For the second straight week, the Bengals are facing off against a former longtime assistant coach who is with another club. Last week, Cincinnati got the better of their former offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and are looking to do the same on Sunday against current Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.
From 2001-2011, Coyle roamed the Bengals sidelines (when he wasn't high up in the coaches box) and coached the Bengals defensive backs. In his first two seasons, Coyle was only responsible for the cornerbacks, but was promoted to oversee all of the defensive backs when Marvin Lewis was hired in 2003. As our own Andrew Miller pointed out on Saturday evening, Coyle had quite the resume in Cincinnati and his hiring as the Dolphins defensive coordinator was long overdue.
He turned Artrell Hawkins into a solid pro cornerback and followed that up by turning discarded free agent cornerbacks Tory James and Deltha O'Neal into Pro Bowlers in the mid-2000s. After their respective departures, Coyle had two great corners to work with in Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. At the safety position, Coyle managed to make Kevin Kaesviharn a productive player and revived Chris Crocker's career. Really, Coyle just embraced Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's philosophy of taking on reclamation projects.
When Coyle left for Miami, the Bengals hired former defensive line and defensive backs coach, Mark Carrier. He had a great career as a pro and Jets head coach Rex Ryan talked up what a good coach Carrier was and is. Some Bengals fans thought that Rod Woodson was going to be Coyle's replacement, but Lewis surprised many with the Carrier decision.
In his first season with the Dolphins, Coyle boasts a unit that has the No.1 ranked rushing defense and the No.9 unit overall. His defensive backs have five interceptions and Sean Smith has emerged as a solid NFL cornerback. His thumbprint is on the unit and it's not at their feet that the team currently sits at 1-3.
Conversely, Zimmer's unit ranks No.19 overall and, up until last week, they have struggled. Carrier's secondary has only amassed one interception and one fumble recovery in four games and the entire unit is a shell of themselves. To Carrier's credit, he's had an alarming number of injuries at the cornerback position and is/was breaking in a new strong safety with limited NFL experience. We could see Carrier's group perform completely different when Dre Kirkpatrick returns fully healthy, as well as Nate Clements and Hall get their ailments right. We're not counting Jason Allen because I'm not sure that the team even signed him this offseason due to the lack of appearances he's had on the game and practice fields.
Sunday is going to be an interesting showdown. Coyle knows Zimmer's tendencies and he's undoubtedly relayed those on to the Dolphins' offensive staff. Coyle also knows the struggles that the Bengals offense has had with running the football over the past few seasons and would love to push his No.1 ranked rush defense into the Bengals offense, throwing off their balance. On the flip side, Zimmer and Lewis know Coyle's M.O. as a coach and know what he'll be attempting to throw at Andy Dalton and the rest of the offense. Sunday will be another interesting chess match--the second in as many weeks.