If the Buffalo Bills want to have a legitimate chance at making it to the playoffs this season, they’ll likely need to win two of their remaining three games. And they likely won’t have any better chance to get a victory than in their regular season home finale against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
The Bills are up against a Dolphins team that has a worse record than them, but they’re also a team that just beat the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football earlier in the week. Can the Bills take care of business at home?
Five things to watch for in the upcoming Bills-Dolphins contest:
1) How effective will Tyrod Taylor be?
- Now that it’s official and the Bills are getting starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor back on the field this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, it’s also quite fair to ponder just how effective he’ll actually be in the game. In his last four starts, the Bills have won only once — and worse yet, in all four games, the passing offense hasn’t done much of anything when the game was still able to be won. The passing offense was mostly stagnant against the New York Jets on Thursday night football, never really showing a threat to get the team back in the game even though ample opportunities were given. He managed to lead the Bills to a total of six points combined against the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots. We also can’t forget that when the Bills were trying to put away the Kansas City Chiefs in the second half, the offense generated only 69 net yards in those 30 minutes of play. In order to keep a firm grasp on his job past this week, the passing offense has to be able to balance out the running game and Taylor needs to push the ball down the field — something he’s really failed to do over his last four starts. Based on his recent performances and the presence of his knee injury, we might just be in line for another stagnant performance from the offense in which the running game has to bail them out time and time again. The Dolphins are going to try to force Taylor to operate within the pocket, and now he has to prove that these last four games were just a bad stretch, or it could mean his job next week with the pressure of the playoffs in the air.
2) Kenyan Drake is a complete mismatch
- The Bills will be going up against one of the best-performing running backs over the last two weeks in Miami’s Kenyan Drake. He’s turned in a pair of games with huge yardage totals and based on how they use him, it makes him the most dangerous entity of any player in this game. They line him up in the backfield, they line him up out wide, sometimes in the slot — basically, Dolphins head coach Adam Gase is taking full advantage of Drake’s extremely versatile skill-set. When running the ball, Drake can make his own luck even when a hole isn’t there, setting up a defender and then using him to his advantage to get the correct lane for big yardage. And then in the passing game, he’ll blow right past a defender and catch the ball in stride. He truly is a dynamic player. And if there’s one area that the Bills have really struggled on defense, it’s with stopping a rushing attack right up through the middle of the field, and with backs that catch the ball out of the backfield. They just haven’t had solid enough play from their defensive tackles and linebackers to stop both of these areas from becoming a problem this season. However, one thing that is different is the presence of rookie linebacker Matt Milano in the lineup. Milano is extremely athletic and the best coverage linebacker they have and is likely their best bet to try and slow down Drake on Sunday. It will be a tall task because the Dolphins are likely to feature him again just like they have the last two weeks.
3) How much Benjamin, if at all?
- The Bills will need Tyrod Taylor to fix the problems that he’s had in the passing game over his past four starts, but it would also help things if he had a healthy Kelvin Benjamin with him as a big part of the game plan. Unfortunately for the Bills, that likely isn’t going to happen. Benjamin was limited all three days of practice during the week, and even if he plays on Sunday — based on what was seen at practice — the knee is still providing a certain amount of discomfort to the player. The Bills said on Friday that they “feel good” about Benjamin’s likelihood of playing, but given his condition, it’s most likely that they lean on the duo of Zay Jones and Deonte Thompson for the majority of the wide receiver snaps on Sunday. If Benjamin is able to get some snaps for the Bills, Taylor has to do a better job of force-feeding targets to Benjamin. The wideout is slow out of his breaks and doesn’t gain much separation — especially not now with a banged up knee — but he’s great at winning contested catches. If Taylor refuses to target him in those scenarios like what we saw against New Orleans, then we could be looking at a fairly silent game from Benjamin yet again.
4) McCoy needs to control the game
- The Bills best hope for a victory in the game is the man that is very likely to surpass 10,000 rushing yards for his career on Sunday: LeSean McCoy. While the Dolphins do have a solid pair of run-stuffing defensive tackles, along with a super quick linebacker in Kiko Alonso, the Bills can do some damage on the ground against this defensive ends and the other two linebackers especially. With how poor the passing offense has played, the Bills will need McCoy to turn in a huge performance and to help the Bills control the clock while building an early lead. That’s been the formula for success this year for the Bills, without much success in their comeback attempts. If McCoy doesn’t dominate the game, or if the game script goes away from running the ball because the Bills are down then it’s likely going to be bad news for Buffalo.
5) Jarvis Landry has the potential to Keenan Allen the Bills
- Kenyan Drake is a mismatch for this Bills defense, and so is their slot receiver Jarvis Landry — who rivals any player in the league that lines up at that spot in an offense. And as we saw in Los Angeles with Keenan Allen, the Bills can get eaten alive over the middle of the field by a quick-footed route runner like him. While not as talented as Allen, Landry is just a tick below and can take over a game just as easily for a passing offense. Especially without a competent starting tight end on their team, Landry will be a huge target for Jay Cutler against the likes of nickel corner Leonard Johnson — who is just coming back from an injury, and is a bit slower out of the gates than you’d like against a player like Landry.
OUT: T Cordy Glenn (IR), G John Miller, QB Nathan Peterman
QUESTIONABLE: WR Kelvin Benjamin
OUT: G Jerman Bushrod
DOUBTFUL: QB Matt Moore, CB Cordrea Tankersley, S Michael Thomas, RB Damien Williams
QUESTIONABLE: DE Andre Branch, CB Xavien Howard, DT Jordan Phillips
Prediction: Dolphins over Bills
- Despite having a worse record than the Bills, the Dolphins — based on the way they’ve been playing and how it seems like they’ve started to figure things out for themselves this late in the season — have the more dynamic team heading into the week. The Bills are really going to struggle with the combination of Drake and Landry, and that could ultimately be what does them in on Sunday. However, anytime Jay Cutler is involved in a game, he’s shown a tendency to just have a complete clunker of a game that results in turnovers and multiple opportunities for the opponents to score points on shortened fields. The Bills secondary will have to hope that they can force Cutler into that version of himself, to really give this struggling offense a chance to pull ahead early in the game, and then effectively play keep-away with the ball as they run out time with LeSean McCoy. At the end of it, however, the lack of passing prowess for the Bills and the Drake-Landry combination and how they match up with the Bills’ defense is what leads me to the Dolphins picking up a victory over the Bills Sunday.