Bengals vs. Dolphins: Four Things To Watch For

Tyler Barrick

Taking a look at four things that could dictate Thursday's game against the Miami Dolphins.

There's something to be said about momentum. Currently Cincinnati is sporting a four-game winning streak with the confidence of a man undergoing a midlife crisis, wearing a wrinkled Hawaiian shirt while cruising down the coast in a 2014 Mustang Convertible. Along with the four-game streak, the Bengals have won 13 of the 16 regular season games, dating back to the midseason point last year.

Their offense is averaging over 30 points per game over the last three games, led by quarterback Andy Dalton, who won AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors hours before Thursday's kickoff in Miami.

Equally so is that the Bengals defense is relentless, forcing teams like the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, two likely Hall of Famers, to a combined 5 of 25 on third down opportunities with key turnovers late in the game to win games or seal their respective victories.

On the other hand, Miami is sliding on a four-game losing streak, scoring 24 total points in the second half of each of the past four games combined with a defense allowing 28.5 points/game during that span.

Distribution of the football. One of the keys of Andy Dalton's sudden emergence from frustration to award-winner is the focus on distribution.

As we pointed out earlier this week, A.J. Green was the object of Dalton's affection earlier in the season, targeting Green on 34 percent of his throws through the first four games. In the last four, Green has been targeted on only 26 percent of Dalton's passes; Green responded by compiling 134 yards more with less targets and receptions.

As a result, Marvin Jones had a record-breaking performance with four touchdowns and the Bengals have six players with 24 receptions or more this year -- the only team in the league with six.

And over the last three games, five players have recorded a receiving touchdowns, from Green, Jones to Giovani Bernard, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.

Balanced Bengals defense. The Bengals defense have been a jack of all trades this year. They're not specifically great at anything right now, but they're damn good at everything. The league's eighth-ranked defense is 11th against the pass and eighth against the run. Vontaze Burfict leads the league with 106 tackles. Michael Johnson is graded as the league's top defensive ends (in base 4-3 packages) against the run (according to Pro Football Focus) with Carlos Dunlap coming in third. Chris Crocker and Adam Jones returned interceptions for touchdown against the Jets on Sunday.

Then the Bengals pass rush, while effective, aren't generating the numbers from last year. Currently on pace to fall nearly 10 sacks shy of their franchise record from last season, Geno Atkins is the only player projected to reach the double-digit plateau. Football Outsiders ranks them 21st this year after finishing second in 2012.

However, the defensive line will have an opportunity to tee-off on one of the league's worst offensive lines. Football Outsiders ranks them 30th in pass protection with an adjusted sack rate of 10.4 percent.

Pin your ears back, boys.

Domination in first and third quarters. Cincinnati has scored a touchdown in the first quarter of every game this year, save for the Cleveland Browns (a loss) and the New England Patriots. And in two of the past three games, the offense has generated double-digit points by the end of the first quarter.

The Miami Dolphins have scored a touchdown in the first quarter of two games this season, including two touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts in week two.

During Cincinnati's four-game winning streak, the Bengals have scored 65 total points in the first and third quarters combined, while only allowing 24 points. This enhances the perspective that the team is entering games prepared and executing the game-plan while making good second half adjustments.

However, if there are concerns, the Bengals have been outscored 33-38 in the fourth quarter this season.

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