Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) at Miami Dolphins (3-4)
Thursday on NFLN; Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock
This is a tough spot for Miami to be in, attempting to rebound from a slide in a short week to face a very good team. Right now these are two trains heading in opposite directions: the Bengals have won four in a row (and six of their last seven), and the one previously suspect aspect of their team, their offense, just scored 49 points against a very good Jets defense; meanwhile Miami has lost four straight.
In the off season the Dolphins were the media darlings, the consensus team that was most likely to make the biggest leap forward from missing the playoffs to Super Bowl contender. After winning their first three games – two on the road, and two against 2012 playoff teams – the number of doubters had vastly diminished. Since then though Miami’s season has turned into a nightmare from which one cannot awaken, losing four in a row in a seemingly unstoppable slide. Fans and media in south Florida are openly questioning if head coach Joe Philbin is in over his head, destined to join other career assistants that couldn’t cut it as an NFL head coach in Miami.
Philbin has been under fire in consecutive weeks regarding the offensive play calling possibly costing the team wins. Two weeks ago the Dolphins had the ball and the lead with under 3:00 to play, and Miami had been gashing the Buffalo defense, rushing for 120 yards and 4.8 yards per carry. Rather than keep the ball on the ground Philbin called for a pass play; Mario Williams sacked Ryan Tannehill and forced a fumble which the Bills recovered, and Buffalo went on to win the game. Last week Miami was once again running the ball very well (5.0 yards per rush), but they abandoned the run in the second half, dropping back to pass 32 times while running just eight times. Offensive Coordinator Mike Sherman has been called out as well, but Sherman prefers to run the ball while Philbin prefers a pass-oriented offense. Perhaps at this point Philbin should take a hands-off approach and let Sherman run the offense as he sees fit, but since Philbin was hired because he was cinsidered to be an offensive guru that is not going to happen. Somehow the Miami coaching staff needs to find a way to do a better job of making in-game adjustments, evidenced by their being outscored 54-31 in third quarters this season.
Now to make matters worse there is the distraction of starting OT Jonathan Martin leaving the team after an altercation and emotional breakdown; this comes on top of a subpoena issued to center Mike Pouncey relating to gun trafficking and the Aaron Hernandez case, big money free agent WR Mike Wallace complaining about not getting enough passes.
Key Matchup: Dolphins LT Bryant McKinnie vs Bengals DE Michael Johnson
Disregard the fact that Johnson has just 1½ sacks this year; when you watch the game film you can see he is constantly getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Last week against the Patriots McKinnie was overpowering Chandler Jones and winning those battles early. Jones and the Pats adjusted, realizing it was futile to attempt to overpower a 6’8″ 360 lb player, and instead relied on speed and quickness to get by him. Once that happened McKinnie allowed three pressures; you can be sure that Johnson and Cincy head coach Marvin Lewis took note.
Collectively the Miami offensive line has been dismal this year. Football Outsiders ranks them 30th in pass protection, and they have given up a league-high 32 sacks. LG Richie Incognito helped McKinnie out at times with double teams last week, but that’s not going to be possible this week; Cincinnati is solid across their entire defensive line, and Incognito will have his own issues trying to hold off Geno Atkins. What to do on the other side is even more of a dilemma, with Martin being declared out for this game. That means that Tyson Clabo, who was benched after allowing eight sacks in six games, starts again at RT. The Bengals gathered four sacks against a competent Jets offensive line last week; they should feast on the Dolphins OL Thursday night.
Miami has used more two tight end packages to help out in protection, but Ryan Tannehill’s pocket presence has regressed from 2012, and he is turning the ball over far too often (14 in seven games); it doesn’t help that neither running back, Lamar Miller or Daniel Thomas, seems to know how to block an oncoming pass rusher.
As mentioned above, the loss of RT Jonathan Martin really hurts Miami when facing a very good front seven such as the one the Bengals possess. All Pro DE Cameron Wake continues to work himself back into game shape; Miami’s best player was on the field for just half the snaps last week against the Patriots, and his productivity has a profound effect on this defense. Dimitri Patterson returned last week after missing most of the season with a groin injury; the corner made his presence known with a nice pick off a Tom Brady pass intended for Rob Gronkowski last week.
While Miami is getting players back on the field, Cincinnati is much more banged up, with four defensive players out: CB Leon Hall (achilles), S Taylor Mays (shoulder), LB Rey Maualuga (concussion, knee), and DT Devon Still (elbow); in addition LB Michael Boley is questionable with a hamstring injury. That depleted defense, together with the Bengals having to play on the road on a short week gives the Dolphins some hope – but is that enough for a Miami victory? Marvin Lewis will patiently commit to the ground game with Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, setting up play-action passes for the very underrated Andy Dalton to A.J. Green (46 receptions for 734 yards and 5 TD) and Marvin Jones (8 receptions for 122 yards and 4 TD last week). Dalton is on fire; he has three straight 300-yard games (with 11 TD and only 2 INT) and is completing 66% of his passes this year, averaging over 8.0 yards per pass attempt.
Pick • Bengals 27, Dolphins 17
Bengals -2½ (two units)
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