By: Jason Sarney
In mere hours, the Miami Dolphins will open up their home season at Hard Rock Stadium with an AFC East divisional matchup against the rival Buffalo Bills. Although the Dolphins have an impressive 24-15 record at home since the 2016 season, and a 5-3 home record from last season, they have lost the last five games against Buffalo including last year's Week 17 blowout loss 56-26.
Miami goes into this game 1-0, while Buffalo at 0-1 are already in a very difficult position should they lose this game to the Dolphins, and drop to 0-2. If this happens, both Buffalo losses would be from AFC teams, which could bite them come December. The Dolphins defense surely remembers last year's finale, so expect a heated unit to come out pressuring Josh Allen, as sacks and QB pressures are of the utmost importance today in order to make the Buffalo QB uncomfortable, unlike last year against Miami.
Of the field, going into this game there is a bit of a distraction following the news of wide receiver Will Fuller not playing Sunday, as well as the rest of the season being in doubt for the newly acquired free agent. In a late week press conference, Brian Flores informed reporters that Fuller will not play Week 2, as there is clearly a potentially serious issue he is dealing with. While it is not the job here to speculate on details, it’s a situation I can only wish and hope for the best for Fuller and his family.
As for Flores and his comments regarding Fuller, he said on Friday, “Will will not practice today. He will not play on Sunday. He’s dealing with a personal issue. I’ve had multiple conversations with him the last couple of days. He’s definitely dealing with a personal issue. I respect his privacy and I ask that everyone respects his privacy. We support Will and we’ll take it one day at a time.”
When asked further on if Fuller will miss multiple weeks, Flores said, “We’ll take it one day at a time.” He was then asked again a similar worded question, to gauge whether or not we will see Fuller again this season. Flores keep to the script, “One day at a time,” he reiterated.
With Fuller out, the name that comes to mind immediately would be 3rd year WR Preston Williams. The young and talented undrafted free agent from 2019 has shown both signs of massive potential as well as a very recent history of unfortunate injuries. While the conversation and detail of those injuries are for another day, his potential is something Miami values, and not ready to fold their hand on yet.
Williams was limited on Friday in practice and questionable against Buffalo, as his foot is closing in on 100%, if not already there. Flores told reports, regarding his availability, “He’s definitely improving, I would say, just from a health standpoint. We’ll see how today’s [Friday] practice goes before we make any determination of who is up and who is down.”
It will be a game-time decision for Williams on Sunday, and it would not shock me to see him inactive, as the Dolphins are slow-playing this one.
Staying on the injury and availability front, the Miami Dolphins world stood still last week at the sight of Raekwon Davis laying on the New England grass. Thankfully, he walked off the field with limited assistance, and in all hopefulness could be back inside a month after a quick IR stint.
Benito Jones and/or Jabaal Sheard could take on the “next-man-up” role here, as coach Flores endorsed them both Friday. “Both guys we feel good about. They’ve practiced well. We’ll see how today’s practice goes before we make any kind of final determinations of who is up, who is down, flexes and things of that nature.”
Whether it's the next guy on the defensive line or in the receiving corp., this Miami team needs to fire on all cylinders against the AFC East favorite Bills. A team that has a weapon in Stefon Diggs that is an elite wide-out, playing with quarterback Josh Allen, a player who is on the fringe at the elite class of the QB position in the NFL.
The Dolphins must do what they have had an inability to do recently, and that is stifle a quarterback who has the ability to utilize his legs and pick up first downs rushing the football. Not only do the Dolphins have to contain Allen's ground game, but the main worry is also his developing skills passing the ball. With Diggs likely being covered by All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard, it is the middle of the field that will be of concern. So the safeties in Eric Rowe, Brandon Jones and rookie Jevon Holland, as well as slot cornerback Nik Needham, will need to step up this afternoon.
Flipping to the most important aspect of the offensive side of the ball, the Miami O-line must neutralize the Buffalo front and make life at least tolerable for Tua Tagovailoa. In addition to the necessity of finding Tua time in the pocket, they need to help the rushing attack of Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown and Salvon Ahmed.
Gaskin, a dual threat with his receiving skills, ran well last week yet there is room for improvement in the overall ground game. If the line can win the battle of the trenches, and Tua has time to find DeVante Parker and Jaylen Waddle as he did last week, the Dolphins have more than a fighting chance in this contest. Keep your eyes on the tight ends as well. Namely Mike Gesicki who looks to rebound from a goose-egg performance Week 1. Durham Smythe could also be a factor, as this Miami TE room is coming off of a prolific 2020 campaign.
Miami has a major opportunity at 1:00 to begin a path to a 2-0 start to 2021, both AFC East wins, and the difference of teams in years past could be proven today. When there is a chance to put the cleats down on the necks of a division, Miami has that chance to capitalize and not let the pack join them.
You never want to call a Week 2 game a “must-win,” yet this rivalry game very well could be a “need-to-win” game for the NFL to start taking this Dolphins team seriously.