The 7-7 Buffalo Bills hosted the 9-5 Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, New York. The following is my reaction to the game after watching the game live Saturday (controversial as it was Xmas Eve and then re-watching it in its entirety Tuesday morning. A pre-snap breakdown of the play call is followed by analysis and then a gif of the play. Go follow me on twitter @TomLikeFootball. Tweet @ me your thoughts and comments on the game.
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Narrative throughout the week
The Dolphins occupied sole possession of the 6th play-off spot heading into Saturday nights game. Four massive AFC match ups with huge play off implications were taking place in Week 16. The Dolphins were travelling to Buffalo to take on their divisional rivals the Bills; while Colts @ Raiders, Ravens @ Steelers, Broncos @ Chiefs, would give fans a clearer picture of the AFC play off race heading into the final week of the season.
The game at Buffalo promised to be a slug fest as both teams would look to overcome the elements (the forecast looked cold) and both teams would exchange blows with their though Defensive Lines and strong rung game. Rex Ryan has been something of a dead man walking the past two weeks as reports appeared to suggest that he was in danger of being fired imminently, yet the Bills players have bought into Ryan’s system and appear to be fired up and looking to win for their Head Coach. The following are the major narratives that emerged throughout the week:
- Matt Moore was exceptional against the New York Jets last week. 12-18, 66.67%, 236 yards, 4TDs & 1INT. It would be interesting to see how Moore followed this game up against the ever competitive Buffalo Bills.
- When Miami played Buffalo earlier in the season, RB Jay Ajayi had 214 yards, 1 TD off 29 carries (the week after his 209 yard performance vs. Pittsburgh). However, Jay Ajayi seemed to have slowed down the last week, in large part due to a banged up Offensive Line as Ajayi is constantly hit or harassed around the line of scrimmage. Ajayi is having a phenomenal season in terms of yards after contact and it will be interesting to see how Ajayi performs against a Bills Front Seven that has largely underperformed this season. The Bills also just gave up 107 rushing yards to the Browns, 240 to the Steelers, 139 to the Raiders and 183 to the Jaguars.
- LeSean McCoy’s huge season is something that I believe has gone under the radar this year. McCoy has 1,129 yards off 205 rushes (5.5 Average!) with 12 TDs. When the Bills and Dolphins met earlier in the year, a banged up Shady had just 11 yards off 8 measly rushing attempts. The Dolphins have given up 100+ rushing yards in 11 of their 14 games. Stopping McCoy as well as the athletic QB Tyrod Taylor was going to be a big ask for Miami.
- For the Dolphins to lock up a play off spot this weekend they need to: Beat the Bills + Denver lose to the Chiefs + Baltimore lose to the Steelers.
- At 9-5, Head Coach Adam Gase has delivering a winning season on his first attempt. This was something that previous Head Coach Joe Philbin failed to achieve in his three and a half years in Miami. The future looks bright for Miami and their young Head Coach.
- Pro-Bowl selections: DT Ndamukong Suh and DE Cameron Wake were elected to the Pro-Bowl throughout the week. RB Jay Ajayi and WR Jarvis Landry are first reserves.
- I saw a lot of talk throughout the week concerning Jarvis Landry’s contract status and his wider role within the Offense. I think Kenny Stills has proved his worth this season and DeVante Parker has flashed his huge potential despite missing a lot of time the last few years. Although Landry is not a conventional ‘number 1 receiver’ I do believe that Miami would be foolish to let him walk unless he’s talking top 5 WR money. Landry is a difference maker and he’s the sort of playmaker when you don’t need to script plays but let him get open and make people miss in the open field.
- Byron Maxwell hurt his ankle and missed the majority of the game @ Jets. Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett both had good games but it would be interesting to see who would line up opposite Sammy Watkins. I’m sure most ‘Fins fans remember him destroying Brent Grimes last year (?).
- Miami has not won in Buffalo since 2011. The last time that happened? Matt Moore was Miami’s QB and Reggie Bush went for 203 yards.
Matt Moore is a superb ‘back-up QB’
Adam Gase calls a play action pass here to change the launch point as he expects Buffalo to bite down on the run (they have also loaded the box). This is a great play call but the pass from Moore is extremely impressive. Moore throws across his body and hits his receiver in stride. Most NFL teams who have lost their starting QBs could only dream of having a back-up QB who could step under Center and deliver these types of strikes down field.
Kenny Stills’ 12 yard grab down the sideline
This next play is all about the timing of the route and Moore finding Stills will be a perfectly placed ball on time down the sideline where no-one except Stills can make a play on it. Again another excellent throw from Matt Moore.
Jay Ajayi 2 yard TD
This next play is more about football players making plays rather than Xs and Os. It is drawn up in Miami’s usual goal line set, Ajayi in the back field, Damien Williams at FB and a stacked line with TEs acting as blockers. TE Dions Sims and FB Damien Williams are the designated lead blockers while the entire Line will block to the right as Jay Ajayi should be able to beat the LB in a race to the corner. This play does not go according to plan as the Bills penetrate the Dolphins Line as they shoot right through the Dolphins gap blocking, however, Ajayi displays his strength as he keeps his legs driving while fighting off blockers.
Kenyan Drake 45 yard TD
This one again is not about Xs and Os or how its drawn up but Miami’s young playmakers making the most of broken down plays. We have already seen Drake’s athleticism with his huge TD return earlier in the season against the Jets and it is that break-away speed which is on full display here. Matt Moore also gets a crucial block down the sideline which allows Drake to accelerate to top speed. I am looking forward to seeing how Miami incorporate Drake into their Offense in his second year and how his snap count will look alongside Jay Ajayi and Damien Williams.
Huge 4th&1 Stop
Buffalo has called up a trap play, where LG Richie Incognito (yellow arrow, ex-Dolphin) is pulling and should clear out the A-Gap while the Bills FB will also provide a block to help the RB get the first down. The Dolphins stop the Bills on the 4th&1 due to the play of Ndamukong Suh (red arrow). He gets into the backfield immediately, hits and throws of Incognito forcing the Bills RB to change to the other A-gap where he is then stood up by Kiko Alonso.
Tyrod Taylor breaks contain and picks up a big 1st down
This is a huge 3rd down pick up for Buffalo and eventually leads the Bills scoring a TD. This play should never have been allowed and the Bills only manage to pick up a long 1st down as Andre Branch breaks contain and rushes inside. Here he is pushed further inside by the RT which allows Taylor to escape outside as OLB Spencer Paysinger, who is picking up RB LeSean McCoy, and MLB Kiko Alonso who is spying; are both too far away from the sideline to make the play. A costly error by Miami.
Sammy Watkins 38 yard TD
The Bills run three verticals out of the bunch formation while Woods on the left hand side run a 5 and in. This one does not need an Xs and Os draw up, simply watch Watkins at the bottom of the screen as he accelerates and flies past Xavien Howard who is caught flat footed in coverage. This is an important lesson for the rookie to learn as he must not get too confident and start to bite down on potential routes looking to get an Interception. The rookie DB must never let anyone get behind him and I am sure that he will re-watch this play numerous times throughout the week.
Jarvis Landry screen
The theme for this game seems to be playmakers making plays. Another example of on one-side very poor tackling by the Bills but on the other great determination by Miami to extend plays and break tackles to keep the chains moving. Jarvis Landry is not a ‘conventional no.1 receiver’ but its the plays like this which is why he is so valuable to a team. He can take a short screen pass and turn it into a big game dancing away from defenders in the process.
Matt Moore’s Interception
This was a horrible decision by Moore. Not only did he throw to the wrong target (Dion Sims was wide open for a big 15 yard play & potential TD), but Moore took an unnecessary risk considering the situation. 42 seconds left in the half and Miami is up by 7. They are on Buffalo’s 25 yard line and its only 2nd down. Moore throws a silly interception into double coverage when he could have had a TD by going to Sims or thrown the ball into the dirt and saved the field position to kick an easy FG putting Miami up by 10 before the break. Here is the look just after Moore releases the ball: Stills is clearly double covered as a Safety is helping out over top, while Sims is wide open.
DeVante Parker 56 yard TD
The Dolphins go with their empty set and have called a ‘Levels’ concept route hoping to find someone free in zone coverage. Here Moore finds WR DeVante Parker who shows his run after the catch ability and takes the ball 56 yards to the house. Another example of Miami’s playmakers stepping up and producing big for the Dolphins.
LeSean McCoy 19 yard TD
DE Mario Williams (light green) blocked way too easily, while OLB Jelani Jenkins (light pink) bites on the Sammy Watkins end around. CB Tony Lippett (brown) is in man coverage and therefore running from sideline to sideline following Watkins. Kiko Alonso ends up getting double blocked as Richie Incognito moves in the second level after chipping Suh to help out the RG. DE Jason Jones (yellow) is wiped out at his knees as the LT Chop blocks him, something that should have been flagged and overturned the TD. The Dolphins are simply out muscled on the Line of Scrimmage here and the End Around causes confusion. The players most at fault here at Mario Williams (lack of effort) and Jelani Jenkins who gets himself so far out of position.
Damien Williams 44 yard run after catch
Head Coach Adam Gase believes that the Bills are in man coverage and have put a single high safety to tempt Matt Moore into taking a shot deep. The Dolphins are looking to execute a natural pick play where Jarvis Landry’s route will interrupt the OLB looking to blitz from picking up Damien Williams. This should leave Williams open and in space with the ball where he will just have one single safety to beat as he accelerates down field. The Bill are actually in zone on the left hand side and the CB adjusts well as he breaks on the ball to stop Williams short of the 1st down. This play is all about Damien Williams as he stands upright following the tackle and makes defenders miss down the field to pick up a big 44 yard play.
Kenny Stills 6 yard TD
The Dolphins go with an empty set from 6 yards out. This play is all about waiting and seeing who can uncover from coverage. Moore has his eyes locked on Landry and when he sees that the CB is playing man coverage immediately snaps his head outside to see that the Bills are indeed playing man and that Stills has broken towards the sideline leaving the DB 3-4 steps behind him. Good play call and Moore digests what the Defense is giving him extremely quickly as he looks to what he presume is the most favourable route against man coverage. Moore displays his veteran knowledge here and gives the Dolphins a big TD to further extend their lead.
Sammy Watkins 53 yard catch
This big play occurs because Bacarri Rambo loses Sammy Watkins in zone coverage. The Dolphins are sending a blitz but playing Cover 3 which should eliminate any deep ball but leave them exposed on underneath routes. Unfortunately for Miami, the Blitz fails to get there and Taylor rolls out right and resets his feet. Sammy Watkins has been given 5 yards to get down field virtually untouched where Taylor sees him open and connects with him for the big 53 yard pick up.
Charles Clay 18 yard TD
Rookie CB Xavien Howard is beat to the post as Charles Clay runs inside and catches the ball on the 3 yard line. Safety Bacarri Rambo is perfectly positioned to make a big hit on Clay to try and force the ball free, however, Clay ricochet’s off the smaller DB and into the End Zone for a Bills TD.
Neville Hewitt sack
This play is all about OLB Neville Hewitt (red arrow) displaying his athleticism and straight line speed. Miami is playing Cover 0 here as everyone is playing man coverage. OLBs Neville Hewitt and Donald Butler are both blitzing the C-Gaps. The Dolphins have more men on the line than the Bills which results in Hewitt getting lost in the protection package. Neville makes the Bills pay as he explodes into the backfield and sacks Tyrod Taylor before he even hands the ball off to the HB. A great athletic play by the young OLB.
Charles Clay 7 yard TD
The Dolphins are playing man coverage again but are showing Double A Gap Blitz. Both LBs will drop back in coverage as Miami also has Bacarri Rambo as a lone safety. The Dolphins have Safety Michael Thomas lined up on TE Charles Clay (yellow). Clay gets the TD here as he beats Thomas inside on the right and Thomas gets his hips wrong as he fails to adjust quickly as Clay sits down between Thomas and the LBs in coverage.
Final Drive of Regulation
Kenyan Drake helped the Dolphins out massively by taking the ball 1 yard deep to Miami’s 38 yard line. This set the Dolphins up in great Field Position and severely reduced the distance needed to kick a long FG thus opening up more of the playbook for Head Coach Adam Gase. With no time outs at only 1:11 left, the Dolphins were able to call plays that would get receivers open over the middle due to the extra 13 yards Drake achieved on the KO compared to a touchback. The first play was an under thrown ball that was incomplete to Parker over the middle. The second play was an excellent throw to Kenny Stills for 17 yards as he sat down in the middle of the field between zone coverage. The Dolphins then spiked the ball and had 3 downs, 51 seconds to achieve a first down which would Miami right on Kicker Andrew Franks’ limit. Moore threw the next play incomplete to stop the clock as he feared taking a sack. Damien Williams then caught a pass and fought for extra yardage before being downed at Buffalo’s 40 yard line (Williams was in the line up over Ajayi for this drive). What happened next was pure clutch. Kicker Andrew Franks banged a 55 yard Field Goal, his career long was 53. Over time.
Jay Ajayi takes over the game, 57 yard run
Jay Ajayi takes the game over in Over Time with this long run that virtually seals the win for Miami. Great blocking upfront by the O-Line and both TE Dion Sims and WR DeVante Parker contribute big blocks which help seal off this long run for Ajayi. Ajayi manages to stay on his feet and break a tackle as he his hit on the Line but apart from that this small breakdown, Ajayi is able to hit the hole at full speed and move the Dolphins into Field Goal position to win the game.
The Dolphins organisation, front-office, upstairs, coaching staff, roster, have been solely focused on this one objective, since Adam Gase’s appointment on 9 January 2016. To have achieved making the post-season is a remarkable achievement by any rookie Head Coach. This is due to the fact that the Coach is inheriting someone else’s team and has not had 2-3 drafts to bring in ‘his own guys.’ After starting 1-3, most were prepared to write this season off as the first in a rebuild. However, Gase has flipped the script. The Dolphins have won 9 of their last 10 games and now sit 10-5 (the first time since 2008) and have guaranteed themselves a post-season game with a game to go. Adam Gase has done a tremendous job of not only changing the culture of this team, but also coaching these guys and getting previous regime’s free agents to buy in. Gase has to be in the conversation when in comes to Head Coach of the Year. He changes his emphasis on Offense week to week and has found a way to win games with banged up Offensive Lines, emerging RBs, uncertain franchise QBs and now back-up QBs. I also believe Defensive Co-Ordinator Vance Joseph deserves a lot of credit. This Miami coaching staff has made the play offs with a roster which is largely dysfunctional on Defense and ‘too young’ at many positions on both sides of the ball.
Jay Ajayi took this game over. He is the cog that keeps this Miami Dolphins Offense moving and in overtime he singlehandedly took Miami into Field Goal range to win the game. The Dolphins are 9-0 when they rush for 80+ yards and only 1-5 when they rush for less. Ajayi had a mammoth day: 32 carries for 206 yards (6.4 average) with a touchdown. His longest run of the day was a 57 yarder which came during over time. Kenyan Drake also chipped with excellent production and Damien Williams is proving to be an excellent third down back and playmaker in the red zone. Matt Moore played well this game. Moore’s performance today was better than more than 75% of what back-up QBs around the League would normally give you. His turnover was ugly and cost Miami a potential Field Goal but Moore is virtually guaranteed a turnover of some sorts every game. He has come in, in place of Tannehill and has not missed a beat. There have been 0 time outs wasted for not knowing the play call or getting people into position and Moore has been extremely impressive. Jarvis Landry had another good performance today that will not appear in the box score, as he is so electric with the ball in his hand. Sims, Stills and Parker had largely quiet games (apart from Parker’s impressive 56 yard TD catch and run). The Offensive Line was impressive and appeared to create more holes than it had the past month combined. Matt Moore was also NOT sacked the entire game.
On Defense Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh were as disruptive as ever. Wake got another sack, however, their high level performances unfortunately do no pop out if you only look at the box score. They were consistently shrinking the pocket while also keeping Tyrod Taylor contained. Wake got another sack putting his total for the season at 11.5, despite severely limited snaps earlier in the season. Mario Williams was poor yet again, and appeared to simply give up on some plays (what everyone feared). Terrence Fede played well at DE on his limited snaps and has now surpassed Williams in the depth chart in terms of snaps. While I love the energy Bacarri Rambo brings and he is great in run support, he is now a huge liability in pass coverage and was responsible for a number of Buffalo’s big plays down the field. Neville Hewitt had a good game and the young Linebacker is at times flashing his athleticism. If the Dolphins get a ‘true’ MLB either via free agency or the draft next year, it could be fun to see Kiko Alonso and Hewitt/ Jenkins flying round the corner on an OLB Blitz (if the Dolphins keep all these guys). Miami’s Defense was shredded for 589 yards (272 on the ground)! Yet the Dolphins still got the win. This Defense is severely lacking outside of Cam Wake, Ndamukong Suh and on 3rd down. Defensive Co-ordinator Vance Joseph and Head Coach Adam Gase appear to be working miracles with an under-manned roster. Play offs! Fins Up!
On to New England.