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Observations: Defense turns in a dominant performance in laugher over Miami

Observations: Defense turns in a dominant performance in laugher over Miami

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Devin Singletary

Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) rushes for a touchdown past Miami Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones (24) in the first quarter at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. on Sunday.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – It was apparent from the first snap from scrimmage that the Buffalo Bills’ defense came to play Sunday.

Nickel cornerback Taron Johnson raced around the edge on a blitz and dropped Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa – a sign of things to come at Hard Rock Stadium during the Bills’ 35-0 victory.

For the Bills’ defenders, however, there was a feeling even before the game started that was something big was on the way.

“Honestly, I feel like we felt it during the week,” safety Micah Hyde said after the rout was over. “We were just so focused and the plan that we had in place, the plan the coaches put together, we felt it. We loved it. We loved the calls that” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier "was making throughout the week.

"We knew that once we got into the game, we had a clear understanding of what they do and what we were going to do against them.”

What they did was dominate from start to finish in pitching the first shutout of the Sean McDermott era. The last time the Bills held an opponent scoreless was Oct. 2, 2016, against the New England Patriots.

“Hats off to our defense,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “Goose egg in the NFL, that doesn't happen too often. We got to appreciate these types of moments and the type of plays that our guys made today. That was awesome to see.”

Two plays after Johnson’s sack, it was Hyde’s turn. He got his first sack with the Bills in his fifth season with the team on another perfectly called defensive play.

Frazier “was dialing it up, man,” Hyde said. “There were a few times we came off the field and I was dabbing 'Fraz' just because it was excellent calls. Mixing it up, sending guys. You know, we were able to get a lot of pressure on first and second down, and also on third down. The guys up front were eating. Just an excellent job by 'Fraz.' When we had the communication throughout the week of what calls we were going to make, whether it's first down, second down, third down, we'll all have a good understanding, from the coaches to the players: ‘This is how we come out and execute. This is how we play.’ ”

Tagovailoa, Miami’s second-year starter, didn’t make it out of the first quarter against the ferocious pass rush. On the Dolphins’ second possession, they faced fourth-and-2 from the Bills’ 48-yard line. Miami coach Brian Flores elected to go for it. On the play, Bills defensive end A.J. Epenesa blew past Dolphins right tackle Jesse Davis and got a clean shot on Tagovailoa, forcing an incompletion and turnover on downs.

Tagovailoa couldn’t make it to the sideline without help from the training staff and was quickly carted to the locker room. The Dolphins announced Tagovailoa as being questionable to return because of an injury to his ribs, before officially ruling him out at the end of the third quarter.

Dolphins backup Jacoby Brissett, who was the starting quarterback for the Patriots during Buffalo’s last shutout, faced similar heat in Tagovailoa's place. Rookie defensive end Greg Rousseau got his first career sack and the Bills’ third of the first quarter when he dropped Brissett on a third-and-4 play, setting up a Miami punt. The three first-quarter sacks fell one short of matching the team record of four set on Nov. 26, 2000 against Tampa Bay.

“You definitely want to continue to put pressure on the offense, understanding that they're starting quarterback is out,” safety Jordan Poyer said. “The backup may have not got as many reps that week, so you just want to continue to put pressure on him, continue to show different looks and try to confuse him.”

The Bills have allowed just one offensive touchdown against through two games, and did not allow a point in the first half for the second consecutive week, which is the first time that’s happened since the 1999 season.

The Bills finished with six sacks – resulting in 37 lost yards for the Dolphins – and 11 quarterback hits.  

“It looked like when given the opportunity, they were affecting the quarterback early, and I liked that,” McDermott said. “Just in terms of what they were doing, I thought Leslie called an aggressive game and did a nice job letting those guys go, too, with a four-man rush once in a while. I always say the rush and the coverage have to work together, and I thought the back end was doing their part also."

2. Taron Johnson stars, and the Bills win the turnover battle. A week after not forcing a takeaway, the Bills logged two on defense in the first half alone Sunday. Cornerback Levi Wallace had an interception and linebacker Matt Milano recovered a fumble that was forced by cornerback Taron Johnson.

When a reporter in their postgame news conference started a question about Johnson’s performance, Poyer and Hyde didn’t even need to hear the whole thing.

“He’s a dog,” Poyer said.

“Best nickel in the league,” Hyde added.

“Pound for pound, just the best nickel in the league,” Poyer continued. “This dude just comes to work every single day just believing that he's the best. He went out there. To me, it was amazing watching him play today. You don't even got to finish the sentence. Just the way he played today was incredible. Incredible.”

Johnson stuffed the stat sheet with two passes defensed, a sack, a forced fumble and four tackles.

“Just very active,” McDermott said. “He's really growing in our system and it's fun to watch him kind of understand the intricacies of the game, how he prepares himself during the week. I think it's really a credit to him and what Jim Salgado, our nickels coach, does with him and him getting ready to go like he was.”

The Bills also recovered a muffed punt by the Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle, winning the turnover battle 3-2.

“We talked about it last week. Takeaways is a big part of the game,” Hyde said. “You win the turnover battle, you'll most likely win the football game. So we wanted to come out here this week and we wanted to do just that.”

3. The Bills dominated on fourth down. They don’t register as takeaways, but the Bills stopped the Dolphins four times on fourth down, resulting in a turnover on downs.

Epenesa forced the incompletion on Miami’s first fourth-down attempt; cornerback Dane Jackson made a great tackle of Dolphins running back Malcolm Brown a yard short of the sticks on the second; Johnson broke up a pass intended for Preston Williams on the third; and Brissett threw incomplete on fourth-and-3 with just more than a minute left as the Bills’ defense preserved the shutout.

“Get off the field. That's what we preach and that's what we weren't able to do last week in the second half,” Hyde said. “We were just men on a mission this week. We wanted to come down here and get a win.”

4. Dawson Knox got into the end zone. It seems like the harder the play, the more likely it is the Bills’ tight end will make it. Knox showed that in the third quarter when he made a sliding catch in the end zone to cap a strong drive for the Bills coming out of halftime. Buffalo went 75 yards in eight plays, taking 3:12 off the clock and giving itself some separation after a sometimes frustrating first half.

“I thought there was good communication leading into halftime by our offensive staff and came out and got into a better rhythm in the second half there,” McDermott said. “Brian Daboll did a really good job with that and Josh seemed to find his rhythm, as well. I didn't think we were really into a rhythm in the first half, even though we scored 14. So, it was good to see that in the second half."

5. Wallace left the game in the second quarter. The Bills’ cornerback went out of the game with 10:44 remaining in the first half because of cramping. Wallace had an eventful game before getting hurt. He was flagged for taunting after making a nice play to break up a Brissett pass intended for DeVante Parker. Two plays later, he came up with his interception.

Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds also left the game in the second half because of cramping. It’s unclear if Edmunds could have returned if the score was closer.

6. Tyler Bass fell one short. The Bills’ second-year kicker saw his streak of consecutive made field goals end at 17 when he missed wide right from 53 yards out in the second quarter. Bass’ streak ended up one short of Rian Lindell’s team record.

7. Allen eclipses 10,000. Allen moved past 10,000 career passing yards in his 45th career start, the same number of starts that it took Jim Kelly to reach the milestone. He also passed Drew Bledsoe for fifth on the franchise's career passing yards list. Bledsoe amassed 10,151 yards in 48 games. Ryan Fitzpatrick is fourth, with 11,654 yards in 55 games. 

8. Star Lotulelei returned, while Harrison Phillips sat. Lotulelei, the veteran defensive tackle, missed the season opener against Pittsburgh because of a calf injury. He was listed as questionable on the final injury report leading up to Sunday’s game. On one play in the second quarter, the Dolphins blocked Lotulelei with three – count ’em, three – offensive linemen.

With Lotulelei in the lineup, defensive tackle Harrison Phillips was a healthy inactive. Phillips played 21 snaps last week against the Steelers, finishing with one quarterback hit.

9. Gabriel Davis gave it a go. Davis, who was listed as questionable on the final injury report because of an ankle injury, was able to play. He finished without a target.

10. Efe Obada missed the game because of a calf injury. The defensive end was hurt during the practice week. He came into the game listed as questionable. The Bills’ remaining inactives were the same from Week 1 as rookie defensive end Boogie Basham, rookie offensive tackle Tommy Doyle and linebacker Andre Smith all sat for the second consecutive game.

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News Sports Reporter

I started at The Buffalo News in 2009, and have previously been honored as one of the top 10 beat writers in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors for my coverage of the Bills. I live in Amherst with my wife, Melissa, and son, Elliott.

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