To blitz or not to blitz?
Either way, the Miami Dolphins’ defense was in trouble Sunday against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills.
The Dolphins simply could not get any heat on the Bills’ quarterback using a four-man rush in the 37-20 Buffalo victory. So Miami had to blitz as the game wore on. Either way, they gave up big plays to the Buffalo attack.
Miami has just 13 sacks this season, tied for last in the NFL. The Dolphins also were playing without their best pass rusher, injured Taco Charlton, who would not be the best pass rusher on any other NFL team.
The Dolphins are on pace for 21 sacks. Only one NFL team has posted fewer over the previous three seasons. (Oakland had a mere 13 in 16 games last year.)
Here’s a look at how the Bills sliced up Miami’s no-name defense on the plays that shaped the game:
1. A laser strike against Cover 2.
Allen showed off his big-time arm talent on the 40-yard touchdown pass to John Brown early in the second quarter.
Miami rushed only three men and played two deep safeties. Allen fired his pass 30 yards in the air on a rope down the right sideline, hitting Brown at the Miami 17, over the arms of underneath cornerback Nik Needham and before safety Bobby McCain had any chance to reach the sideline.
“He told me to just keep running, and he was going to throw it on a line drive,” Brown said.
"Yeah it was Cover 2, but that was my fault," Needham told reporters. "I’ve got to sink a little more. I’ve got to carry John Brown right there and be underneath him a little more and drift inside a little bit, so that was on me, for sure.”
Isaiah McKenzie was running from the left down the deep middle and was double-covered. Allen looked left before firing at Brown. McCain missed a diving tackle at the 7.
2. Beating an all-out blitz.
Allen’s second touchdown pass went for 23 yards late in the second quarter to Dawson Knox.
It was an all-out blitz by the Dolphins, with seven men rushing, but the Bills had perfect protection. Every lineman made his block, and Devin Singletary picked up blitzing safety Steven Parker.
That made it an easy throw over the middle to Knox, who caught the ball at the 16 and used his size to run through the tackle attempt by the lone deep safety, McCain, at the Miami 13.
3. No spy, no chance.
Miami ran a five-man pressure when the Bills faced a third-and-7 play from the Dolphins’ 8 midway through the third quarter. But there was no spy, and Allen took advantage of man-to-man coverage when he escaped the pocket.
The Bills lined up three receivers to the right. Knox ran a post pattern to the left middle of the field. Cole Beasley ran a hitch from the slot to the goal line. Brown, lined up wide to the right, ran a cross to the left along the back line of the end zone.
Those routes all served to clear out the right sideline, and it was a footrace to the right pylon on the goal line when Allen took off.
Linebacker Vince Biegel had no chance to catch Allen, and the QB was too fast for safety Reshad Jones, who was helping double-cover Brown but tried to beat Allen to the pylon.
4. Play-action works in red zone.
Miami dropped seven men into coverage on the Bills’ last touchdown, but a hard play-action fake created the space in the zone defense that Allen needed to throw another TD pass.
It was a first-and-goal play from the Miami 9. Allen ran a bootleg to the right after faking a handoff to the left to Devin Singletary.
The Bills took advantage of Miami linebacker Jerome Baker, who tends to bite hard to get downhill against the run. Baker went hard to the left to play the run fake, and Brown ran a crossing route behind him.
The middle of the field was wide open. The Bills had a three-receiver bunch on the right, and cornerback Jomal Wiltz was an extra defender on that side. But the Miami secondary's communication wasn’t good enough. Wiltz realized too late Brown was coming across into his zone. Allen had just enough space to fit his throw into the zone. Miami’s Jones got a piece of the ball at the line of scrimmage but not enough to prevent the TD.
5. Bad read-option defense.
Allen’s longest run of the game – 36 yards – took advantage of inexperienced Miami defensive end Avery Moss, a second-year player out of Youngstown State.
It was a read-option fake to Devin Singletary. Allen put the ball in Singletary’s stomach at the mesh-point and saw Moss crashing down on the running back. Allen pulled the ball out, and the right side of the field was wide open, thanks in part to a good block by tight end Tyler Kroft on cornerback Eric Rowe.
Allen was too fast for a diving Rowe and ran to the Miami 8. It set up a Stephen Hauschka field goal.