Bills vs. Dolphins: Takeaways from Miami's 21-23 Loss to Buffalo
Here you will find the main takeaways from this crushing division defeat.
The game started out poorly for Miami as it fell to a 14-0 deficit, thanks to an interception, which Bills rookie Nickell Robey returned for a touchdown, and some defensive miscues on the Bills' second offensive drive.
Later, the Dolphins would compound the problem by throwing an interception in the end zone. The Bills were not able to produce any points off the turnover; however, the play took points off the board for Miami.
Even so, the Dolphins were able to gain enough momentum through the second and third quarters to pull out to a 21-17 lead.
The Bills used some keen third-down conversions to pull within a point. Then, the Dolphins handed the Bills the opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal through a combination of poor play-calling, pass protection and pocket presence.
Dolphins return man Marcus Thigpen played the part of a hero with a big kick return following the field goal, but it wasn't enough.
The Dolphins worked very hard during the game to establish the kind of ground game that had been largely nonexistent prior to the bye week.
All of that went up in smoke in the fourth quarter as offensive coordinator Mike Sherman suddenly became pass-happy.
During the three quarters of the game, the Dolphins ran Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas 18 times. They also called a wide-receiver reverse to Mike Wallace and three run plays for quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
This was the most balanced play-calling the Dolphins had executed all season. There were 22 called run plays and 26 called pass plays through the first three quarters. Tannehill had not taken a single sack, and the balanced play-calling helped the team come back from an early 14-0 deficit.
However, in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins executed 14 pass plays (including one called back on a defensive penalty) versus only three run plays.
The decision to move away from the ground game was questionable, and it directly led to the sacks and the fumble that gave the Bills the opportunity to retake the lead.
Despite the fourth-quarter relapse into bad habits, the Dolphins showed some encouraging adjustments in their first three quarters of football back from the bye.
Several of the adjustments called for in this piece ended up playing out on the football field.
The team rolled Tannehill out of the pocket in order to take the edge off Buffalo's pass rush. They showed a heavy commitment to running the football on first and second down, which was a big change from the previous five games. The team called run plays for quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Most importantly, the offense inserted more misdirection in the ground game. They did so with the quarterback run calls, a fake fullback dive that ended with a toss to tailback Daniel Thomas and a wide-receiver reverse. The Dolphins needed to insert more hesitation in the defensive front, and they were able to do so.
Fourth-Quarter Run Defense
The Dolphins allowed the Buffalo Bills to gain an average of only 3.0 yards per carry on the ground. Normally, the effort would call for a much-deserved pat on the back.
However, with the game on the line following Tannehill's disastrous fourth-quarter fumble, the run defense allowed Buffalo to run the football six straight times for a total of 21 yards, including a 10-yard run on 3rd-and-4.
Tannehill's fumble put the Bills in position for a potential 51-yard field goal. Had Miami stopped Buffalo from gaining a first down, Dan Carpenter's kick would not have been automatic, as Miami found out themselves quite painfully during Carpenter's final season with the team.
Additionally, the offense would have gotten the football back with plenty of time to execute the offense and get into position for an answering field goal of their own.
By allowing the Bills to run all over them in that final drive, the defense claimed its own fair share of the blame for this defeat.
In such a tight game, there are many things that could represent the difference in the ballgame. If the Dolphins had been able to hold on to win, one such difference would have been special teams.
In the fourth quarter, the Buffalo Bills moved the ball to midfield before being forced to punt. They attempted to pin Miami inside their own 20-yard line, but failed.
Miami's next drive ended in a similar midfield stall. However, they succeeded in pinning the Bills inside their own 10-yard line. This helped the Dolphins force a crucial three-and-out which should have given them the chance to run the clock out and win the game.
Additionally, return man Marcus Thigpen's hero moment on his final kick return gave the Dolphins a legitimate opportunity to do something that had looked impossible with only 33 seconds left on the clock and no timeouts.
As stated in the previous slide, in a tight game, such as this one, any factor could have been the edge that won or lost you the game.
With the Dolphins losing the game, one glaring factor in that loss was the difference between the Bills and Dolphins in converting third downs.
The Bills converted nine of 19 third downs. That includes conversions of 3rd-and-17, 3rd-and-15, 3rd-and-11 and 3rd-and-9. It also includes a conversion on the ground on 3rd-and-4 late in the game, which helped Buffalo make it too difficult for Miami to mount a comeback on their final drive.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins converted zero of seven third downs in the first half and finished only 3-of-13. The difference in third-down efficiency had a big impact on the outcome of the game.
Encouraging signs from the run game were not limited to play-calling tendencies during the first three quarters.
The players were also much more efficient as a unit in gaining yards.
Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller combined for 103 yards on 21 carries. They both ran hard, broke tackles and made plays.
Despite the negativity that will come from this loss to a division opponent, the production from the running backs in this game is a very encouraging sign going forward.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill played poorly at the start of the game.
He failed to check off a receiving option when the player read the route and jumped in front of the receiver.
He also failed to notice Bills defensive back Aaron Williams floating backward in zone coverage, as the receiver Tannehill wanted crossed the field. This resulted in a costly interception in the end zone.
Finally, Tannehill had the ball stripped out of his hands on a second-down sack during the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
To some extent, there are mitigating circumstances surrounding these turnovers. The first interception was the result of predictability in play design, as rookie corner Nickell Robey was able to confidently predict the route and tendency based on what the offense showed. The final fumble was more the result of a bad play- call and a bad block by right tackle Tyson Clabo.
However, despite the circumstances, none of the turnovers are acceptable. Tannehill needed to play better, and he let his team down.
Through the first three quarters of the game, the Dolphins gave the impression that the pass protection had improved significantly.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill had not been sacked during the first three quarters. Furthermore, he had strong enough blocking on several plays that he was able to create big plays, such as his deep connection with receiver Mike Wallace and his second touchdown to receiver Brandon Gibson.
However, the fourth quarter made the improved pass protection look illusory. Tannehill took three sacks during the quarter, including one that was called back on a defensive-holding penalty. Several other times, Tannehill was pressured and hit in the pocket.
Tannehill did an admirable job staying patient and using his pocket sense to create opportunities. But at some point, the pass protectors just need to play better football. Do not be surprised if right tackle Tyson Clabo is benched prior to next week's game against the New England Patriots.