Bills All-22: Josh Allen’s clean second half hints toward amplified postseason


Staff member

Although it wasn’t a game where the Buffalo Bills dominated the Miami Dolphins from start to finish, they shook off mid-game doldrums on the way to taking over in the fourth quarter. It was all they needed to win the game, clinch another division title and lock in a home playoff game.

The Bills, as the no. 2 seed in the AFC, now host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card round. But before we dive into that matchup, first is a detailed look back at the Bills’ victory over the Dolphins. What stood out from the game and how does it project forward?

How the Dolphins attacked the Bills offense with success in the first half​

Even without running back Raheem Mostert or wide receiver Jaylen Waddle available, the Dolphins still had plenty of speed to challenge the Bills’ defense in ways other offenses cannot. The impact of receiver Tyreek Hill was obvious, as his speed alone bought him ample cushion against safeties and cornerbacks alike to give him the room to make receptions. But the reason the Dolphins nearly pulled off the win is because of how they weaponized their rushing game to attack the Bills’ linebackers. When the Dolphins were most successful, they were doing a slight fake after the snap, and then usually pitching the ball to rookie running back De’Von Achane to attack the edges. Achane could be the fastest running back in the NFL, and if not first, he’s top three. It did not matter which side the Dolphins targeted. They succeeded in doing so throughout the first half because of how much pressure it put on two specific pieces of their defense.

The first was on the defensive end, and some of the Bills’ edge defenders were better at it than others. The Dolphins learned very quickly in trying those attempts to the side of Greg Rousseau, who was excellent at getting upfield to force Achane wide and allow his teammates more time to get in position. But against anyone else, the Dolphins turned the defensive end to the interior, allowing Achane to get out wide, and attack the inexperience and lack of speed from Bills linebackers Terrel Bernard and Tyrel Dodson. Although Bernard made some splashy plays this season, he sometimes gets caught up on blocks or doesn’t have the acceleration to get to the precise spot he needs to make a stop. Dodson likes to play the run and play hunches even when it becomes a pass play, but that might be a defensive mechanism to make up for a lack of speed at the position. And if he took one false step up the field against the Dolphins with Achane getting the corner out to the side closest to him, it had home-run potential.

The Dolphins succeeded even knocking the normally excellent Taron Johnson out of those plays, and without that second line of defense in position to stop Achane, it put a ton of pressure on safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde to bring him down and that too is a challenge for two players who don’t move quite as well as they used to. It’s the reason why the Dolphins continued to hammer this concept all throughout the first half, and found a lot of success doing so. They handed the ball off between the tackles occasionally and once they got explosive plays attacking the edge, it opened up the interior of the Bills’ run defense for backup Jeff Wilson Jr. From how things went in those first 30 minutes, it seemed like it would be a long day for the Bills’ defense.

But then, the Dolphins became their own worst enemy. Why they went away from this approach in the second half is head-scratching at best. They attempted it once to the defensive right side, and Bernard played a hunch, abandoned his post and met Achane in the backfield for a one-yard loss. That is the last time the Dolphins attempted it, but in only a tie or one-score game, there still should have been ample opportunity to try and pop a big play. Instead, they abandoned it, the Bills’ pass defense settled in, and the Dolphins had no successful drives over the final 30 minutes.

Allen’s mostly clean second half hints toward amplified playoffs​

Following the game and after Wednesday’s practice, quarterback Josh Allen commented how he felt as good throwing the ball as he ever had at this stage of the season. Allen discussed how he worked with offensive coordinator Joe Brady in the week leading up to the Dolphins game on more individual drills to fine-tune some technique and based on what we could see on film, it worked. In both the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots games, there were multiple examples of Allen throwing with an uneven base which significantly altered his target accuracy. If there were a culprit for early missteps on offense, that inconsistent footwork during his throwing motion was high up on the list. But the work during Dolphins week paid off, with Allen looking smooth, mostly comfortable and outstandingly accurate as the game continued into the second half.

Perhaps the biggest difference from the last two games to this one is how he reacted to pressure in his face. While there is an early example of him not stepping into the throw that resulted in an incompletion, that was not a feature in Allen’s second half. From the second quarter through the end of the game, Allen only had three incompletions — a throwaway, a dropped pass by James Cook in the end zone and a missed opportunity to Trent Sherfield. Only the Sherfield play came in the second half. He hit 25 of his final 28 passes, scrambled for a ton of yards when things broke down around him and kept the Dolphins guessing for the most part. It was only a sack-fumble and a sack on third down to begin the second half that undid the final three quarters, but Allen was on it. His passes were crisp. He was hitting receivers in stride. When an extra rusher was brought at him he found the hot receiver who lacked a defender nearby. Throwing the way he did at the end of the game, that deep ball to Stefon Diggs is going to happen one of these weeks. The point total isn’t there, but Allen and the offense showed plenty of signs of becoming that explosive unit and scoring in a similar way to the 2021 postseason. It would not be a surprise if they bust loose, even in a bad weather game this coming weekend.

Spector played fairly well with next to no in-game experience​

Despite coming into the game without anyone on the injury report, the Bills left with five notable injuries, three to starting players. One of those is a shoulder injury sustained by Tyrel Dodson, which occurred on a Dolphins touchdown in the first half. It didn’t look to be a ton of contact, but enough for Dodson to grab his shoulder, head to the sideline and miss the rest of the game. In most other instances, the Bills have used rookie outside linebacker Dorian Williams in the lineup when there’s an injury, but considering how the Dolphins specifically attacked linebackers, it led to second-year player Baylon Spector getting the call instead. Williams is an outstanding athlete, but is raw within this defense and has been prone to mental errors. The Bills knew one mental error could mean six points with Achane in the lineup, so they want for the safer option in Spector.

Since being buried on the depth chart in training camp, Spector slowly worked his way up during the year. He even leapfrogged Williams in base defense for when the offense goes with a heavy formation, coming onto the field as the second outside linebacker. But even with that, his defensive exposure was minimal. He had 18 career regular season snaps in two seasons before Sunday night, only six coming in 2023. His 19 snaps against the Dolphins more than doubled his career total. Even with the inexperience, Spector entered the lineup and played a very steady role, putting himself into position to make plays for the Bills when it reached him. Spector didn’t try to do too much to where he was making big impact plays, but he also didn’t find himself out of position which would have generated a big gap in the defense. Spector showed he could give the Bills some solid, yet unspectacular snaps if they need him to moving forward.

Blitz pickup was an issue without Latavius Murray

For the first time this season, the Bills opted for a brand new backfield trio and chose to make the 33-year-old Latavius Murray a healthy scratch. Leonard Fournette entered in his place to try and jumpstart their short-yardage rushing game. The Dolphins have a solid run defense, so it was a difficult assignment. But as the game continued and the Bills shifted into mostly passing, it became clear their blitz pickup took a big downturn without Murray available to the lineup. Oftentimes, the Bills won’t have anything more than their standard five offensive linemen and a running back stay in to protect for Allen. It puts a lot of pressure on those six individuals to make the right reads and win one-on-ones, especially with how long Allen holds on to the ball at times.

But the back is the last line of defense when an extra rusher gets through, and a missed read or a missed block can turn into a negative play. Fournette was asked to come in and handle some of those responsibilities from Murray, but left a lot to be desired. There were times he missed his block attempt almost entirely or made the wrong read of where to set up shop, which freed a rusher for an unimpeded path to Allen. Cook has struggled in this department all year and Johnson left the game before we got a full look at him in the role. Although Murray’s best days as a runner are behind him, he holds value as a pass protector, adding another layer in which running backs to make active on game day when all are healthy.
2023 Bills All-22 grades vs. Dolphins (Week 18)
1Josh AllenQBA-78100.00%
2Stefon DiggsWRA-6988.46%
3Khalil ShakirWRA-6076.92%
4Dalton KincaidTEA-4355.13%
5Dion DawkinsLTB+7089.74%
6Greg RousseauDEB+3159.62%
7Leonard FloydDEB+3567.31%
8DaQuan JonesDTB+3363.46%
9Trent SherfieldWRB+5570.51%
10Connor McGovernLGB+78100.00%
11Taron JohnsonNCBB+52100.00%
12Christian BenfordCBB+52100.00%
13Spencer BrownRTB78100.00%
14Ed OliverDTB4688.46%
15Dawson KnoxTEB3747.44%
16Micah HydeSB52100.00%
17Gabe DavisWRB-1823.08%
18Baylon SpectorLBB-1936.54%
19Mitch MorseCB-78100.00%
20Terrel BernardLBB-52100.00%
21Tyrel DodsonLBB-2038.46%
22Dane JacksonCBB-2751.92%
23A.J. EpenesaDEC+1732.69%
24Von MillerDEC+1528.85%
25James CookRBC4861.54%
26Jordan PoyerSC52100.00%
27Leonard FournetteRBC1620.51%
28O’Cyrus TorrenceRGC78100.00%
Players with fewer than 15 snaps:
WR Deonte Harty (14), RB Ty Johnson (13), DE Shaq Lawson (13), S Taylor Rapp (13), OL David Edwards (9), DT Tim Settle (9), DT Poona Ford (9), OT Ryan Van Demark (8), FB Reggie Gilliam (6), TE Quintin Morris (2)

Active players without an offensive or defensive snap:
QB Kyle Allen, IOL Ryan Bates, LB Dorian Williams, LB Tyler Matakevich, DB Cam Lewis

*(Total games inactive in 2023 season while on the active roster)
IOL Alec Anderson (17), S Damar Hamlin (12), CB Kaiir Elam (7), DE Kingsley Jonathan (4), DT Linval Joseph (2), RB Latavius Murray (1)

The core:
*(Position players who play the core-four special teams units of kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return)
S Taylor Rapp (100 percent), FB Reggie Gilliam (93), TE Quintin Morris (93), LB Tyler Matakevich (93), LB Dorian Williams (93), NCB Siran Neal (93), DB Cam Lewis (93), WR Trent Sherfield (71), CB Dane Jackson (71), LB Baylon Spector (57), WR Deonte Harty (43), WR Khalil Shakir (36), RB Ty Johnson (29), DT Poona Ford (21), RB Leonard Fournette (7), DE A.J. Epenesa (7), DE Shaq Lawson (7), DE Greg Rousseau (7), DE Leonard Floyd (7), DT Ed Oliver (7), LB Terrel Bernard (7), NCB Taron Johnson (7), CB Christian Benford (7), S Jordan Poyer (7)
2023 Bills All-22 grades through Week 18
1Matt MilanoLB3.582111
2Ed OliverDT3.467302
3Stefon DiggsWR3.359495
4Greg RousseauDE3.325854
5Rasul DouglasCB3.315033
6Josh AllenQB3.3011267
7Taron JohnsonNCB3.289556
8Leonard FloydDE3.255778
9Dalton KincaidTE3.1869911
10Dion DawkinsLT3.17112010
11Khalil ShakirWR3.1660412
12James CookRB3.146349
13Christian BenfordCB3.0182414
14Gabe DavisWR2.9696615
15O’Cyrus TorrenceRG2.95116413
16Mitch MorseC2.93112916
17Connor McGovernLG2.87113617
18Spencer BrownRT2.84116118
19Dawson KnoxTE2.8148721
20A.J. EpenesaDE2.8038719
21Terrel BernardLB2.7899922
22Jordan PoyerS2.7798720
23Micah HydeS2.7579723
24Trent SherfieldWR2.7539226
25Latavius MurrayRB2.7135124
26Shaq LawsonDE2.6732125
27Dane JacksonCB2.6046327
28Taylor RappS2.5042129
29Dorian WilliamsLB2.4921128
30Tim SettleDT2.4237930
31Tyrel DodsonLB2.4254931
32Jordan PhillipsDT2.4039232
33Von MillerDE2.3425833

*Minimum 200 snaps

How the standards work

When the All-22 film becomes available, we’ll go through and watch every player on every play as many times as necessary to assess letter grades. It is a subjective analysis, and it’s important to note we do not know the play calls and full responsibilities. The grades stem from technique, effort and presumed liability.

The study accounts only for players who take a snap on offense or defense. Players with fewer than 15 snaps — unless they significantly impact the game — will not factor into weekly rankings. The grades range from an ‘A’ (a perfect 4.00 GPA) to ‘F’ (0.00 GPA). There is no such thing as an ‘A+’ on this grading system. Season-long grades will be tallied and documented, with a single game’s grade weighted based on how much the player was on the field in a given week