The Buffalo Bills’ run defense passed a “thunder test” Monday night against Tennessee.
Next comes more of a flash test for Miami’s run defense.
The Bills held Titans star Derrick Henry to just 25 yards on 13 carries in the 41-7 home opener victory. The Titans tried to power up and run 12 times with a bigger offensive lineup — a fullback or two tight ends or both — and passed just 31 yards, averaging 2.6 yards.
The Dolphins pose a different kind of running game challenge, relying on an outside zone scheme to stretch the defense horizontally. Raheem Mostert, the Dolphins’ leading rusher, has a speed of 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He posted the league’s fastest time in the past six years — 23.09 mph — on an 80-yard TD run for San Francisco in 2020, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Henry’s rushing total was his lowest in his last 58 games, dating to the 2019 season. The Bills’ run defense ranks No. 1 in fewest yards allowed (66 per game) and No. 3 for yards per carry allowed (2.93).
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Cornerback Dane Jackson (neck), safety Micah Hyde (neck), defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (hamstring) and tight end Dawson Knox (foot) did not participate in Wednesday’s virtual tour.
“Coaches prepared us very well throughout the week to play well,” safety Jordan Poyer said of the Titans game. “We were ready and understood what they were going to try to do and how they were trying to attack us. And when you have a front like us, it makes our job at the back much easier.
Here’s a position-by-position review of the Titans game, based on a video review and scored on a scale of 0-5:
Defensive line (5.0): The Titans stuck to their conservative style, running half of their first downs with Henry in the game. The big problem was that quarterback Ryan Tannehill only produced 10 net yards on eight first pass attempts, with two sacks. Greg Rousseau and Von Miller had another solid game giving the lead. Rousseau showed his length by beating guard Nate Davis and catching Henry from behind for a one-yard loss in the third quarter. Jordan Phillips ran a few errands. DaQuan Jones added to the pass rush with some fourth quarter rushes.
Linebackers (5.0): Leslie Frazier composed his first blitz of the season, and he produced an 8-yard sack by Tremaine Edmunds. While Edmunds was only credited with two tackles, it was a stellar outing for the middle linebacker, with his massive range on display. He ran step-by-step with Robert Woods making a deflection which Poyer caught for an interception. Matt Milano read Tannehill’s eyes under two-deep coverage for his sixth career interception. Milano and Edmunds both looked great going down as they stuffed Henry on a 1-yard loss on a draw play. Frazier has only blitzed twice in 28 retirements. The Bills used base defense 4-3 on just five snaps, with rookie Terrell Bernard joining the starters.
Defensive backs (5.0): Although the Titans’ receiving corps isn’t in the NFL’s top 16, Tennessee had seven 20-plus receptions against the Giants. The Titans had none against the Bills. Dane Jackson had a close friend of Treylon Burks for an early breakup. Kaiir Elam had a breakup with Austin Hooper. Taron Johnson’s tight coverage of Burks forced a third save in the third quarter. The tackles from the youngsters were excellent. Christian Benford beat fullback Tory Carter at the offensive end and beat Henry for a 4-yard loss just before the Titans TD.
“Coming into that game, they understood the type of running pattern the Titans were trying to do and the corners knew they were going to have to come in and make some big tackles, and they both did that,” said Poyer said.
As Sunday’s AFC East showdown draws near, how worried should the Bills be about an injury-riddled secondary against a resurgent Tua Tagovailoa and his favorite targets, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle? Katherine Fitzgerald and Mark Gaughan of The News also discuss who has exceeded expectations for the Bills so far, and they look at a few areas the Bills will seek to improve.
Quarterback (5.0): Josh Allen completes 75.4% of his passes. His ability to win from the pocket late in the down continues to amaze. Prime examples were the 4-yard TD to Stefon Diggs and the 15-yard strike to Diggs in the middle, one play past the deep strike to Jake Kumerow. The 28-yard laser throw to Isaiah McKenzie, wedged between the two deep safeties, was elite. Against the blitz, Allen was 7 of 11 for 71 yards and a touchdown (Diggs’ 14 yards).
Receivers (5.0): The Titans were without No. 1 corner Kristian Fulton (not that he’s a Pro Bowler) and quality corner Elijah Molden. The Bills got any away game they wanted. Diggs caught three passes for 30 yards on promising rookie Roger McCreary, two for 55 on undrafted rookie Tre Avery and three for 25 on Caleb Farley, the underperforming first round of 2021. Diggs’ 12 catches were the most catches by a Bills receiver since Peerless Price caught 13 against the Vikings in 2002. Eight receivers have caught passes, and the first 12 completions have gone to seven different receivers.
Offensive line (4.0): The protection of the pass was exceptional. Exhibit A was the 46-yard TD pass to Diggs, with Allen standing in a clean pocket. Mitch Morse was robust against Jeffery Simmons’ bull rush on this play. Morse also held off Kevin Strong’s bull rush on the 15-yarder at Diggs. Ola Adeniyi and Bud Dupree have nothing against Dion Dawkins. Spencer Brown dropped the single bag. But he pushed people down on 16-yard rushing plays from Devin Singletary and 17 from Zach Moss.
The Bills didn’t have many games on which they ran into light boxes, in part because they were running with bigger personnel on the field. Big defensive tackle Simmons was a problem. On the third and 1 first quarter miss, Dawkins couldn’t get a range block on him, and Simmons pushed Dawkins into Moss. Rodger Saffold did the job in pass protection overall, but was beaten by a few quick lateral moves in the running game. Teair Tart beat Saffold on Singletary’s second carry without a win. Tart beat it for a 5-yard loss on a first down by Singletary in the second quarter.
Running backs (3.0): Running backs had just nine carries for 33 yards in the first three quarters. Singletary continues to look reliable in blitz mics. He had a good one on the completion of Quintin Morris.
Special Teams (5.0): It was quietly a good start for new punter Sam Martin. He punted 56 yards from his own end zone with a 4.84 suspension time. His other two punts had hang times of 4.64 and 4.56 seconds (4.5 or better is excellent). Tyler Bass converted from 49 yards. Jamison Crowder had punt returns for 10 and 15 yards.