Things to watch for in Dolphins-Bills Saturday night game – The Denver Post


The Miami Dolphins (8-5) visit Buffalo (10-3) for an 8:15 p.m. Saturday night matchup at Highmark Stadium. The Dolphins, who have lost back-to-back games on this three-game road swing, defeated the Bills, 21-19, in September. But Buffalo, which can clinch a playoff berth with a victory, enters Saturday’s game riding a four-game winning streak. Here are some things to watch for:

Tua’s performance

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa must be better Saturday than he’s been the previous two games or the Dolphins will lose. That’s the starting point for this game. In the past two games, losses to San Francisco and the Los Angeles Chargers, Tagovailoa was 28 of 61 (46%) for 440 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He missed open receivers with errant throws, and didn’t seem comfortable in the pocket. That’s not the same quarterback we saw earlier this season, the guy who led the league in passer rating for much of the year.

Tagovailoa must lead this offense with the confidence and accuracy he had during Miami’s five-game winning streak. Yes, the Dolphins must run the ball better, receivers must catch passes better, and the Dolphins must convert third downs. But it all starts with Tagovailoa being better. Tagovailoa being better will likely bring better results than coach Mike McDaniel dramatically altering the game plan.

Third downs

This goes both ways, offense and defense. Offensively, the Dolphins are 23rd in the league on third-down conversions at 37.8%. The causes are multiple, but an inability to run the ball on first and second downs and get into third-and-manageable is part of the problem. The Dolphins are 29th in rushing at 89.8 yards per game. The inability to convert third downs leads to time of possession issues such as against the Chargers, who almost doubled the Dolphins (39 minutes, 38 seconds compared to 20:22), and the 49ers, who did double the Dolphins (40:34 to 19:26).

Defensively, the Dolphins are 25th on allowing third-down conversions at 42.6%. Again, the causes are multiple but the Dolphins are 23rd in passing yards allowed at 242.5 per game. Clamp down on that, both with the secondary and pass rush, and the third-down situation should improve.

Dolphins in cold weather

This issue is way, way overstated. You’re in the NFL so you’ve probably played in cold weather in high school, college or some other point in your pro career. Yes, the forecast calls for temperatures in the mid to low 30s with a chance of snow. And, yes, the Dolphins have played in pristine conditions all season. But it’s not as though all Dolphins players grew up in South Florida and lived here their entire lives.

As McDaniel said, cold weather won’t be an excuse. Of course, it’s not a good look that the Dolphins had warmers behind the bench for last Sunday’s Chargers game when the temperature was in the mid 50s. But whatever. Weather wasn’t a huge factor with the Dolphins in the 1970s, when they had to travel to Buffalo, New England, New York and Baltimore, or in the 1980s, when quarterback Dan Marino was running the show. Win the game, regardless of weather conditions.

Pass defense vs. Buffalo QB Josh Allen

We briefly mentioned the pass defense earlier in relation to third downs, now we mention it in relation to Buffalo’s Allen. The Dolphins must find a way to disrupt Allen (26 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 95.5 passer rating, 10th in the league), one of the NFL’s best. A Dolphins pass rush led by the trio of Bradley Chubb (2.5 sacks with the Dolphins; 8.0 sacks for the season), Jaelan Phillips (6.0 sacks) and Melvin Ingram (6.0 sacks) is a good start.

Allen has been sacked 28 times, which is tied for 19th-most, which means his protection is respectable but not great (for perspective, the Dolphins have allowed 28 sacks). The thing to remember is Allen is the Bills’ second-leading rusher at 628 yards, a scant 12 yards behind Buffalo running back Devin Singletary (642). You’ll recall the Dolphins allowed Chicago quarterback Justin Fields 178 yards rushing, an NFL regular-season record for a quarterback, and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson had a 79-yard touchdown run. The Dolphins must limit Allen in the air and on the ground.

Dolphins vs. teams with records over .500

This season’s trends against good teams don’t favor the Dolphins. The Dolphins are 3-5 against teams .500 or better; are on a five-game losing streak against teams .500 or better (New York Jets, Cincinnati, Minnesota, San Francisco, Chargers); and are on a four-game road losing streak against teams .500 or better (Jets, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Chargers).

Plus, the Dolphins haven’t beaten a team .500 or better in two months. The good news among all of that? Buffalo is the last .500 team the Dolphins beat with their 21-19 victory on Sept. 25.



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