CAPACCIO: Bills-Dolphins: Arrow Up/Arrow Down

December 17, 2017
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Raise your hand if, back in August, you had the Bills at eight wins with two games remaining this season. 

Now put your hand down because you’re most likely lying. 

More on all of that in The Big Picture, but let’s get to the Arrows, and once again start with those pointing Up after a huge win.


ARROW UP
 

QB Tyrod Taylor

I’m not exactly sure what or why it is, but for some reason Taylor has some of his best games against the Dolphins. Sunday was no exception. He was on the mark, made good decisions, and a key reason why the offense was able to have arguably its best first half performance all season. He finished the game 17-for-24 for 224 yards, 1 TD pass and no interceptions.  But it was the QB’s poise in the pocket, decision-making, inability to extend plays as he usually does that made a big difference. If there was any question about his knee injury impacting him in this one, he answered it. It didn’t.
 

RB LeSean McCoy

The rushing stats won’t show a great game. But Shady was a dual-threat weapon all afternoon, contributing in both the run and pass game, as he usually does. He ran for 50 yards and caught 46 worth in passes, good for 96 yards of total offense. He also scored once on the ground and once through the air. And, of course, he finally completed his “10K chase,” becoming just the 30th player in NFL history to rush for 10,000 career yards.
 

TE Charles Clay

As was the case above with Taylor, Clay always seems to play his best games against his former team. Once again in this one he led the Bills in receiving with five catches for 68 yards. He was a key target on several third down passes for Taylor.
 

Third down offense

Coming into this game Miami had allowed only one third down conversion in their previous two contests, stopping 23 of the last 24 opponent attempts. The Bills passed that on the first drive alone, converting their first two third down situations. They went on to finish 7-for15 on third down on the afternoon. A nice number in any game.
 

First half offense

245 yards of total offense in the first half. The first drive was terrific. ten plays, manageable third down situations they converted, then capped off with a McCoy TD run. Then two 75-yard drives in the second quarter to put two more touchdowns on the board. They were in rhythm, running at a good pace, had terrific communication, and varied personnel usage that kept the Dolphins off-balance most of the half.
 

Turnovers

It’s been a while since the Bills were able to get back in their “feast mode” of turnovers on defense. But they finally came in bunches again in this one. Three second half interceptions of Dolphins QB Jay Cutler thwarted drives and ultimately shut the door on their comeback bid.
 

Overall penalties

I write “overall” because there were a couple that really hurt them, but overall, only three penalties for 28 yards against the Bills in this one.  That’s three games in a row with three or fewer penalties committed.
 

Touchdowns not field goals

The Bills’ offense entered the Dolphins’ red zone four times.  They scored touchdowns on three of them.  
 

Third down defense

While the Bills converted 47% of their own third down situations, they held Miami to only 31%.  The Dolphins were just 5-for-16 on third downs.
 

QB Pressure

The Bills were able to make Cutler move all day, causing him into mistakes, to get rid of the ball too soon, or take a sack.  The defense finished with three sacks and five QB hurries.
 

DE Ryan Davis

Davis put together his third really strong performance, leading all Bills’ DL in tackles with six and all defenders with two tackles for loss.  He also had a sack and QB hurry to go along with all of that.
 

CB Leonard Johnson

The Bills played a lot of nickel in the second half as the Dolphins were trying to come back.  Johnson, the nickel CB, led all players with eight solo tackles.  He did a great job of keeping everything in front of him then coming up and making the tackle.
 

CB Tre’Davious White

White continues to make a strong late much for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.  He may have been the best defender on the field Sunday, accounting for seven tackles, three pass breakups, and the game-sealing interception.  Here’s a closer look at his day with some high praise from Pro Football Focus:

If Jay Cutler tossed the ball into the ground on every snap he would have had a higher passer rating than he did throwing into Tre'Davious White's coverage today pic.twitter.com/vwsTesSXPX

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 17, 2017



ARROW DOWN
 

Second half offense

After gaining 245 yards through the first sixty minutes, the Bills offense mustered up only 83 yards in the second half.  No second half drive gained more than 26 yards and they only scored three points.
 

Not recovering the onside kick

LB Preston Brown saw  the ball coming towards him and got too aggressive.  He attacked it and wasn’t able to hold on.  The Dolphins recovered, keeping their chances of a comeback alive.
 

Two critical penalties

As I wrote above, the Bills did a great job of limiting their penalty count.  But there were two (technically three) they did commit that really hurt them.  First, Ryan Groy had a false start on 4th-and-goal from the one as they lined up to go for it to try and put the game away.  Then, after that whistle, OT Jordan Mills committed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.  So instead of running a play for a touchdown at the one, Stephen Hauschka had to attempt a 34-yard field goal.  Then in the fourth quarter, the Bills stopped the Dolphins on 3rd-and-goal from the Bills’ one yard line which would have made it fourth down.  But DT Adolphus Washington committed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that gave them a first down.  Miami scored a touchdown on the next play.
 

Lack of WRs in passing game

This has been an issue all season.  Yes, it’s about moving the ball however you can and getting it to the open receiver, but as the game went on and Miami was shutting down the Bills’ run and short passing game, that’s when the wideouts have to come more into play.  But for the contest, Kelvin Benjamin, Deonte Thompson, Brandon Tate and Zay Jones combined for just four catches for 57 yards.  None of them had more than two catches and only Thompson was targeted more than twice.  By contrast, Bills’ TEs and RBs were targeted nineteen times throughout the game.



THE BIG PICTURE
 

In a season that many thought was about losing and preparing for 2018, here we sit heading into Christmas week with the possibility water falling onto seventeen years of postseason drought.  Who woulda’ thought?  

The Bills started the season winning five of their first seven and visions of playoffs started creeping into fans’ heads.  Then they lost three in a row (by combined scores of 135 - 55!) and “same old Bills” was the refrain, with most expecting them to finish the season where they were expected from the start.  But, suddenly, three out of four wins to get to 8-6 overall, and here they are right in the middle of a heated AFC playoff race with a monster game at the hated Patriots on the horizon.

Headed into the week, the Bills were sitting in the sixth and final AFC playoff spot.  But even with the win, they’re are actually now sitting on the outside looking in due to complicated tie-breaker formulas.  I’m here to tell you - don’t worry about that right now.  You’ll drive yourself crazy if you do.  Everyone still has two games to play and a lot has to be sorted out.

All this upcoming week people will want to talk about all the different scenarios that will get the Bills in or keep them out.  And almost all of those discussions will revolve around them finishing 9-7 and splitting their final two games.  Why not?  After all, they play at the Patriots and there’s just no way they can beat them.  Right?  Right?  

I’m not going to write that they’ll be able to do that.  But I certainly won’t tell you it can’t happen, either.  See, this is what sports are about.  Playing.  Competing.  Putting yourself in position to have the best chance.  And that’s what the Bills have done now.  Regardless of any other “if this, then this” scenario.  Aside from all the “what ifs,” the fact is simply this: the Bills essentially control their own destiny now.  Yes, there is a chance that even if they win their final two contests they could still miss the playoffs.  But that chance is as slim as most believe their odds are of winning at New England next week.  

So it’s all right in front of them.  And in front of all of us.  Ending seventeen years of frustration and watching everyone else play games that matter in January comes down to two weeks.  Two games.  Allow yourself to be excited about that.  Get invested.  Because this is what sports are all about.  

Welcome to meaningful late-December football.      


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