Who: Dolphins (10-5) at Buffalo Bills (12-3)
When: Sunday, January 3, 1:00 EDT
Where: Bills Stadium – Orchard Park, N.Y.
Weather: 35 degrees, 40 percent chance of snow showers, 9 MPH wind
Communicate Up Front
Like the Dolphins' rush scheme, the Bills' pass rush is multiple, comes in waves, and the production is spread throughout the unit. Six players have at least three sacks with eight pass rushers hitting the opposing quarterback at least six times this season.
In the absence of pressure from the opposing rush, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has 10 touchdown passes without an interception this season. Per Pro Football Focus, he's the only quarterback without an interception from a clean pocket. He's effective against extra rushers as well with a passer rating of 99.4 against the blitz.
The Dolphins start three rookies (when healthy) on the offensive line and the growth is measurable via the production. Miami quarterbacks have been under pressure on just 21 of 72 drop backs (PFF) in the last two victories. Buffalo's leader in QB hits is defensive end Jerry Hughes (11), but a pair of linebackers are tied for second with nine each (Matt Milano and A.J. Klein).
Identifying where the blitz comes from (eighth-most frequent blitzing team in the NFL), passing off the stunts and multiple looks, and getting the football into the hands of the playmakers should help Miami sustain drives, keep the Buffalo offense off the field and ultimately improve the Dolphins' chances to win.
Strength on Strength
Opposing quarterbacks have a cumulative passer rating of 85.3 against the Dolphins defense, fourth-lowest in the NFL. Josh Allen's 106.4 passer rating is fifth-best in the NFL.
In the Week 2 game in Miami, cornerback Byron Jones exited with a groin injury that would sideline him for the rest of that game and an additional two weeks. In the three games without Jones, Miami allowed 25.0 points per game compared to 17.3 PPG allowed in the 12 games with Jones in the lineup from start to finish.
Miami's four-most frequently targeted defenders (Xavien Howard, Nik Needham, Eric Rowe and Byron Jones) allow a collective completion percentage of 61.8 percent. The Bills' top four wide receivers in targets (Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, John Brown and Gabriel Davis) catch 71.4 percent of their targets.
Identifying which matchups are most attractive is one of the many challenges Dolphins Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer faces this week. He discussed the approach to crafting his plan for how to matchup against the opposition.
"I think it's a combination of all things. I think sometimes you have a pretty good idea going into it," Boyer said. "I think sometimes you can start one way and you can get into the week and you can go, 'this might be a little bit better.' Ultimately it comes down to you really just want to put the guys in the best position to succeed and based on what they've done, based on what our opponent does."
Running for the Turkey
In bowling, three-consecutive strikes is called a turkey. For the Dolphins, another stout showing in the ground game would make it three straight. Miami have rushed for 380 yards at 5.7 yards per clip over the last two games. It's cliché, but the importance running the football is magnified this time of year.
The Dolphins welcomed Myles Gaskin back into the fold in a big way Saturday in Las Vegas. His 169 yards from scrimmage were the most by a Dolphin this season, just one week after fellow running back, Salvon Ahmed, ripped off a Dolphins' season-high 122 yards on the ground in Week 15.
"Salvon had done extremely well obviously the week before so he got the start," Dolphins Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey said. "Then all of a sudden, Myles started running the football and getting some creases and making some plays, so he got the hot hand. That's how we've been doing it this year – whoever gets the hot hand, we let them go."
Regardless of who totes the rock, a strong running game jives well with Miami's stingy defense and will help create the desired level of balance on offense. If the game situation calls for it, the Dolphins commitment to the ground game could pay off as Buffalo's 4.7 yards per carry allowed is 27th in the NFL.
The Buffalo offense is sixth in scoring (29.7 points per game) and fourth in total offense (392.5 yards per game). The running game ranks 19th (109.7 rushing yards per game) and they are second in passing offense (282.9 passing yards per game).
Only two teams in the NFL have run more than 100 offensive plays from 10-personnel (four wide receivers). The Arizona Cardinals lead the way with 220 snaps from the grouping with the Bills second at 148 snaps. Their 705 snaps from 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) is the fifth-most snaps in the league from that grouping, providing an intriguing matchup with the Dolphins deep secondary. Buffalo rarely utilizes two backs, three tight ends, or heavy (extra offensive linemen) personnel. Those groupings account for less than 40 snaps collectively.
On defense, Buffalo's 35.1 percent blitz rate is the eighth-highest in the NFL. Their 22.1 pressure rate ranks 23rd in the NFL, according to Pro Football Reference.
The Bills defense is tied for 14th in scoring (23.3 PPG allowed) and 10th in total defense (345.7 YPG allowed). Their 122.9 rushing yards allowed per game is 20th and the 222.8 passing yards per game allowed is eighth-best in the NFL.
The Dolphins can finish anywhere between fifth and eighth in the AFC standings depending on the results of Sunday's action. A Dolphins win, or a loss by the Browns, Ravens or Colts, clinches a postseason berth for the first time since 2016.
The Bills have already secured a division title and, at minimum, the third seed. A Buffalo win or Pittsburgh loss gives the Bills the two seed. The Steelers announced this week that Mason Rudolph will start at quarterback as Ben Roethlisberger prepares for Wildcard weekend. McDermott didn't make as strong of a proclamation, stating that the team has a plan for the game that they will kept internal until game day.
We're back in the one o'clock window which means we'll have postgame coverage (a new Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield, recap story and Sunday spotlight) available after the game. John Congemi's three takeaways will post to MiamiDolphins.com, along with the photo gallery and additional postgame content. John joins Drive Time to breakdown the regular season finale Sunday night.