for big yards.  

Offensive line

The guys up front will be the first to admit they played poorly. Run blocking. Pass protection. It didn't matter.  They were beaten physically most of the afternoon. The leading run game in the league managed a measly 67 yards on 22 carries (3.0 yards per carry).  Tyrod Taylor was sacked four times. And when he wasn't sacked, he was often running away from pressure and/or had a defender in his face. He even had a few balls tipped or batted at the line.

RB LeSean McCoy

It might not be fair to put him on this list because he was dealing with an injury, but it was clear Shady did not seem himself running. He finished the game with eight carries for only 11 yards - a 1.4 yard average. He did not have a reception. Considering Mike Gillislee came in and ran five times for 20 yards, maybe McCoy should have rested his hamstring.  Now we are going to go through #ShadyWatch all next week again. Miami clearly loaded up on trying to stop McCoy. A few times they even have what looked to be ten players in the box with a free safety deep. But, McCoy was not the same player today as he has been and did not run well. And no matter who's fault that is, it hurt the team and their chances to win.

2nd half offensive drives

We've asked several times what would happen when the Bills needed a few big plays from the passing game later in games. Unfortunately, we found out that answer, at least in this one. Granted, Tyrod Taylor is dealing with a very limited deck. By the end of the game, there was no Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, LeSean McCoy, or Marquise Goodwin. But, the second half the offense went three-and-out four times, And punted on five out of seven drives. The only two they did not were the touchdown pass on a one-play drive to Marquise Goodwin and then the TD at the end of the game. When the chips were down and they needed to move the sticks, they couldn't do it well enough.

Arrow Up

LB Lorenzo Alexander

On a day the defense got shredded, Alexander was actually a bright spot. He finished with the team leading two QB hurries, a team leading two tackles for loss, the only sack of the day for the Bills, and four total tackles. With his sack, Alexander became the first Bills player to register a sack in seven consecutive games since Bruce Smith’s streak of nine games (stretching the end of 1986 into 1987). The veteran is also the first NFL player to start the season with a seven-game sack streak since Jared Allen’s nine-game streak in 2011.

LB Shaq Lawson

I’m putting the rookie on here because it was his first NFL game after only having three practices under his belt and he did not look out of place at all. In fact, Lawson even chased or put pressure on Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill on a couple different plays that allowed the defense to get stops. 

Special teams

The Bills clearly lost on offense and defense. But they won in the special teams department. Lerentee McCray got a piece of a punt, and the coverage units did an outstanding job all day. 

WR/PR Brandon Tate

Receiver/return man had two catches for 31 yards, returned a punt 30 yards to set the Bills up on the Dolphins side of the field, and then did a tremendous job downing a punt at Miami’s one yard line.

The Big Picture

This game can be looked at two ways going forward: worrisome, or a bad day that all teams have. This team should not be getting run on the way they did. And now that others have seen it, you can bet they will attempt the same. It could be the blueprint to beat them in the coming weeks.  That’s the worrisome part.

The other part would be to believe this game was an outlier and their defense won’t allow that to happen again.  It could be, but they don’t have enough credit built up yet for anyone to believe that’s case without seeing it.

The bottom line here was the Bills did not deserve to win the game. They were cleanly beaten and out-coached on both offense and defense.  There are no excuses.  Not LeSean McCoy’s injury (he doesn’t play defense).  Not being without Marcell Dareus (they have been and have been winning).  Not being without Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods (they don’t protect Taylor or open holes in the running game).  Not having a charter flight delayed four hours and getting into Miami at 8pm.  The Dolphins were the 31st worst ranked run defense in the league headed into the game.  The Bills were the best run team.  It should have been a mismatch.  It was, but on the other side.  

I expect Rex Ryan to take this one personally since we know how much it bothers him to even allow a 100-yard rusher let alone A TWO HUNDRED YARDER!  But what does that mean?  Will Rex and his staff be able to fix what happened in time to make sure Bill Belichick doesn’t use the same formula to open up holes in his defense then let Brady go to work in the passing game?  Does it mean he gets his team to respond and show that this one was more of a fluke than the new normal?

A look at the AFC standings shows the Bills still have plenty of opportunity in front of them, and sitting just on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.  Here are the standings prior to Monday Night’s Texans/Broncos game:

So with yet another division and conference loss, the Bills continue to leave themselves less and less margin for error.  That’s why next week - against the Patriots in Orchard Park - is now so critical.  Not necessarily because they can still catch them and win the division, but because of how crushing a loss would be when comparing records to other conference foes.  Especially conference record, a big tie-breaker.

In fact, a win next week and the Bills are guaranteed a winning record at the bye with winnable games on the other side of the schedule.  But a performance even close to the one we saw Sunday in Miami against New England and we’re essentially right back to where we’ve been so many times, and so many predicted would be the case at this point, anyway.

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