It is unwise to discredit schematics. Much effort and coordination goes into making every NFL game possible and a shortened week strains those efforts. Playing a few days earlier in the week may seem like a minor hassle to some, but to NFL people, it makes for a hellish rush.
Outside of the hurried preparation, the Cincinnati Bengals limp into this game with major contributors ailing and badly requiring rest. This game has the feel of a forfeit, despite the tremendous blowout of the week before.
I am not suggesting that the Bengals will simply go through the motions and not try to win the game. Nor am I suggesting the Miami Dolphins are the better team, but it seems like human nature to relax a little bit once a two-game lead on the division is secured.
On the other hand, the Bengals are smoking hot on offense and Andy Dalton has reaffirmed a perceived healthy grasp of Jay Gruden's playbook. Roles have been rigidly defined among the weapons, allowing each player to feel involved and necessary. The pass-protection is out of sight these days. The Dolphins too have their hands full.
This game is such a puzzler to predict because we simply don't know how the fatigue and injury will play a part in the coaches' game-planning. Would they really ease up and give some weary starters less snaps? If that is the case, I would think the Bengals would run the ball more than usual. Probably stuff up the middle. If they go along with business as usual, then there is no need to stop throwing the quick outs to tight ends and looking for the long pass in man coverage. I think after last week, the Dolphins will show more zone coverage and not let those secondary receivers beat them deep. That would allow the underneath stuff and crossing routes. It would also allow for easier running lanes.
While I agree that the Bengals offense is positively humming at the moment, this is the time when the good teams are already adjusting their scheme. If they are at their best at this point of the season, we won't like how it ends. It's important that the organization doesn't feel too fat and sassy from scoring so many points last week. The best minds in the game are always ready to morph into the next phase before the competition can adjust; the Bengals have not always demonstrated this kind of ability.
Defensively, the Zim Clan looks like they're giving it their all, but how long can they sustain such a high level of play with so many key members dropping out? I like their depth and they seem mindful of filling positions through the draft, but some kind of fall off has to happen when three or four starters are missing. The good news is that the fearsome front is still relatively in tact, with the werewolf Margus Hunt awaiting in the wings. As the season wears down, the collective endurance will ultimately dictate how successful this defense will be. While it's nice to have youngsters like Hunt, and Burfict and Kirkpatrick on the roster, there is also Terence Newman, Adam Jones and James Harrison, all with high mileage totals.
I am happy with the team. I think they are finally gaining the confidence they need to be great, but this week feels like the preseason and, despite the modest Miami record, seems like an extremely difficult win. If they are able to do so, I think a lot of credit should go to Marvin Lewis for getting his guys up enough to come home victorious. This game will speak to the toughness of the team. Teach me a lesson, Bengals.
Dolphins 24, Bengals 18
Mojokong-out with the chlorophyll