The Buffalo Bills failed in a very basic fundamental of football Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
Missed tackles were a major factor in Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi piling up 214 yards on 29 carries, the driving force behind Miami’s 256 team rushing yards.
“We definitely have to tackle better than that,” coach Rex Ryan said Monday after reviewing the game tape. “It wasn’t just that. You have to give the kid credit – that running back ran hard and ran through some tackles, and they did a good job up front against us. But, yeah, that might have been … it certainly wasn’t what we were used to seeing.”
The analytics website Pro Football Focus charged the Bills with a whopping 16 missed tackles against the Dolphins, bringing their season total to 57 – fourth most in the NFL. Ryan said the team charts missed tackles in its film review of games, and that the issue “certainly wasn’t anywhere close to what it was yesterday.”
While PFF’s charting likely doesn’t match up exactly with the Bills’ film study, Ryan’s assessment appears to be accurate. The Bills came into Sunday’s game with 41 missed tackles, according to PFF, an average of about seven per game.
It’s easy to surmise that the absence of Marcell Dareus – who missed his third straight game because of a hamstring injury – finally caught up with the Bills.
“We’ve just got to step up. Injuries happen,” Ryan said. “Would we like to have Marcell Dareus playing when teams are running the football like that? Yeah. You’re darn right we would, but there’s no excuse. We know we can play better than we did.”
The Bills entered the game against Miami ranked 15th in the league against the run, allowing 103.2 yards per game. They woke up Monday morning ranked 27th, allowing 125 yards per game.
“I’m sick and tired of looking at that film. I’m sick and tired of talking about it,” Ryan said Monday. “We’re going to play them again and we’ll see what happens. … You know, am I sick about it? Yeah, absolutely. Nobody wants to … you know, I’m a better coach than that. I look at myself first. A performance like that hasn’t happened to me in a long, long time.”
In fact, it never has. The previous high for rushing yards by an opponent since Ryan became a head coach in 2009 was 247 by the San Francisco 49ers against the New York Jets in 2012.
Blame for the missed tackles was shared across the board Sunday. PFF charged Corey Graham with three, while Kyle Williams, Corbin Bryant, Lorenzo Alexander and Robert Blanton had two each. Nickell Robey-Coleman, Duke Williams, Leger Douzable, Preston Brown and Zach Brown all were charged with one each. For the season, Graham has been charged with a team-high nine missed tackles, while Zach Brown and Preston Brown are next with six apiece.
“You can live with 3-, 4-yard gains, but can’t allow a guy to have explosion plays,” Alexander said. It’s about “making sure that we tackle from the front end to the back end. We have to do a better job on defense of tackling and getting the guy down and not allowing 20-yard-plus type runs.”
Ajayi’s biggest run of the game came in the fourth quarter when he plowed through Blanton and Brown and was off to the races for 53 yards. Even though Miami didn’t score on that possession, it completely flipped the field position after the Bills had the Dolphins pinned at their 1-yard line to start the drive.
Ajayi shook off Blanton on his second-longest run of the day, which covered 17 yards late in the second quarter. On a 14-yard run in the second quarter, he shook off initial contact from Zach Brown to gain half his total on the carry. Ajayi had nine runs of 10-plus yards, which is tied for the third-highest single-game total in the NFL since 1960.
“Guys don’t want to tackle him,” Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry said. “It’s a credit to him and his hard work and his running style.”
It wasn’t just Ajayi, either. In the third quarter, Landry eluded a low tackle attempt from Robey-Coleman to turn what would have been a minimal gain into 21 yards.
“We talked about that the day I got this job – about building a bully. I used the wrong term, but what I meant was you want to be physical,” Ryan said. “You want to win the physical battle each week. And quite honestly, up until this point, we pretty much have … but we definitely got out-physicaled.”