Written by John Sparaco
In just two weeks, the Buffalo Bills have trounced both the defending Super Bowl champions and last year’s top seed in the AFC. Heading into Week 3, the Bills travel to Hard Rock Stadium with the hope of continuing their success against another unique challenge in the Miami Dolphins.
Buffalo’s home opener ended a lot like their season opener, running away with a massive lead in a dominant second half showing. Their defense silenced Derrick Henry, who tormented them a year ago, holding him to just 1.9 yards per carry on 13 attempts.
Even without their other top wideout, Gabe Davis, the Bills’ offense clicked on all cylinders. Tennessee had no answers for Buffalo’s passing game. Stefon Diggs had a monster performance, catching 12 passes for 148 yards and three touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey kept the opposing defense off balance all night, finding creative ways to get everyone involved. The best example of this occurred during the team’s first trip to the red zone, where they executed a fullback screen, which Reggie Gilliam took 11 yards into the end zone after shaking off a defender behind the line of scrimmage. Even Jake Kumerow, who normally plays most of his snaps on special teams, caught two passes for 50 yards while starting in Davis’ place.
Perhaps the biggest shocker of the night was that Sam Martin finally got his first opportunities to punt. Ironically, his first attempt was muffed by Tennessee and recovered by Buffalo. His second attempt? Also muffed. Even when the Bills punt, they seem to find ways to turn it into a positive play. Paired with a defense that is playing lights out, Buffalo appears to be a team that will be extremely difficult to stop. However, a good amount of people feel the same way about their next opponent in Miami after what they did last Sunday.
- Huge wins for both teams: While Buffalo’s game ended up with Josh Allen exchanging his helmet for a baseball cap with a 41-7 lead in the third quarter, Miami’s game went in a different direction. Trailing the Baltimore Ravens 35-14 in the fourth quarter, Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins’ passing game exploded down the final stretch, connecting for four touchdowns in the final 12 minutes to win the game, 42-38. Tagovailoa finished the game with a career-high 469 yards passing and six touchdowns through the air on 36 completions, snatching the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award right out of Lamar Jackson’s grasp. Like Buffalo, Miami has earned a lot of praise for their high-powered offense, generating plenty of hype for this week’s AFC East showdown.
- Bit by the injury bug: Buffalo entered their Week 2 matchup with some key injuries already, as Ed Oliver (ankle), Gabe Davis (ankle) and Tim Settle (calf) were all ruled out prior to the game. After Monday night, the Bills exited with an injury report that reads longer than a CVS receipt. The biggest concern took place in the second quarter, when starting cornerback Dane Jackson took a hard accidental hit to the head/neck area by his own teammate. He was placed on a stretcher and taken off the field in an ambulance, which transported him to ECMC Hospital for evaluation. After various tests, it was determined that there were no major injuries to his neck or spinal cord, so he was able to walk out of the hospital on his own. In addition to the injuries mentioned above, Micah Hyde (neck) and Jordan Phillips (hamstring) have already been ruled out for Sunday, along with Jackson. Oliver will not play for the second consecutive game either. Jordan Poyer (foot) and Dawson Knox (foot) have also missed at least one practice this week. Update: On Saturday afternoon, Hyde’s agent, Jack Bechta announced that the Bills’ safety is being placed on IR and expects a healthy return in 2023. A massive blow to Buffalo’s secondary.
- Josh Allen’s fish fry: Wikipedia lists Stephen Ross as the owner of the Miami Dolphins, which is technically true. However, anyone can edit Wikipedia. At the conclusion of Bills vs. Dolphins games for the past few years, someone has often changed the owner to Josh Allen as a joke. That being said, it is hard to argue their point. Since Allen entered the league in 2018, he has a 7-1 record against the Dolphins, posting a 106.8 passer rating with 1,980 yards, 25 total touchdowns (four rushing) and just five interceptions. Allen looks to continue his dominance against Miami’s new regime.
- Sunshine state connections: The Buffalo Bills’ organization has no shortage of ties to Miami and the Dolphins organization. Bills’ Reid Ferguson and Dolphins’ Blake Ferguson are the only pair of brothers to be long snappers in NFL history. Mike Shula, the son of Hall of Fame Dolphins head coach Don Shula, currently serves as a senior offensive assistant on Buffalo’s staff. Defensive end Greg Rousseau, safety Jaquan Johnson and offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey each played their college ball for the University of Miami, where Dorsey remains as the Hurricanes’ winningest quarterback in school history. Lastly, seven players on the Bills roster are natives of South Florida, including James Cook, Kaiir Elam, Bobby Hart, Zack Moss, Isaiah McKenzie, Jaquan Johnson, and Devin Singletary.
Impact matchups to watch
Christian Benford and Kaiir Elam vs. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle
Every time the Bills prepare to play against Tyreek Hill, they have their hands full. The last time they saw Hill was in the Divisional Playoff game against the Chiefs back in January, where the “Cheetah” raced around defenders for 150 yards and a touchdown on 11 receptions.
On March 23, Hill was traded to the Dolphins in exchange for a 2022 first-round pick via San Francisco, a 2022 second-round pick, two fourth-round picks, and a 2023 sixth-round pick. The deal paired Hill with second-year wideout Jaylen Waddle, forming the fastest wide receiver tag team in the NFL. On Sunday, the pair proved to be a nightmare to defend, as both players finished with 150+ receiving yards, 10+ receptions and 2+ receiving touchdowns. They are the only teammates in NFL history to accomplish this in the same game.
As Tre’Davious White continues to rehab from his ACL injury and Dane Jackson recovers from his neck injury scare, Buffalo will be forced to lean on two rookie corners to start against Hill and Waddle. Christian Benford, who was drafted out of Villanova in the sixth round, has emerged as the biggest surprise on the 2022 Bills to date, earning a starting spot over first-rounder Kaiir Elam out of the gates. Through the first two games, Benford has performed exceedingly well. Not only has he done well defending the pass, but he has also been tenacious as a run stopper. In one instance, Benford shed a block from Tennessee’s fullback Tory Carter immediately brought down the monstrous Derrick Henry for a four-yard loss in the backfield. The week prior, Benford recorded a 83.3 coverage grade against All-Pro wideout Cooper Kupp, according to PFF.
Benford’s instant success is not a knock on Elam’s play, however. After Jackson’s neck injury last week, Elam filled in for the remainder of the game. Like Benford, Elam showed willingness as a tackler, finishing the night with the second most on the team with four. His top highlight happened on a third down pass to running back Hassan Haskins, who he brought down in open field for a big stop.
“The games haven’t been too big for them,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Wednesday. He added that the team is confident with both Benford and Elam on the field.
Facing two of the games speediest talents fresh off a historic performance is quite the test for Buffalo’s rookie corners, who still have very limited experience at this level. Even so, Buffalo can benefit from having Elam’s sub 4.4 speed in their secondary to keep up with Hill and Waddle. However, the absence of Micah Hyde in the back end looms large.
Von Miller vs. Terron Armstead…or another left tackle?
These two AFC East rivals were among the most active teams in free agency this offseason. The Bills went out and landed a future Hall of Famer in Von Miller, giving him a six-year, $120 million deal. Aside from the Hill trade, Miami’s biggest move was the signing of Terron Armstead, a three-time Pro Bowler who was the premier left tackle on the market. He received a five-year, $75 million deal worth up to $87.5 million. Each team spent a large sum of money to anchor their offensive and defensive lines. On Sunday, Miller and Armstead will line up directly across each other and face off head-to-head for the first time as members of their new teams.
Or will they?
Armstead has not practiced this week due to a toe injury after playing through it last week. He is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, although first-year Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel feels Armstead could still play without practicing.
“It is literally up in the air. Only his body really knows and I don’t think he knows yet if he’ll play,” McDaniel said. “He’ll obviously make a great impact if he’s able to, but if he’s not we’ve got multiple contingency plans — which you have to do when you have little injuries such as that.”
Miami’s current backup left tackle is Greg Little, who was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the second round back in 2019 before getting traded for a seventh-round pick two years after. Should Armstead not be able to go, this feels like a mismatch Buffalo can exploit, despite not being at full strength defensively.
How to watch
Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. EST on CBS. Kevin Harlan and Trent Green will be on the call with Melanie Collins reporting from the sidelines. Although the Bills are the away team, they will be wearing their home blue jerseys and white pants. The forecast currently calls for rain with some scattered thunderstorms.