After a 3-0 start the Dolphins looked poised to make a run at the division. One of the teams the Dolphins beat was the Colts who seem to be one of the really good teams this season. They have lost their last 4 but the last 3 seemed to be games the Dolphins could have won. (including one we wish you took from the Ravens). What caused the drastic shift?
Execution and coaching. The Dolphins are simply not making plays and they are getting beat because of it. Too many dropped passes, missed tackles, and poor decisions on running plays. When a receiver is open, quarterback Ryan Tannehill either doesn't have time to get him the ball, or rushes the throw and it's off target. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman has gotten into a habit of abandoning the run in the second half, whether Miami is leading or trailing, turning the Dolphins into a one-dimensional team, and it's hurting a lot.
Bengals fans are very familiar with Mike Wallace from his Steeler days. How has he been for the 'Fins?
If you want one word, it's "disappointing." Wallace simply is not being used as well as he could be, and then when he is targeted, he's dropping too many passes. We knew when the Dolphins signed him that he had a drop issue, but you expect those to be made up with the long ball to him streaking down the sideline or catching the slant and getting the yards after catch. We are not seeing those, so the drops stand out even more. He and Tannehill need to get on the same page, and things could start to click, but right now, Tannehill overthrows or underthrows Wallace on nearly every down the field shot they take.
Miami is giving up the most sacks per game in the league. Is this a symptom of Ryan Tannehill holding the ball too long or issues with the offensive line? How do you think they fare against the Bengals defensive line?
It's everything. Tannehill is doing a much better job this year of scanning his progressions, finding the right guy, and delivering the ball. The problem is, he's doing it too much, and for too long. If he goes through his progressions, and no one is open, he is trying to wait and let someone come open, rather than running or throwing away the ball. He can't wait that long and expect to not get sacked.
The offensive line definitely has issues, and hopefully the addition of Bryan McKinnie and the move of Jonathan Martin back to the right side of the line will help. They looked good in the first half of the game against the Patriots, so there's at least a chance that they are an upgraded unit. Along those same lines, the running backs and tight ends need to do a better job in blitz pickup and chip blocking as well.
And, finally, the play calling is not helping. The abandonment of the run means teams can simply go after Tannehill on every single play. Add in the fact that Tannehill and center Mike Pouncey, who typically will do the cadence in shotgun situations, give away the play with their cadence ("GO" means pass, "GO-GO" means run), and the offensive line is not being done any favors.
Cincinnati will likely find success, especially in the second half, if Miami does not stick to the run and if McKinnie and Martin cannot get used to their team/position.
What one player that Bengals fans may not know about should we watch for on Thursday night?
Charles Clay is someone really to watch this year. The H-back has stepped up and filled the role Dustin Keller was expected to play for the team, and he is doing it really well. He's on pace for 780 yards and seven touchdowns on 66 receptions. He's really having a great year, and is someone to watch in the passing game.
With the loss of Brandon Gibson, who fills the role for the Dolphins?
That's a great question, and one all Dolphins fans will be watching Thursday night to see answered. Gibson was tied for the team lead with three touchdown receptions, and was on an incredibly hot streak, scoring all three touchdowns in about two and a half quarters of play. He's been a clutch receiver for Miami, especially on third down this year. He's going to be missed.
Depth chart wise, we should see Rishard Matthews slide into the number three receiver position. Production wise, I think Clay will likely see an increase in his targeting and receptions. And, one intriguing possibility is return man Marcus Thigpen. The Dolphins started working him as a slot receiver last year, and kept doing it this year. He's listed as a running back, but he could be an option in the passing game as Miami looks to fill the hole left by Gibson.