The Cincinnati Bengals gear up to play the Miami Dolphins this weekend, the second of consecutive games against Florida-based teams (not that that is entirely relevant). After a 27-10 drubbing over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Dolphins arrive into town this weekend to give Cincinnati a historical challenge. True. Miami might be 1-3 this season, but the Dolphins have proven difficult for the Bengals over the years.
But who are these Miami Dolphins? We reached out and talked shop with Kevin Nogle, the Managing Editor with The Phinsider, SB Nation's great Miami Dolphins website.
Now predictably, we had to open with Kevin's impressions of Chad Johnson and the receiver's short, yet highly publicized stay in Miami.
Kevin Nogle: Chad Johnson was just an interesting saga in the offseason of the Dolphins. It was probably a fan base has gone from ecstatic over the signing of a player to ecstatic over the team releasing that player. I think what you saw on Hard Knocks was true to some degree - head coach Joe Philbin and Johnson just never meshed. But, clearly, the arrest for domestic violence was the last straw. I think Johnson was supposed to be the third wide receiver along with Davone Bess and Brian Hartline rather than leave that to the now released Legedu Naanee, but, unfortunately, it just wasn't meant to be. Johnson still has some skills, and he probably could have been a weapon, but the same problems that plagued him in New England (mainly, not knowing the playbook like he should) seemed to be creeping up again in Miami. I think both the signing of Johnson and his release were the right ideas at the time.
On watching the Miami Dolphins on Hard Knocks and how HBO portrayed them.
KN: I loved being able to see inside the team. It was an awesome chance to see behind the curtain of a team that has, traditionally, been very stand-offish when it comes to explaining roster moves and things like that. I really think the show played up the "Oh, look how terrible the Dolphins are" story line, on which the media fully jumped, and no one expected anything out of the team this year. Luckily, the Dolphins are better than that, even if their record doesn't show it.
On Dolphins eventual rise and postseason prospects.
KN: I think the team is going to continue to battle every week this year, pulling off some wins. My preseason prediction this year was for an 8-8 record, and I would be happy for anywhere from 6 to 8 wins. I think the team will really make a strong playoff run next year.
Where the Dolphins need to improve to take on the New England Patriots.
KN: The Dolphins have to upgrade their secondary, need an additional pass rusher to play opposite Cameron Wake, and need to pick up another wide receiver or two. All of that can, and should, be done in next year's draft, and the Dolphins will be ready to take a run at the Patriots.
Impression on head coach Joe Philbin's first season.
KN: I really like Philbin. There are times where you can tell it's his first time controlling everything, with an ill-timed challenge or timeout, but overall, he is handling himself well, and seems to be getting the team moving in the right direction.
Comparing Kevin Coyle's early performance as defensive coordinator compared to Mike Nolan last year.
KN: Coyle has been solid. I like him and think he will do great things for Miami. Nolan was really impressive, and was the one coach most Dolphins fans did not want to see go. The one thing that needs to improve in the Dolphins defense is, surprisingly, the secondary. I think we have already seen some improvements this year, mostly with the fact that Sean Smith can apparently hold on to interceptions now, but the team is still in need of more development in pass coverage.
On Cameron Wake being an early Defensive MVP candidate.
KN: He absolutely is. Wake is dominating this year, to the point Pro Football Focus has him as the top pure pass rusher in the league. While he may not get to the quarterback every time, he is always closing in, either hurrying the QB, or hitting them.
And if the Bengals neutralize Wake, where to look for pressure.
KN: The Dolphins actually have threats, but nothing that comes close to Wake's level. Defensive tackle Randy Starks is a weapon up the middle, and has the speed to get after quarterbacks. Jared Odrick and rookie Olivier Vernon both can get back there and pressure the quarterback. If the Bengals contain Wake, it will make it harder on the Dolphins, but it won't end the pass rush.
Expectations of rookies this weekend beside Ryan Tannehill.
KN: Second round pick, right tackle Jonathan Martin is developing nicely. He's starting to hold his own on the right side of the offensive line. Third rounders, tight end Michael Egnew has yet to be active this year, and defensive end Olivier Vernon is slowly seeing his playing time increase. Fourth rounder, running back Lamar Miller has played well when he gets carries and is someone to watch when he does get into the game.
The team also has a couple of undrafted free agents who are making an impact this year. Fullback Jorvorskie Lane is a dominating force in the backfield, or when he gets the ball in the flat. Defensive end Derrick Shelby has played extremely well, although he is limited in the number of snaps he gets.
On players that Bengals fans may be unfamiliar with this weekend.
KN: Defensive end Jared Odrick is probably a good candidate here. He has the ability to make an impact, especially if the Bengals simply double team Wake all game.
On offense, my answer would be Brian Hartline, but his 253 receiving yards last week has suddenly thrust him into the media spotlight. Someone who Bengals fans may not know the Dolphins signed is wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, who joined the team this week. It will be interesting to watch how, or if, he is utilized in the game, or if he is held out due to limited time to get to know the playbook.