Dolphins Playoffs Preview
Who’s ready for some playoff football?
After a thrilling and downright disgusting win (never apologize for a win) over the New York Jets in week 18, the Miami Dolphins find themselves in the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Rookie Skylar Thompson got the starting nod after Teddy Bridgewater couldn’t throw due to a dislocated pinky. As is well documented, Teddy Bridgewater was supposed to start for Tua Tagovailoa who will be missing the playoff game with concussion injuries.
Making the playoffs is never easy and the week 18 win did not come without drama.
Miami looked bad, but thankfully the Jets looked even worse. Skylar Thompson tried his best, connecting on 20/31 passes for 152 yards and a clean sheet of touchdown passes and interceptions. Not being able to throw the ball effectively, the Dolphins used their ground game to try to generate something. Rushing for 162 yards, it was the Dolphins’ sixth 100+ rushing game this season and the third-highest total in a game for them.
Miami caught another bad break when it was reported this week that star running back Raheem Mostert has a broken thumb and isn’t expected to play against the Bills.
Tied 9-9 with three minutes left, the Dolphins were able to muster up 36 yards in eight plays to give their kicker a chance. Jason Sanders who was 1-5 on 50+ yard field goal attempts this season, knocked through the 50-yarder with 18 seconds to give Miami a 9-6 lead.
A chaotic Jets lateral party found the ball in the back of their end zone as time ran out and the Dolphins playoff won a must-win game 11-6.
A New England Patriots loss to the Buffalo Bills mixed in with the Dolphins’ win meant the Dolphins’ season was extended at least one more week.
Facing off against a familiar AFC East opponent, here are three things to look for in the Dolphins @ Bills wildcard game.
With seventh-round rookie Skylar Thompson set to start his third career game, he gets a fun quarterback matchup against the Bills’ Josh Allen. Thompson has appeared in seven games this season due to the frustrating and unfortunate health concerns surrounding Tua Tagovailoa.
In three appearances with at least 20+ pass attempts, Thompson has averaged 140 passing yards with a 34.7 QBR, only throwing for one touchdown.
One issue that some Miami Dolphin fans have with quarterback Skylar Thompson is his lack of productivity as a runner. The element of running could make Skylar dangerous and unpredictable. He did run a 4.91 at the 40-yard dash at the 2022 combine.
For context, Bills quarterback Josh Allen ran a 4.76 back at his combine. Faster, but not a massive difference from Thompson who hasn’t been able to figure out how to use his legs at all. Not being a threat with his legs or arm in the pocket, Thompson hasn’t been able to generate much of anything in his time on the field. It’s a ridiculously tough spot to ask him to step into this season, but he must find a way to be somewhat effective or the Dolphins will get run out of the stadium.
Conversely, the Bills have one of the NFL’s darlings with quarterback Josh Allen. Allen, who needs no introduction, is coming off another great season. He threw for the seventh most passing yards and tied for second in touchdown passes. Just based on his passing stats, he’s a top-tier quarterback every team would love to have. What adds another level to Allen’s game is his ability to scramble. Josh Allen had a strong season in terms of rushing yards, with 762 yards, ranking him third among all quarterbacks. Additionally, he scored seven touchdowns on the ground.
Allen and Tua battled it out on a cold Saturday night in Buffalo in week 15, this quarterback matchup will look a little different.
The Miami Dolphins defense has the pleasure of going up against one of the league’s most prolific offenses. Josh Allen makes this team incredibly dangerous with his passing and rushing combo, but it’s the supporting pieces that have this team thinking Super Bowl. Pro Bowl wide receiver Stefon Diggs had a massive year. Finishing the season with 1,429 receiving yards (5th), 108 receptions (4th), and 11 receiving touchdowns (T-3). Diggs has been dynamic with Allen ever since coming to Buffalo before the 2019-20 season. This was his third straight season over 100+ catches and the 11 touchdowns are a career-high.
Aside from the main duo of Allen and Diggs, other names round out the NFL’s second-highest points-per-game offense. After catching eight passes for a breathtaking 201 yards and four touchdowns in the overtime divisional loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last season, wide receiver Gabe Davis had Bills fan excited for what was to come. Needing a receiving compadre next to Diggs, the third year 128th pick in the 2020 NFL draft out of UCF turned into Buffalo’s solid second option. Davis raised his production season, going 35 to 48 receptions and 549 to 836 receiving yards. He’s had an eye for the end zone since entering the NFL, scoring seven this season and 25 since his rookie season.
Cover the TE
Tight end Dawson Knox also was extremely reliable, hauling in 48 receptions for 517 yards and six touchdowns. Teams also can’t forget about Devin Singletary in short coverage, the Bills running back caught 38 passes for 280 yards.
What makes the Bills so hard to stop aside from two wide receivers with 800+ receiving yards is that they also have three players with at least 500+ rushing.
Devin Singletary leads the Bills rushing attack with 819 rushing yards, followed by Allen with 762, followed by 63rd overall pick rookie James Cook with 507. For all the talk about how the Bills hate to run the football, they finished seventh in rushing yards per game at 139.5.
The Dolphins defend the run well, giving up the fourth fewest rushing yards per game. Where they struggle is against the pass, giving up the 27th most passing yards. Against a quarterback like Josh Allen who is good enough to exploit matchups, it could be a long day for Miami’s secondary.
Change up the Game Plan!
Going into Buffalo and beating the Bills in the wildcard is a heavy ask. In sports, to use a clique, the game isn’t over until the time runs out. The Miami Dolphins must establish a balance of control in the game to have any chance of
winning. However, this will be difficult as they currently rank 24th in time of possession, while the Buffalo Bills rank 17th.
The Buffalo Bills could potentially have a slower time of possession if they focused more on consistent gains rather than trying for big plays, but that’s not their style. This is more of a reflection of the Miami Dolphins’ offensive struggles in maintaining possession for extended periods of time.
Statistically, this is a defensive nightmare for the Dolphins’ defense.
One of the NFL’s leading passers and receivers going up against one of the most vulnerable secondaries. The Bills are the number one offense converting third downs going against a defense tied for 24th in third down conversion. In the red zone, the Bills find themselves scoring touchdowns 60.34 percent of the time, ninth best. Following a theme, Miami gives up a touchdown 59.32 percent of the time in the red zone, the 23rd worst in the NFL.
The Bill’s D
The Bills defense is no slouches either. They give up the second-fewest points and seventh-fewest yards. Buffalo has the second-best red zone defense as far as giving up touchdowns. They are seventh-best on third downs.
They also love to take the ball away from their opponents. Finishing the season with 27 takeaways (17 interceptions, ten fumble recoveries) had them tied for fourth.
Looking at all the data, it would strongly suggest the Miami Dolphins have no chance in this game. Especially without Tua and Mostert and the way the offense has looked with Skylar Thompson, it’s not promising.
But that’s why we play the games before counting the results.
Mike McDaniel’s message and game plan to his Dolphins isn’t focused on football, it’s about self-belief. They’ve seen the stats, headlines, stories, and previews such as this doubting they have a chance to be competitive let alone win.
Sunday offers an opportunity to slay the dragon that many believe will be hoisting the Lombardi trophy come February.
The game of their lives could be played this Sunday! It all starts with the kickoff! The story begins writing itself from there.