BILLS // DOLPHINS OVERVIEW
While the Dolphins are still technically in the thick of the AFC playoff picture at 5-6, no one is taking them seriously right now — and their average scoring margin of -5.5 (28th in the league) is a good indication of the smoke-and-mirrors approach this team has taken to notch that respectable record. This week, they will host a 4-7 Bills team that is, unsurprisingly, playing hard for Sean McDermott — who continues to get the most out of a weak group of players, one year after taking a below-average unit to the playoffs.
This game pairs two of the most offensively inept teams in the NFL, with the Bills ranked 31st in points per game and the Dolphins ranked 25th, and with each team ranked bottom five in yards per game. These teams also rank bottom five in drive success rate on offense. This games projects to tilt toward a slow-paced, run-leaning approach on both sides (Buffalo in particular should lean on the run, as they rank fifth in rush play rate even with all the losses, and the Dolphins face the third highest rush play rate in the league), with yardage and scoring somewhat thin for both sides. This is the first meeting between these teams this year, and it opened with an Over/Under of 38.5, with Miami installed as surprising 6.5 point favorites. Since opening there, this line has settled in place at Miami -5.0, with the Over/Under trickling up to 40.0.
BILLS PASS OFFENSE
Miami’s pass defense ranks top eight in fewest opponent air yards — which is more a function of teams choosing to attack them on the ground than it is of any major strength in the Dolphins’ coverage. This team is allowing a league-average aDOT and a league-average catch rate — and with YAC issues continuing to pop up for the Dolphins, they rank 28th in yards allowed per pass attempt. There are 24 teams that have faced more pass attempts than Miami, but only 11 teams have allowed more passing yards. Volume, scheme, and talent will be bigger concerns for the Bills’ passing attack than matchup. Miami does not have much of a pass rush, ranking 29th in sacks on the year, but with this team intercepting the second most passes in the NFL and giving away chunk gains on the ground, the Bills (28th in pass play rate in spite of constantly playing from behind) should lean run-heavy in this spot.
Josh Allen has topped 22 pass attempts only two times this season, and he has topped 10 completions only three times. He has an unbelievably poor 52.5% completion rate, and he has cracked 200 yards through the air only once all year — back in his first NFL start in Week 2. On the season, he has three touchdowns and five interceptions.
Volume will obviously be an issue for this team that has only produced viable wide receiver stat lines with Matt Barkley under center. The “best bet” (such as it is) for floor in this passing attack is Zay Jones, who can typically be counted on for four to six targets (in spite of his one-target dud last week). The best bet for ceiling is rookie speedster Robert Foster, who has five catches on seven targets across the last two weeks, for 199 yards. Foster has a legitimate floor of zero, but the Bills want to take the top off the defense a few times each week with downfield shots that take advantage of Foster’s speed and Allen’s arm. Three of Foster’s five catches have gone for 40+ yards.
BILLS RUN OFFENSE
The Dolphins have been one of the most attackable teams in the league on the ground, ranking 26th in yards allowed per carry while facing the fifth most rush attempts in the NFL. The only teams that have faced a higher opponent rush play rate this year are the Raiders and the Cardinals. Only two teams have allowed more run plays of 20+ yards than the Dolphins, and only two teams have allowed more run plays of 40+ yards. This team ranks 31st in Football Outsiders’ open field yards allowed.
All of this lines up nicely for LeSean McCoy, who has recent touch counts (starting from Week 12 and moving backward) of 18 // 27 // 14 // 18. Marring McCoy’s floor is his attachment to an offensive line that ranks 26th in adjusted line yards and an offense that ranks bottom three in yards per game, points per game, and drive success rate. He has only one game all year with more than 100 rushing yards, and only three games all year with more than 50 rushing yards. His floor concerns do not disappear in this spot, but his ceiling is boosted by the matchup.
DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE
The Bills have presented one of the most challenging pass game matchups in the NFL this year — ranking top five in both shallowest aDOT allowed and lowest YAC per reception rate allowed, creating a difficult spot for a run-first offense that is loath to take shots downfield. Across his six starts, Ryan Tannehill has topped 25 pass attempts only once, he has topped 230 passing yards only once, and he has an average depth of target of 7.5 — 10th lowest in the league. Upside has been difficult to find against the Bills’ pass defense this season, and upside has been almost impossible to find in the Dolphins’ pass “attack.” Wide receiver opportunities on this low-volume attack are further dented by 20.1% of Tannehill’s passes going to Kenyan Drake this year.
The toughest matchup on the Dolphins will go to DeVante Parker, who should square off with shutdown corner Tre’Davious White for much of this game. Quarterbacks have largely avoided receivers against White this season, with only 32 targets thrown in his direction through the first 11 games (per Pro Football Focus). He has allowed 16 catches and one touchdown on the year.
Kenny Stills saw a boost in usage with Tannehill back under center last week, but his four targets produced only one receptions and six yards. As noted last week: Tannehill connected with Stills on two deep targets through the first three weeks of the season. Stills will need one of those plays in order to sniff relevance this week. No team has allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Bills, and no team has allowed fewer pass plays of 40+ yards, making this a challenging spot for Stills to hit.
Danny Amendola struggled to stay on the field last week with a knee issue (14 snaps), opening 22 snaps for Brice Butler and 22 snaps for Leonte Caroo. Butler saw one target. Caroo saw two. If Amendola plays this week, he’ll have the best shot at floor, working this defense over the middle, though even if we take away his one target game last week on limited snaps, he has averaged 4.0 targets per game in Tannehill’s starts, compared to 8.2 targets per game with Osweiler under center.
DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE
Because the Bills have allowed 15 touchdowns to running backs (tied with the Giants and Chiefs for the fourth most in the league), they have built a reputation as an attackable unit on the ground — but as we have explored the last few weeks, this team is solid on a per-play basis, ranking 11th in yards allowed per carry and ranking middle of the pack in receiving yards allowed to the position. Turnovers have been the big story of the Bills’ season, as they have given the ball away the third most times in the league — leading to short fields and easy scoring opportunities for opponents (with these opponents often taking advantage on the ground as they play with a big lead). As such, it is worth noting that the Dolphins’ defense ranks third in the league in turnovers forced — which may open a few scoring opportunities for their backfield. These scoring opportunities will be necessary, as Frank Gore (29 of 54 snaps last week) and Kenyan Drake (24 of 54 snaps last week) continue to split time on an offense that ranks 30th in time of possession and 31st in plays per game. Gore has cracked 70 rushing yards only twice this year, and he has added 10 total catches and one touchdown through 11 games. Drake has topped eight carries only once in his last five games. He boasts the most upside in this backfield with explosive ball-in-his-hands ability and six or more targets in five of his last seven games. He’s a low floor play, but his point-per-dollar ceiling is higher than most realize. The Bills have faced the sixth most running back targets and allowed the eighth most running back receptions, while Drake quietly has seven touchdowns on the season.
I imagine Allen will see at least 2% or 3% ownership in tourneys for his low price and his rushing upside — though volume will be a concern in this spot, and the floor is about as low as any quarterback on the slate. He’s not the type of play I like to target (I’m looking for a much higher floor than this), but he does retain a thin shot at upside. Obviously, I also do not expect to have any interest in his pass catchers — though if building multiple rosters for large-field tourneys, there is a legitimate case to be made for taking a shot on Foster. Think of him the way you would have thought of Eric Ebron when Doyle was active: as a guy who could truly get you zero points, but who is going to be given a couple opportunities for strong point-per-dollar upside each game.
Shady McCoy will slide somewhere onto my early-week Player Grid, though it’s too early in my research to know if he’ll still be there by the time the Player Grid is posted. My hunch is that he will be there (in Tier 3, of course), simply because a solid-volume running back against this Dolphins defense just carries too much upside to ignore; but attached to this offense and this offensive line, he still has a dud floor, making him more appealing in tourneys than in cash games.
I have rarely attacked the Bills’ pass defense this season, and a 13-game slate is not the place where I will look to change that with a poor, low-volume Dolphins attack. There is nothing in the Dolphins’ pass game that stands out as anything more than a complete and total dart throw.
In the Dolphins’ backfield, Drake is actually interesting in tourneys as a guy who should see five or six targets and six to eight carries — with big-play upside and a decent shot at a touchdown against a Bills team that has been generous to enemy backs in and around the red zone. The floor here is low, but as Drake has shown a couple times this year: the price-considered ceiling is much higher than most have noticed, and he can be a difference-maker in his price range on weeks when he hits.