Bills vs. Dolphins preview: 5 key players to watch in Week 2

Harry Scull Jr. /Buffalo News

Written by John Sparaco

Following a disappointing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in their season opener, the Buffalo Bills (0-1) look to get back on track in a Week 2 divisional bout with the Miami Dolphins (1-0) at Hard Rock Stadium.

It was a disastrous performance for the Bills last Sunday, who were unable to get anything going offensively for a majority of the game. Pittsburgh’s defense suffocated Buffalo’s offense, holding them to just 16 points.

Among the most alarming shortcomings came from Buffalo’s offensive line, who were outmatched by Melvin Ingram, Cameron Heyward, and T.J. Watt. The offensive line allowed Josh Allen to get pressured 36.4% of the time according to Pro Football Reference while committing seven penalties, making life incredibly difficult for their quarterback.

Allen did not have his best day on Sunday, completing 30 of his 51 passing attempts for a total of 270 yards and one touchdown. While not terrible, Allen left quite a few throws on the field that he would most certainly want back.

On the bright side, Buffalo’s defense shined last week. They stepped up to the challenge of slowing down Pittsburgh’s rushing attack, holding promising rookie running back Najee Harris to just 45 yards on 16 carries. Additionally, the Bills significantly limited the effectiveness of the Steelers’ passing game, other than a few breakdowns in coverage. Buffalo’s defense did enough to win the game, but a costly blocked punt on special teams ended up being the difference in the score.

Having a short memory is key in the NFL, as the Bills must move on quickly and learn from their mistakes in preparation for a big game against their division rivals. Miami welcomes Buffalo into town one week after pulling off a close victory against another divisional opponent, New England, by a score of 17-16.

The Bills have had remarkable success against the Dolphins lately, winning seven of their last eight against them, most recently defeating Miami 56-26 during Week 17 of last season. Buffalo will look to continue that trend this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

Players to watch:

QB Josh Allen

Despite not having the best of his performances this past Sunday, there is arguably no team Josh Allen would rather see than the Miami Dolphins this weekend.

In Allen’s last five meetings with the Dolphins, he has won all five, averaging 264.2 passing yards per game while throwing 15 touchdowns and only two interceptions. During that span, he has been awarded AFC Offensive Player of the Week three times in those games. Allen recorded his first career 400-yard passing game against Miami early last season, even throwing for 224 yards and three touchdowns in just one half of action during Week 17 as well.

Miami possesses a talented defense with a versatile pass rush and depth in their secondary. However, they have been unable to solve Allen to this point. Allen presents problems as both a passer and a runner, which makes him especially difficult to contain given Miami’s heavy dosage of man coverage defensively. If Allen can get any sort of protection up front this weekend, look for him to have a big day once again.

DT/DE Christian Wilkins

If anyone has a chance at single-handedly disrupting Josh Allen’s hot streak against the Dolphins, it would be Christian Wilkins. 

Wilkins poses as the next challenge for the interior of Buffalo’s offensive line, which was dominated by Pittsburgh’s front. Wilkins had a sack taken away from him last week, but he has shown the ability to get after the QB.

One weakness in Wilkins’ game that Buffalo could attempt to exploit would be his inability to stop the run. Wilkins struggled heavily in that facet of the game last week against the Patriots, consistently giving up ground in the trenches by New England’s offensive line. In his defense, New England has a much stronger offensive line than Buffalo as of now, so he could very well bounce back this week.

Miami is without their other starter at defensive tackle, Raekwon Davis, which could ease things up a bit for Buffalo. Still, Wilkins is the energetic leader of that Miami defense and always brings extra juice whenever he plays Buffalo.

DT Ed Oliver

When Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was asked which player on his defense was primed for a breakout year in 2021, he answered with Ed Oliver.

Oliver got off to a strong start in Week 1, finishing with three tackles including one tackle for a loss. He created a noticeable difference upfront, showing the consistent defensive penetration fans have waited to see since he was selected with the ninth overall pick back in 2019.

Once again, Oliver is presented with a favorable matchup this week as the interior of the Dolphins offensive line is not much stronger than the one he faced last week. Oliver has had success against Miami in the past, accumulating 11 tackles and three sacks in four games. Watch for Oliver to make an impact once again this Sunday.

WR Jaylen Waddle

The Dolphins took Jaylen Waddle with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, and he already seems to have emerged as Tua Tagovailoa’s favorite target next to Devante Parker. Waddle was targeted five times, catching four passes for 61 yards and one touchdown in his debut.

Miami’s receiving corps is crowded, but while Will Fuller sat out with a suspension, Waddle continued to build on his chemistry with Tagovailoa dating back to their time as college teammates at Alabama. Tagovailoa had a passer rating of 157.3 when targeting Waddle against the Patriots, finding plenty of success when looking the rookie receiver’s way.

Fuller is expected to make his season debut against the Bills this week, but after missing so many practices this summer, it remains a mystery what his role will be in this offense. Due to Waddle and Parker’s already developed chemistry with Tagovailoa, they appear to be more realistic options to be heavily involved in the game plan this week.

Waddle has the speed to take the top off a defense, which poses a threat to Buffalo’s secondary. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have succeeded in taking away the deep ball, but if Waddle gets a favorable one-on-one matchup with any corner other than Tre’Davious White, he has the potential to break off a significant play.

LB Matt Milano

Matt Milano was a difference-maker in his first game since signing a big four-year to stay with the Bills in free agency this offseason. He finished the game with five tackles, two for a loss, and one pass breakup but the impact Milano had on the game was not completely reflected on the stat sheet.

Milano showed an extra level of physicality on Sunday, stepping up to take on blocks, shed them, and make plays. At one point, Milano read Roethlisberger’s eyes and dropped away from the tight end in coverage to deliver a massive hit on Steelers WR Juju Smith-Schuster and force an incompletion, setting the tone for the rest of the defense.

Milano excelled towards stopping both the run and the pass, making several crucial stops, particularly in the red zone. The Bills need another strong performance from Milano this week, especially when it comes to defending the middle of the field in coverage.

Just as they did in Week 2 last year, the Bills will sport their blue jerseys and white pants for their first road trip of the season. There is a slight chance of scattered thunderstorms in the forecast, so fans watching at home can only hope that history does not repeat itself by having the weather cut off the broadcast as it did in the second quarter last year.

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