RB Danger – Spiller, Jackson, Dixon, and Misdirection
The majority of the carries in week 1 for the Bills were for CJ Spiller. Spiller had a difficult time getting much traction as the Bills offensive line repeatedly failed to generate significant holes for Spiller to burst through. In rushing for 53 yards on 15 carries (3.5 ypc) Spiller did however show the ability to cutback and make gains even when the conditions weren’t optimal. Spiller’s tenacity in generating yardage combined with his ability to create yards after contact will be a challenge for Miami’s depleted LB core. It is no accident that Spiller had the top PFF elusive rating, which takes into account the number of missed tackles that runners force on all touches, in 2012 and was respectably 15th in last year’s rating.
In the clip above you can see Spiller has nowhere to run. He makes the best of it and goes to the outside for a short gain.
Moreover, two long runs – a 38 yard dash by Fred Jackson to seal the Bills win in OT and a previous 47 yard run by the minimally used Anthony Dixon – showed the home run potential that these backs have when they get into enough space. While mostly shutting them down can certainly force the Bills pass game to perform, a slip up by the LB group and these backs will make you pay for it.
An interesting last point on the running front is the challenge that the Bills pose when they effectively use misdirection in combination RB sets in their run and short screen game. An example of this misdirection can be seen in Spiller’s 2nd quarter short screen pass for the TD. You can see here that the quick fake to FB Frank Summers (#38) enough to get Lance Briggs (#55) to bite inside for a moment and CJ Spiller is off to the races scoring easily to the outside.
Earlier in the game, the Bills nearly broke off a long gain using misdirection. In this play you can see Fred Jackson (#22) lined up behind the QB with CJ Spiller (#28) split out right as a WR. Once the ball is snapped, Manuel fakes a handoff to Jackson and then Sammy Watkins comes around for a fake reverse. The play is set up perfectly with Jackson having lots of field and good blocking in front of him. Only the inability of right guard Erik Pears (#79) to get downfield for the block prevents this short gain from turning into a big play.
These plays demonstrate the need again for Miami’s LBs to play with great discipline and to play all the way until the whistle is blown on each snap. The services of safeties Delmas and Wilson in wrapping these backs up are likely to be called into action as well. Luckily, the vast majority of the Bills running attack came through much less deceptive and straightforward play design; hopefully that’ll be the case on Sunday too.
WRs - Athletic and Acrobatic
The Buffalo attack features several wide outs that show excellent athleticism. While EJ Manuel tends to , not infrequently, overthrow his targets, Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Williams are usually more than able to make up for the inaccuracy. These wide outs made several nice gains on plays that many other NFL receivers wouldn’t have been able to make. This 4th quarter acrobatic leap by Robert Woods in full extension is a nice example of a wide receiver that makes the best out of non-optimal circumstances.
It will be interesting to see how the Dolphins choose to cover this unit, but suffice it to say that Grimes, Finnegan, Davis, and Taylor have their work cut out for them this Sunday.
Offensive Line – A Mixed Bag and An Opportunity
The Buffalo offensive line generally failed to generate much of a push in the run game vs Chicago in week 1. CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson repeatedly had to show patience in trying to squeeze through small holes in order to grind out yardage. Unsurprisingly, the team finished with a 12th worst -3.6 PFF grade for week 1 in run blocking. Perhaps even more enticing for Miami, from a matchup standpoint, was Buffalo’s difficulty in protecting EJ Manuel. Rookie RT Seantrel Henderson was repeatedly beaten by Chicago DE Lamar Houston as Manuel had to scramble for yardage or throw passes in a hurry while missing open windows. Henderson ended giving up a sack, a QB hit, and two QB hurries on his way to the 2nd worst PFF overall grade for week 1 in pass blocking.
The obvious connection to Miami in this matchup is in Cameron Wake, perhaps the league’s most under-appreciated complete beast. Miami fans have seen Wake completely take over games on many occasions. The most recent example is vs the Patriots last week as Wake completely dominated the NE offensive line while strip-sacking on Tom Brady twice on his way to helping the Dolphins win and earning individual AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
C Eric Wood and RG Erik Pears were also not immune from pass pressure yielding interior pressure on several passing downs. Miami’s combination of edge pressure with another solid performance from Randy Starks, Earl Mitchell (who played particularly well vs the Patriots), and Jared Odrick on the inside can go a long ways to disrupting any offensive plans the Bills have.
Manuel – Inaccurate and Prone to Running
EJ Manuel played respectably vs the Bills. While a handful of his throws were not exactly on point, they were close enough for his wide receivers to generate several nice long pass plays. Manuel has decent speed and scrambling ability and facing repeated pressure from the right, due mostly to RT Seantrel Henderson getting beat, he was able to take off running to the left for 19 yards rushing. Against Chicago he generated 173 total passing yards on 16 of 22 attempts (72.7% completion percentage). However, his stats with and without pressure show a different story. On 6 pass attempts under pressure, Manuel was only able to complete 3 passes for 22 yards while throwing an interception and giving up a sack. In the 2013 regular season, Manuel had the third worst completion % when under pressure in the league at only 42.7%. Moreover, while he can be elusive, in 2013 he also had the 2nd worst league-wide sack percentage when under pressure at 23.7%. In short, Manuel, like many QBs, can be pressured into mistakes and into non-productivity.
In the play above you can see Manuel flushed out to the left under pressure. He forces an off-balance pass on the run and Bears safety Chris Conte (#47) jumps the route for a gifted interception
Defensive Line – Stout, Powerful, and Disruptive
Put simply, the Buffalo defensive line is a force. Defensive ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes are more than capable of breaking through to the backfield and disrupting offensive plans. Dolphin fans remember Williams’ play quite well as he put Miami’s home game away last season while flattening Ryan Tannehill. Meanwhile, the Bills feature two very complete players in Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus who are both competent at creating enormous inside pressure while simultaneously stuffing the run. This unit was a major factor in the Bills week 1 victory as Jay Cutler was sacked and intercepted twice on a frustrating day. Rookie Ja’Wuan James will be matched up against Mario Williams in just his 2nd game. Williams has the ability to rush with both speed and strength and James will be tested. On the interior, Satele, Smith, and Darryn Colledge will have to fight to create holes on running plays and to not collapse against interior pressure on passing downs. Miami will find out a lot more about just how improved this unit really is in week 2 vs the Bills.
Secondary – Opportunistic and Physical
The Buffalo secondary features several opportunistic playmakers that seem to feast on QB mistakes. Nickell Robey, their slot CB, had the 10th lowest QB rating against him (75.4) in comparison to the rest of the league in slot coverage in 2013. Leodis McKelvin, coming off a very strong campaign last season, had a difficult time against Chicago in week 1 as he was targeted a league-high 13 times while yielding 10 receptions. Meanwhile, Corey Graham, an offseason free agent cornerback signing, filled in for an injured Stephon Gilmore in week 1 and played admirably. Graham only gave up 3 receptions on 10 targets against a strong Bears WR unit. Moreover, he was able to create a turnover while stripping Brandon Marshall and jumped a rushed (because of Dareus) and underthrown deep pass for a key interception in week one as well.
On the clip above you can see that Dareus (#99) powers his way into the backfield forcing Cutler to throw deep in a rush. Graham seizes the moment and undercuts the route for the interception.
Buffalo had the 2nd most interceptions in 2013 with 23 and while they lost Jairus Byrd to free agency, in combination with a defensive line that forces passes under duress, it’s a dangerous unit again. Ryan Tannehill will have to be careful in forcing any passes as these players are very opportunistic in creating turnovers. Moreover, the Dolphins, who had inopportune fumbles by Mike Wallace and Lamar Miller in week 1, will need to make sure they protect the ball against this physical team.
Linebacker Unit – A Potential Area of Weakness
Similar to the Dolphins, the Bills don’t have the most impressive LB unit in the league. Against the Dolphins for week 2, the Bills will feature Brandon Spikes at MLB, a timely returning-from-suspension Nigel Bradham at WLB, and rookie starter Preston Brown at SLB. Brown struggled mightily against the pass in week 1 as the Bears targeted the Bills LB coverage vulnerability frequently with short crossing patterns often involving TE Martellus Bennett. Bennett was able to accumulate 70 yards and a touchdown on 8 receptions. Miami will likely look to get Charles Clay involved in the passing game to produce against mismatched LB coverage. Moreover, if Miami is able to get Moreno or Miller in space against this unit, they could do some damage.
In the clip above you can see Preston Brown falling down as Martellus Bennett scores easily.
Intangibles, The Bottom Line, and Prediction
The atmosphere in Buffalo on Sunday will be raucous. The fans will be pumped up as they celebrate the Pegulas group sale announced this week, honor Ralph Wilson in a pre-game ceremony, and come in with optimism after a gutsy road win in Chicago. This will likely be a tight game where turnovers could play a significant role in determining the winner. Ryan Tannehill will have to play with discipline against an opportunistic defense, the offensive line will have to get ready for a massive battle against a tremendous defensive line, and the Dolphins defense will have to be ready to cover some extremely athletic skill position players. It should be a really great game.
Prediction - Dolphins 24 – Bills 17.