Dolphins vs. Bills: How Buffalo Won Without Scoring an Offensive Touchdown
You're not alone.
It wasn't a particularly gorgeous win for Chan Gailey's bunch, but the Bills will take a victory—especially over a divisional opponent—after starting the year 3-6.
Outside of Leodis McKelvin's 79-yard punt return touchdown that kicked off the scoring in the first quarter, let's examine how in the world a team with the league's 32nd-ranked defense managed to pull out a win with such an unusual offensive output.
Heading into this game, Buffalo undeniably housed the NFL's worst defense. Not only was it 32nd in total yards allowed, but the defense was last in touchdowns and overall points allowed per drive through nine games, according to Football Outsiders.
To pile on, the Bills hadn't forced a turnover in three games.
Anyone who thought the Bills could emerge victorious without an offensive touchdown would have been easily labeled as delusional or downright insane.
Goes to show you how unpredictable this NFL is, people.
In an unforeseeable act of the football gods, Buffalo's defense showed up and, frankly, played the way many thought it would all year.
The secondary certainly hasn't been stellar in 2012, but it's been far more impressive than the run defense, which has allowed a ridiculous 5.5 yards per carry.
But someway, somehow, the run defense clicked on Thursday night against the Dolphins.
At the root of Buffalo's impressive and rather shocking defensively-stout evening was drastically improved play by the defensive line and, more specifically, the much maligned linebacking corps.
Middle backer Kelvin Sheppard turned in his best performance of the season, playing quick to the football. And he did so without seemingly straying from his assigned run fit. A lack of discipline had been a problem for Sheppard (and fellow linebackers Nick Barnett and Nigel Bradham as well) during the first half of the season.
George Wilson and Jairus Byrd, the team's starting safeties, were also integral in the team's amazing 24-carry, 60-yard run-stopping effort, filling lanes without hesitation or missed tackles.
Much of what the linebackers and safeties were able to accomplish against the run was due to defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus disrupting the Dolphins' interior blocking all evening. They weren't pushed off the ball and rarely yielded major holes for Miami's running backs to burst through.
On the outside, Mario Williams and Shawne Merriman played fundamentally sound and set the edge while shedding blocks when outside runs were called.
Due to supreme dedication and exquisite execution against the run, Buffalo's defense was able to get off the field and keep Miami from finding a rhythm offensively. Prior to that, though, the Bills hadn't made many opposing offenses uncomfortable for any considerable stretches this year.
What should we make of Buffalo's stellar defensive effort?
Nearly every Buffalo defender deserves credit, but the Dolphins' lack of receiving talent—especially a guy who can stretch the field—gave Bills defenders much more freedom to align themselves closer to the line of scrimmage and play downhill.
Although the offense faltered in the red zone, it moved the ball effectively enough to keep the defense fresh—Buffalo won the time of possession battle by more than 10 minutes (although, I've noticed that TV commercials normally give every defense adequate rest).
The Dolphins did take a few shots down the field, but Byrd's spectacular instincts were on full display, and his fourth-quarter interception was one of the most tremendous picks of the year in the NFL.
So, with inspired play on defense from nearly every member of the unit—especially against the run—and just enough efficiency on offense from Ryan Fitzpatrick, C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson, the Bills mustered a tight win without reaching the end zone the traditional way.
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