After a disappointing start to the 2016 NFL season, the Cincinnati Bengals are looking to bounce back against a team that many consider to be one of the worst in the NFL, the Miami Dolphins. The Bengals will play early this week, on Thursday, and are widely considered to be the favorite to notch their first home win of the 2016 season and even up their record to .500.
One of the biggest stories this week for the Bengals involves the return of Vontaze Burfict from suspension. His return will relegate Vincent Rey, who has been playing well in Burfict’s absence, to the role of a backup. Unfortunately, it looks like Tyler Eifert, who was also hoping to return on Thursday, will not be able to. That said, it might not be the worst thing in the world as the Dolphins have allowed the 12th highest quarterback rating in the NFL so far (94.8), despite recording the seventh most sacks (9).
Furthermore, the Dolphins rank as the second worst run defense in the NFL, so the Bengals’ offense shouldn’t find too many problems without Eifert for another week. However, it will mean that these key matchups will be even more important:
DE Cameron Wake vs RT Cedric Ogbuehi
For years, Cameron Wake has been known as one of the NFL’s premier defensive ends. His 2015 season ended up being a bust due to a torn Achilles suffered in late October. But, that wasn’t before he recorded seven sacks in seven games. He was on pace to average one sack per game, a mark that has only been reached 62 times in NFL history. For reference, only J.J. Watt managed to record at least 16 sacks in 2015. That put Wake on pace to rank at least second in the NFL in total sacks last year if he didn’t get hurt.
This year, Wake has been off to a much slower start, not recording a sack or even a tackle until the Dolphins’ first win last week against the Cleveland Browns. Having been lost for the season so late last year, he might be suffering from the same lack of preparation that hampered Geno Atkins’ 2014 season so much after he tore his ACL against the Miami Dolphins in 2013.
The regression that Wake has endured in 2016 so far bodes well for the Bengals’ new starting right tackle, Cedric Ogbuehi. Through three games, he has struggled mightily to adjust to the NFL speed, after sitting out much of his rookie season. Granted, he still seems to be an upgrade over former Bengals starting right tackle Andre Smith. But, that’s not really saying much.
This week will mark an interesting test for both Wake and Ogbuehi. If Ogbuehi can keep Wake at bay, that’s one of the league’s best defensive ends that he just put away. It should be a massive confidence boost and will show that there is hope for him to develop over some more time. However, if Wake bounces back with a big performance against Ogbuehi, it will not only show that Wake is still capable of a dominating performance, but that Ogbuehi still has a long way to go. After last week’s commendable performance from Ogbuehi against Von Miller, expectations can probably lie somewhere in the middle.
QB Ryan Tannehill vs WLB Vontaze Burfict
Rey has played very well in the absence of Burfict during his suspension. However, Bengals fans love their star linebacker and will be dying to see what he can accomplish this week up against one of the league’s most underrated young quarterbacks.
Recently, Tannehill has received a lot of blame for the Dolphins’ poor 1-2 start to the season. Perhaps that is fair, as Tannehill currently ranks fifth in the NFL in terms of interceptions thrown (4). However, he has also recovered quite nicely from each interception to put up some decent stats. In fact, out of all of the quarterbacks who have thrown at least four interceptions, Tannehill has the highest quarterback rating (88.8). He has also thrown for the ninth most yards (892) and the eighth most touchdowns (five), despite being sacked the 11th most times (six).
It will be an intriguing first test to see how ready Burfict is for the 2016 season. Typically, he has been good at both covering the pass and rushing the passer. So, if he can show up and play like that against the Dolphins, it is unlikely that their 25th ranked rushing attack will be enough to get much done against a Bengals defense that joins only the Detroit Lions in not allowing a rushing touchdown so far this season.
WR Jarvis Landry vs Bengals secondary
Currently boasting 24 catches for 314 yards and a touchdown, the Dolphins’ Jarvis Landry is currently one of the top ranked wide receiver in the nation. The top six receivers in terms of yards through Week 3 are Marvin Jones, Stefon Diggs, Landry, Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and A.J. Green. That’s some special company to be part of, especially for a wide receiver who has generally been forgotten about for most of his career, such as in college when he had to share the spotlight with guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and Jeremy Hill.
He will certainly be a test for a Bengals secondary that has allowed the 12th least passing yards in the NFL so far (741). The one knock against him is that he has only scored one touchdown in the air so far this season. But, that might improve as he is going up against a Bengals secondary that has allowed the third most passing touchdowns in the NFL (nine). Though, Dre Kirkpatrick is doubtful to play, which will change the dynamic we’ve seen.
The Bengals don’t play a whole lot of man coverage, so the whole unit will need to step up to keep Landry in check while also trying to keep guys like DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills at bay. They managed to virtually shut down Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh as well as both Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall in New York. However, they did allow big days from Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas against the Broncos, so they will want to be on their game this week against Landry.