When fully healthy, the Buffalo Bills have one of the best safety tandems in the NFL with Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. However, starting Saturday, the Bills will be forced to play without one for the entire season.
Hyde has been placed on injured reserve and will likely miss the rest of the season with a neck injury he sustained in Monday’s win over the Tennessee Titans. Although Hyde was never scheduled to play this Sunday after being sent off in the fourth quarter of Monday’s game, missing the rest of the season was unexpected. The injuries keep piling up for the Bills.
While the team’s offense is one of the best in the league, Buffalo’s defense was its greatest early strength. When you hold the defending Super Bowl champions and the reigning No. 1 seed in the AFC to 17 combined points, I don’t care how good your offense is, that defense is the strength of the team. However, Sunday could see many of the Bills’ brightest defensive stars confined to the sidelines. Ed Oliver, Jordan Phillips, Dane Jackson and obviously Micah Hyde are absent. Poyer was also listed as questionable. Although it seems likely that he will be playing right now, he will probably be playing injured.
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So, to recap, two defensive tackles, a cornerback, and two of the best safeties in the NFL will be out or playing hobbled for the Bills. They play the Dolphins tomorrow, who have two of the fastest receivers in the NFL. The Bills’ interior pass rush is shot to shit and they won’t have their best options over the top. If anyone has an opportunity to knock the Bills off their pedestal, it’s the Dolphins right now.
Keep in mind, Hyde has only missed two games since taking over the Bills’ full-time safety job in 2017. The Bills won both those games, but they were against Marcus Mariota and 2020 Cam Newton — not exactly the best competition. Tagovailoa has looked better thus far in 2022 than he ever has before, and thus, this could be the Bills’ first real test without their All-Pro safety since he joined the squad. Not to mention, Hyde has some of the greatest DB instincts in the game, without him, Dolphins’ head coach Mike McDaniel should have a much easier time getting Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle open deep. The moment that Hyde’s replacement Jaquan Johnson takes a step in, Tua will be ready to hit Hill on the deep post.
I’m not saying the Bills are screwed. Poyer, even if injured, has incredible instincts as well and should be able to cover his side of the field very well, even if he’s a step slower than he normally would be. Also, despite the absence of both Oliver and Phillips, the Bills’ two best pass rushers — Gregory Rousseau and Von Miller — are fully healthy. While the two of them have done well getting to the quarterback (four combined sacks), they only have six pressures between the two of them, according to Pro-Football-Reference.
Dolphins offensive line ranks ninth overall adjusted bag rate through two weeks. Without the same passing rushing prowess of Oliver (73.7 passing rushing rating in 2021) and Phillips (82.5 passing rushing rating so far in 2022) on the inside, it’s going to be even harder for Miller, Rousseau and maybe AJ Epenesa to get to Tua. That lack of pressure could allow deeper routes to develop, and giving a quarterback too much time with Hill and Waddle is a spell for disaster.
The Bills offense is more than capable of leading the team to victory, but this game could be more of a shootout than we initially thought. That said, the pressure is on for Tua. How can he back up his six TD game? If he struggles against a weakened Bills secondary, doubts will start creeping into the minds of fans again. This will be a great yardstick to see whether or not Tua can sustain his early season success.