MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Grading the Buffalo Bills in their 37-20 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium:
RUNNING GAME: A
It started well, with Devin Singletary ripping off a 22-yard run on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Short yardage, an area the Bills had struggled in earlier this season, was a strength. Quarterback Josh Allen converted a pair of third-and-1 situations with keepers, while veteran Frank Gore picked up a fourth-and-1. Singletary finished with 15 carries for 75 yards. He showed toughness in running between the tackles. He did have some early issues on first down. After his 22-yard run, his next four first-down carries went for 1, zero, minus-2 and 3 yards, respectively. He also fumbled twice, which the Bills were lucky to get back each time. That’s something to try to fix moving forward, but it’s much easier to do so after a win. With 55 rushing yards, Allen had his most productive day on the ground of the season, with most of the damage coming on a 36-yard keeper in which he burned the Miami defense with a fake handoff to Singletary before taking off down the right side. Gore grinded out 25 yards on 11 carries, while Isaiah McKenzie’s lone run went for 10 yards.
PASSING GAME: A
This was Allen’s best game of the season, and probably his career, given what was at stake. The Bills had to have this game after a loss to the Browns in Week 10 significantly tightened the AFC playoff race. Allen responded with a career-best 117.1 passer rating, going 21 of 33 for 256 yards and three touchdowns. There were moments of inaccuracy, but that’s nitpicking. Allen took care of the football and made some big-time throws. The best example was on his 40-yard touchdown pass to John Brown in the first half – an absolute laser down the right sideline. Allen put the ball in spots that gave his receivers chances to make plays after the catch, such as when Dawson Knox broke a tackle and scored from 23 yards out. Brown was a beast, finishing with nine catches for 137 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He has 817 receiving yards, which ranked seventh in the league at the conclusion of Sunday's early games. He’s been an absolute home run as a free-agent signing.
RUN DEFENSE: A+
The tone was set on Miami’s first play from scrimmage, when linebacker Lorenzo Alexander buried the Dolphins’ Kalen Ballage for a 5-yard loss. On the next play, Ballage was stopped for no gain by middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Levi Wallace, and the run defense was officially rolling. Buffalo limited Miami to 23 rushing yards, a total that included just 7 yards on eight carries in the first half. Thr 23 yards were the least that the Bills have allowed since giving up 14 to Minnesota in Week 3 last season. After the run defense gave up more than 100 yards on the ground in the first half of the last two games, the improvement Sunday was dramatic. Buffalo’s success on the ground, combined with the offense finally putting up some big numbers, turned Miami into a one-dimensional team. That was defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s stated goal coming in, and his team came through. Edmunds, who talked in front of the team Saturday, showed up in a big way, leading the defense with a season-high 12 tackles. The only down note for the run defense is that it did allow a pair of rushing touchdowns, but that doesn’t take away from an otherwise excellent performance.
PASS DEFENSE: B+
The success against the run allowed the pass rush to have its best game of the season. The Bills did allow Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw for 323 yards, but a significant portion came after the Bills went ahead by three scores with about 10 minutes left to play. There was an uncharacteristic coverage breakdown that led to DeVante Parker picking up 50 yards in the first quarter, setting up Miami’s first touchdown. Linebacker Matt Milano had a pair of passes defensed, including one that nearly turned into a spectacular interception on after he tipped the ball in the air. Edmunds had the other pass defensed in what was a great showing for the team’s two every-down linebackers. Defensive tackle Corey Liuget was penalized for roughing the passer.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D-
I won’t be offended if you want to skip over this part. Call it the Danny Crossman revenge game as the former Bills special-teams coordinator decidedly got the better of his replacement, Heath Farwell. The Bills' first-year coordinator probably shouldn’t do a Twitter search of his name. It was bad enough when the Bills got tricked on a Miami onside kick that was successfully recovered by the kicker, Jason Sanders. It got worse from there, though, when the kick coverage team allowed a 101-yard touchdown return by Jakeem Grant in the second quarter, which enabled the Dolphins to hang around in a game for longer than they should have. Kicker Stephen Hauschka’s tackle attempt was less than stellar. Otherwise, it was a solid game for Hauschka, who hit field goals of 51, 34 and 21 yards and extra points. Punter Corey Bojorquez had a second consecutive solid game, finishing with five punts for 218 yards. His gross and net punting average was 43.6, as he forced four fair catches and had his other punt go out of bounds. The performances of Hauschka and Bojorquez saved what otherwise would have been an F.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll moving upstairs to the booth looks like a stroke of genius after one game. There weren’t many play calls to take issue with, but I’ll find one. The 50-50 ball intended for Brown in the first quarter doesn’t seem to fit the receiver’s skill set. Again, though, that’s nitpicking. I liked the aggressiveness of McDermott going for it on fourth-and-1 in the first quarter instead of trying a 40-yard field goal. The Bills didn’t end up scoring a touchdown on the drive, but I liked the mentality. McDermott even won a challenge. In the bigger picture, the Bills responded after a loss for the third consecutive time this season. It’s significant that there hasn’t been so much as a two-game losing streak. It’s a sign that McDermott has been able to refocus his team, even when there have been so many questions about it, even after wins. Frazier dialed up the pressure at all the right moments, particularly with Edmunds and Milano up the gut.
Story topics: Bills Report Card/ Brian Daboll/ Corey Bojorquez/ Corey Liuget/ Danny Crossman/ Dawson Knox/ Devin Singletary/ Frank Gore/ Heath Farwell/ Isaiah McKenzie/ John Brown/ Josh Allen/ Leslie Frazier/ Matt Milano/ Ryan Fitzpatrick/ Sean McDermott/ Stephen Hauschka/ Tremaine Edmunds