Coming off a short week before a Thursday night game against the Dolphins, a sub .500 Bengals team is going to be hungry and motivated. After a disappointing loss to the Broncos where the team essentially shut down in the last six minutes, the Bengals will get a much needed boost from a returning player. And with that, let’s take a look at the five key players to watch in this special color rush edition of Thursday Night Football. And, for the first time, we’re including an opposing team player on the list.
1.) Vontaze Burfict
The heart and soul of the Bengals defense is back and they need him more than ever. Whether you want to admit it or not, this team’s defensive unit relies on 55 as their lifeblood. As a group they don’t always carry the same swagger, confidence, and level of performance without Vontaze Burfict in the lineup. Now, in his first game back after a suspension, and on the heels of a brutal AFC Wild Card game, he’ll be looking to make an impact against an already hurting Dolphins team. I don’t expect Burfict to be on any kind of a snap count — though the Bengals are suggesting he will be — and we’ll be hearing his name constantly all night. Don’t be surprised if he finishes with double digit tackles.
2.) Adam Jones
Adam Jones is going to be a big part of the Bengals’ defense shutting down the Dolphins on Thursday. He had a really rare bad game against the Broncos last week, but it’s so atypical of Jones that it shouldn’t be held against him. The Dolphins don’t exactly boast a lot of great receiving talent outside of Jarvis Landry, so Jones and Kirkpatrick will need to hold their own on the boundary. Jordan Cameron is likely to be out do to a concussion, but Dion Sims will try do some damage inline at the Y spot. Karlos Dansby will likely do what he does best and shut down tight ends in the passing game. If Jones can shut down the Dolphins’ top receiver, there’s not going to be many places for Ryan Tannehill to look, and he’ll start to force throws and cause turnovers.
3.) Giovani Bernard
Bernard didn’t put up a monster stat sheet like his 100 yard receiving day against Pittsburgh, but it was likely because the game-plan called for a lot more Jeremy Hill touches. This week I expect Bernard to see plenty of receiving targets out of the backfield. I expect him to see a couple screen passes his way as well as numerous check downs to get him in space. His ability to quickly get to the edge will help mitigate any interior defensive line presence that Ndamukong Suh will be able to muster up. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bernard scores multiples times in this game as a receiver, while Hill gets the majority of carries again as a runner.
4.) A.J. Green
The Bengals star receiver likely had a crazy sleep deprived week of joy as he and his wife welcomed their newborn son into the world last week. It showed on Sunday as there wasn’t much production coming from the Pro Bowler, including an uncharacteristic third down drop he said would haunt him all season. Expect him to be matched up with former Seahawk Byron Maxwell on Thursday night. He should have a nice day working against Maxwell whose only notable achievement in the past few seasons was robbing the Philadelphia Eagles of a ton of cash. That’s not to say that Maxwell isn’t good, but Green is so much better. I’m hoping Ken Zampese makes him more of a focal point in the offense than he’s been the last two games. This is especially true after Terrelle Pryor made Maxwell look average, at best as he accumulated eight catches for 144 yards.
5.) Ryan Tannehill
Let’s give a warm welcome to the first non-Bengals player on this list this year. No? Good. Who Dey. The Dolphins have struggled this year largely because, quite frankly, Tannehill doesn’t know how to play quarterback that well. Rumors have been swirling that he’s been losing support from his teammates quickly this year. The Bengals cannot make Tannehill look like a good quarterback the way they helped Trevor Siemian on Sunday. This is a Dolphins team that has a ton of injuries and question mark right now. Their passing game could be their only saving grace and the Bengals absolutely cannot let that happen.
Who are you going to be focusing on this weekend? Is there anyone flying under the radar that you expect to make a huge impact this week? Let me know in the comments!