In the beginning of this decade, the Bengals and Dolphins were quite familiar with one another. From 2010 to 2013, the two teams faced off three times, and the Dolphins were victorious each time. There was a two year break in between their next matchup, which the Bengals won 22-7.
Even looking back at that game that took place just over two years ago, the rosters for both teams were drastically different than what they are now. Despite this, some of the best matchups for this Sunday’s game features names that played in that 2016 game.
Roster turnover has altered the composition of each team that currently leads their respective divisions, but some familiar talent will be in the center of attention. Here are the matchups we’re most interested in watching:
WR A.J. Green vs. CB Minkah Fitzpatrick
We may not see these two match up against one another for more than a handful of times, but each time they do it’ll be very encapsulating. The Bengals offense haven’t used Green in the slot as much as the perception may be regarding it (about one every five snaps) but his effectiveness in that alignment is what’s been notable. Four of his five touchdowns have come from routes that started in the slot, and the majority of his yards have come from there as well.
No one has been able to really stop Green from the slot. Now it’s the Dolphins first-round pick to have a crack at it.
Fitzpatrick has been thriving from the position since his days in Alabama. He’s been one of the best in defending the slot, and by far the best rookie to do it through four games. The Dolphins haven’t exactly nailed their recent first-round picks, but Fitzpatrick has looked like a slam dunk from the moment they drafted him. His toughest matchup yet in Green awaits.
RG Alex Redmond vs. DT Vincent Taylor
I went over Redmond’s spotty work in pass protection against the Falcons this week, but for this matchup, the focus is on run blocking. Redmond has had more individual success in this area, and the numbers can back this up. The Bengals running game has a 57% success rate when running behind the Bengals right guard, which is 12% over the league-wide average. This week, Redmond is going up against a little-known run stuffer who is not to be underestimated.
The Dolphins recently released defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and they lost defensive end William Hayes to a torn ACL, but they’ve still got some players on the defensive line. Taylor has been one of the more productive run defending defensive tackles through four games, and he almost exclusively goes up against the right B-gap. Redmond will be quite familiar with Taylor by the time the final whistle is blown, his success against him will be imperative to the Bengals running game that will be short-staffed once again.
LB Vontaze Burfict vs. RB Kenyan Drake
For both parties involved, this will be a statement game. For Burfict, he’s expected to bring the Bengals defense up from the bottom of the pit where they currently reside, while also showing he can play in a league that has become more strict for defenders since he last played.
One thing Burfict can be relied upon is finishing tackles, because when he tackles ballcarriers, he tackles them. Missed tackles and bad angles were major issues for the Bengals backup linebackers that were filling in for Burfict this season, and those issues would’ve persisted against Drake.
Through the first two weeks of the season, Drake looked like he was going to take the next step that many expected him to take. Entering Week 3, he had 101 rushing yards on 25 carries and a touchdown. In the last two weeks, he has six rushing yards on eight carries.
Odds are, the real Drake is the one from the first two weeks of the year. After all, he led the league last year in average yards after contact per attempt. For whatever reason, the Dolphins offense went away from him against the Raiders and then the Patriots, but he’s still one of the best ballcarriers who can get yards by himself and break tackles.
The Bengals are getting their star linebacker at an opportune time, and he’ll be tasked with chasing down Drake for as long as they put him out their in his season debut.
FS Jessie Bates vs. WR Kenny Stills
Not only is Stills one of the best deep threats in the league right now, he’s been a lining up on the left and right boundary and in the slot almost completely equally. Each of the Bengals starting cornerbacks will likely face Stills in coverage, and Bates will have to make sure he doesn’t get over top of him.
On just 19 targets, Stills is averaging 18.7 yards per reception, and has three touchdowns, including the one shown above. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s success targeting Stills downfield isn’t something that should be brushed to the side. The two will have opportunities to take the top off of the Bengals secondary that has been suspect at best this season, and Bates will be on his toes all game making sure the they don’t connect with the deep ball.