Despite their florid colors and friendly mascot, the Miami Dolphins are a pod of no-nonsense, jumbo-sized aquatic mammals who show up to bruise the other team and chortle about it later. They remind me of the Carolina Panthers, only bigger and better, and the Bengals toughness and physical strength will be tested, especially on defense.
For Cincinnati, this game is the last gasp of playoff aspirations. A loser of three in a row, Marvin Lewis has to get things back on track or else his team falls back into the "bad team" ranks once more. Injuries are beginning to mount in the secondary and the rest of the defense's performance has gone from underwhelming to flat out poor during that losing streak.
The only bright side left is that the offense finally seems to have found something that works with the no-huddle passing attack. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth said as much this week, and the proof is hard to argue against. In Atlanta, the Bengals passing game put up big points in a hurry and showcased the explosive potential this team has for at least the second half.
This week, I expect Cincinnati to push down on that gas pedal right away and try and get the same kind of rhythm again, only earlier in the game this time. If the defense can stop the run and put Miami in obvious passing situations, it will alleviate the increased pressure on a depleted secondary, and hopefully keep the score low enough to give the new-found offense a chance to play with a lead.
Dolphins offense vs. Bengals defense
The key to Miami's offense is their offensive line. They pass-protect well and run block well. They do a good job of getting outside on screens, they seal the edges nicely on off-tackle runs and sweeps and with the help of two heavy running backs, they wear out the opposing defensive line. Like the Bengals of 2009, the Fins are a grind-it-out offense that enjoys the bruising run game spiced with a dash of the exotic Wildcat formations the team is so comfortable running. Miami lulls defenses to sleep by pounding Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown on inside runs, pitch plays, delays, the wildcat, and all types of other rushing variations. Once defenses get tired of the run and commit to stopping it, out come the bubble screens and play-action passes to their very talented receiving corps.
Atlanta's Roddy White was dominant last week, showing off a large and diverse skill set, but somehow, it pales in comparison to the abilities of Brandon Marshall. Here is a receiver as big as Terrell Owens and as fast as White. There is no route Marshall cannot run and Miami uses him in any and every way they can. He demands attention, especially on deep crossing routes on play-action attempts. He will catch some passes—good luck trying to blank a guy like him—but it's imperative that he's tackled once he does. Missing tackles on a threat like Marshall will equate to more huge yardage and another high score against the Bengals defense.
The problem is that even if Marshall is double covered, Davone Bess is left to roam with only one man against him. Bess is the kind of player that earns an increasing amount of respect the more he plays. He reminds me a lot of Carolina's Steve Smith in the fact that for a little guy, he is surprisingly hard to tackle and plays with the same hard-nosed intensity that Smith possesses. The Dolphins like to clear a side of the field by sending Marshall deep and work Bess into that empty space on shorter routes. He is dangerous on screens and quick-hitters and is their main man on third down. Unlike Marshall who can kill you all at once, Bess aggravates defenses by chipping away on intermediate gains that mostly come from yards-after-catch. The Bengals have to limit the big-play ability of Marshall, but can't lose track of Bess either.
The tight end, Anthony Fasano, is pretty decent but he's no Tony Gonzalez. From what I've seen, Fasano gets most of his yardage when the defense forgets about him in the process of worrying about everyone else. He is a useful safety valve for Chad Henne once he moves from the pocket, and against Green Bay, Fasano was the beneficiary of a beautifully orchestrated screen pass to the opposite side of the field. Fasano scored on the play which put Miami in position to win in overtime. Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Brandon Marshall, and Davone Bess all come first on the defensive priority list, but Fasano and third receiver, Brian Hartline, are those supporting cast members that can become crucially important if disregarded.
As for the man under center, Henne is an average quarterback with a huge arm and accuracy issues. He takes risky chances and sometimes trusts his receivers too much, but he stands tall in the pocket, and like most NFL QB's, can be awfully damaging if given time. The Bengals, of course, have been non-existent when trying to put pass-rushing pressure on quarterbacks this season, and with the such a banged-up secondary they are dealing with this week, they could find themselves unable to get off the field on third downs if those troubles persist. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer must dial up safety and linebacker blitzes on passing downs because the line has proven they can't be trusted to do it themselves, and if rookie Brandon Ghee has to start at corner, more pressure is the only thing that can help the youngster. Obviously it would be nice if the linebackers or safeties could be even remotely effective in coverage to help that way, but they simply aren't, so they cannot be trusted with such a responsibility.
The points of emphasis, therefore, are to stop the run in order to set up passing downs, and blitz like mad when they do force such situations.
Bengals offense vs. Dolphins defense
What the Bengals should not do is try to first establish the running game. As much of a fan as I am of a power rushing attack, this is not the same team as last year, so new methods must be employed. Instead they should come out blazing by throwing and hurrying up to the line of scrimmage to throw again. Please, Bengals coaching staff, don't wait to use the no-huddle offense; it's the only thing your offense can do well. Feel free to mix in some runs once the passing attack has proven effective, but don't ease up because the defense isn't expecting a run. Nothing kills the rhythm more to this offense than no-gain rushing attempts; especially after just converting a third-down through the air.
This Miami secondary is not all that impressive. They lose containment easily—especially when quarterbacks move outside of the pocket, they aren't sure tacklers, and they aren't all that fast. The Bengal receivers have demonstrated a big-play ability, and there's no reason to get shy against this group. The front seven of the Dolphins are above average and traditional running attacks play into their hands, so throwing makes even more sense.
The main person Carson should worry most about once he drops back is a man named Cameron Wake. This speedy end found in the Canadian Football League has more sacks alone than the entire Bengal team. He is strong and very disruptive. In the games I've seen, Wake rushes from the right side meaning the perpetual project, Andre Smith, will face his toughest protection assignment yet this season. Expect the backs to help Goo out by staying in the pocket for an additional chip against Wake, but both the offensive line and Palmer need to mind the rising sack master on every pass attempt.
For the Bengals to win this game, they will have to score at least 27 points and hopefully more. If it comes down to a time-of-possession and field-position battle, than I would favor Miami but if the Bengals can get some touchdowns earlier in the game, the Dolphins may not be able to manufacture an outburst of points that are needed.
On offense, Cincinnati should stick with the only thing that has appeared capable of winning games, and on defense, they have to compensate for a poor pass rush with more blitzing on passing downs. Last game's loss put the Bengals in a hole they may not be able to escape from but the same this week would end that uncertainty altogether. Miracles don't need to happen, but avoiding more self-destruction certainly does. They have identified what kind of team they are; they should stick with that and see what happens. As Whitworth said, this isn't last year's team. Please fellas, be this year's team.
Bengals 31, Dolphins 24
Mojokong—stay with me.