Dolphins vs. Bills preview: 5 key players to watch in Week 8

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Written by John Sparaco

For the second year in a row, Bills fans have been forced to sit through a bye week immediately following a heartbreaking, last-second loss.

Last year, it was the infamous ‘Hail Murray’ that stunned Buffalo before ultimately going on an eight-game winning streak immediately after the bye week. This time around, a Monday Night shootout between the Bills and Titans ended with Josh Allen slipping on a quarterback sneak on fourth and short near the goaline, falling just shy of retaking the lead in the final seconds.

The call to go for it was a gutsy one, however, Bills head coach Sean McDermott stands by it completely.

“At the end of the day I trust him and I’ll trust him again if we’re in that situation again,” McDermott said. “I’ll take Josh Allen ten times out of ten.”

After what feels like forever since the Bills (4-2) last played, the team will return home for a matchup with the Dolphins (1-6) on Halloween. In their previous meeting back in Week 2, Buffalo defeated Miami 35-0.

Buffalo has had the upper hand in recent years against Miami, winning eight of their last nine matchups. Under McDermott, the Bills are 4-0 after the bye week.

Players to watch:

Tommy Sweeney

The Bills have had relatively good luck when it comes to injuries this season. However, their offense recently took a hit when it was announced that Dawson Knox broke his hand during the team’s loss to the Titans. As a result, the team will miss their star tight end for the next few weeks.

Enter Tommy Sweeney, the former 2019 seventh-round selection who is currently the only healthy traditional tight end on the active roster. There are two additional tight ends on the practice squad, Kahale Warring and Quintin Morris, but whether either player gets promoted to the active roster in Knox’s absence remains to be seen. Fullback Reggie Gilliam is also capable of playing tight end if needed.

Now that Knox is out, Sweeney is the obvious choice to take his place in the starting offense. So far this season, Sweeney has caught four passes for four yards. One of those receptions went for his first career touchdown last game.

Sweeney is primarily utilized as a blocking tight end but he has flashed potential as a receiver in the past. During his rookie season, Sweeney caught eight passes for 114 yards. 

This game is lining up to be Sweeney’s biggest opportunity of his career to this point. Although the Bills’ offense is not always catered to tight ends, Sweeney’s production or lack of it this Sunday could potentially influence Buffalo’s trade deadline plans leading up to Nov. 2.

Emmanuel Ogbah

As losers of six straight, the Dolphins do not have much optimism surrounding them at the moment. Looking back at their blowout loss to Buffalo in Week 2, one of their lone bright spots from that day came from one of their pass rushers, Emmanuel Ogbah.

Ogbah was one of the key names brought in during Miami’s free agency spending spree in 2020 that also landed them Kyle Van Noy, Shaq Lawson, and Ereck Flowers. One year later, Ogbah is the only one still with the team.

Ogbah led the Dolphins with nine sacks last season and currently leads them again with 2.5 this season. That .5 happened against Josh Allen back in Week 2.

When Josh Allen was voted the tenth best player on NFL Network’s Top 100, Ogbah spoke about how surprised he was when Allen somehow eluded one of his sacks last season.

“I was like damn, how’d he do that?” Ogbah said. “I’m still salty about that, I’m gonna get him next year though,” Ogbah added with a laugh.

Ogbah did get to Allen once last game, but it is hard to imagine him being satisfied with only a half of a sack. Expect a determined Ogbah this Sunday.

Josh Allen

Josh Allen’s success against the Dolphins is well documented. Owning a 6-1 record against the AFC East foe to this point in his career, Allen always seems to bring an extra edge for this particular matchup.

Despite the lopsided score in Week 2, Allen was surprisingly quiet from a statistical standpoint that day. He completed 17 of his 33 pass attempts for 179 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.

Allen tormented the Dolphins through the air last season, passing for 639 yards and seven touchdowns in only six quarters of action against them. The MVP runner up from last season struggled to get into a rhythm during the first couple weeks of the season, but that has changed ever since these two teams last met. In his last four games, Allen has averaged over 300 passing yards and three touchdown passes each week, inserting his name back into the early MVP conversation.

A comfortable and motivated Josh Allen fresh off a frustrating loss is probably the last thing the Dolphins hope to encounter on Halloween, especially considering the nightmares he has given them in the past.

Tua Tagovailoa

Before Tua Tagovailoa even had the chance to settle into the game the last time he played Buffalo, his day was already over. On Miami’s second offensive possession, Tagovailoa was bulldozed by Bills pass rusher AJ Epenesa, fracturing his ribs and sidelining him for three weeks.

Since his return, Tagovailoa has passed for a combined 620 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions in two games played. Miami ultimately lost both games to Jacksonville and Atlanta by three points or less.

Pressure continues to mount on the shoulders of Tagovailoa, who despite the team’s public commitment to him as their quarterback, has been subjected to nonstop trade rumors indicating Miami’s interest in moving on from last season’s fifth overall pick to acquire Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has not played this season while a criminal investigation into his sexual misconduct allegations takes place.

“I don’t feel not wanted,” Tagovailoa said when asked about the rumors on Wednesday.

This week’s slate of games is the last before the Nov. 2 trade deadline passes, so theoretically this game could be Tagovailoa’s last chance to silence the noise if the rumors are in fact true.

AJ Epenesa

Many were surprised when it was announced that AJ Epenesa would be inactive for their Monday Night matchup against the Titans. Given his last performance against the Dolphins, it would be a stunner if Epenesa was not back in the lineup this weekend.

As previously mentioned, Epenesa delivered the hit that knocked Tagovailoa out of the game in Week 2. In total, Epenesa registered nine quarterback pressures in Miami’s backfield that day, a career high for the second-year pass rusher.

Epenesa’s production has cooled off since then, still looking to pick up his first sack of the season. Considering Epenesa’s previous success against Miami, there is reason to believe his ability to create pressure will translate into sacks soon.

Epenesa particularly found success against Dolphins left tackle Austin Jackson, which is not the first time that has occurred. In fact, Epenesa recorded 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble for Iowa while lining up across USC’s Jackson in the 2019 Holiday Bowl.

Buffalo’s pass rush has struggled to get home in recent weeks, but against a Dolphins offensive line that has allowed the most quarterback pressures in the NFL so far this season, they could very well get back on track.

The Bills are set to wear their throwback uniforms this weekend, featuring the classic standing Buffalo logo on their helmets. The Dolphins have not yet announced what they are wearing, but if they choose to wear their teal throwbacks, this game will be aesthetically pleasing to many viewers.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET on CBS. Andrew Catalon will call the play-by-play while legendary Bills wide receiver James Lofton provides color commentary. Sherree Burruss will report from the sidelines at Highmark Stadium.

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