Welcome to the Jungle: Stats, Predictions and Keys to the Game for Dolphins vs. Bengals
After an embarrassment of a performance against the lowly Cleveland Browns, the Miami Dolphins are faced with a short week of preparation before their matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are also 1-2, coming off two straight losses to the Steelers and Broncos.
This should be seen as a must-win game for both squads, but one that heavily favors Cincinnati. They will be looking to stick with Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the AFC North race and will be at home for this Thursday night showdown. They have a ton of talent, but have yet to put it all together after their division-winning season in 2015.
Through the first few weeks of 2016, we have oft discussed the importance of adjusting to circumstances in Gase’s premier season in Miami. After their worst performance to date in Week 3, their ability to rebound against Cincinnati could define their season
The Bengals rank 11th in net total yards through three weeks of the 2016 season, largely due to the effectiveness of their passing game: Andy Dalton and A.J. Green rank in the top-6 in passing yards and receiving yards, respectively. Their rushing attack, however, has been surprisingly ineffective. They have an opportunity to change that in Week 4.
Miami has surrendered the fifth most rushing first downs in the league. Strangely, Miami has been extremely successful in terms of percentage of third down conversions allowed (35.6%). This suggests that the Dolphins are allowing teams to move the chains on the ground in the early downs. It will be interesting if Cincinnati takes advantage of this trend.
On the other hand, the Bengals have allowed the most sacks in the league. This heavily plays into the Dolphins’ favor, as their defensive line has been one of their only bright sports. Miami is tied for fourth in sacks (9) and leads the NFL with 22 QB hurries. If the Dolphins have any advantage in this game, this very well may be it.
It is also important to point out that teams have been consistently trying to run on the Bengal’s defense, but largely to no avail. They are only surrendering 3.7 yards per carry and have yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season. That leads us to the first key of the game…
Keys to the Game:
Balanced Miami offense:
While Gase is seen as a quarterback guru, his offense is most successful when it is balanced. An effective run game takes the pressure off of Tannehill and sets the stage for Gase’s creative play calling for the passing attack. Unfortunately, Miami’s offense has been anything but balanced under Gase, and they face Cincinnati’s stingy run defense in Week 4.
The Dolphins are in the top 10 in passing yards per game, but rank 25th in both rushing attempts and total rushing yards. Arian Foster is once again dealing with injuries and is expected to miss at least one more week. That leaves Kenyan Drake, Jay Ajayi, Isaiah Pead and Damien Williams at Gase’s disposal. While each has a specific and useful set of skills, Gase needs to lean on one back and get them into a rhythm. A committee is fine, but not if it hurts the productivity of each individual back.
In Week 3, Miami seemed to have a clear opportunity to enforce their run game, but once again relied heavily on Tannehill’s arm instead. If Gase fails to get his running backs going in a short week of preparation, the offense won’t be able to stay on the field, and the defense will suffer.
Defending A.J. Green:
The Dolphins just let Terrelle Pryor go off for 8 catches and 144 yards and will have their hands full tomorrow with A.J. Green. If you manage to slow him down, however, you have a chance to beat this team. The Bengals’ offense had great success last season largely due to their secondary weapons: Mohamed Sanu and Tyler Eifert. Sanu is now in Atlanta, while Eifert is approaching the end of a long recovery process from an ankle injury.
As such, Cincinnati is relying heavily on two newcomers: Brandon LaFell and rookie Tyler Boyd. Miami needs to make these two beat them through the air, as opposed to A.J. Green. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single member of the Dolphins’ secondary capable of covering Green one-on-one, and Vance Joseph will have to cater his defensive game plan to stopping Cincinnati’s top target. If their preparation isn’t significantly better than it was for the Cleveland game, they are going to have a tough time getting to 2-2.
Decision-making of Ryan Tannehill:
Giving Tannehill more control of the offense and power to audible at the line of scrimmage sounded great in theory, and after two weeks it seemed as if Gase had caused a transformation in his quarterback. He seemed like a better leader; someone his teammates looked to for guidance and support. Well, that all came crashing down against the Browns.
Tannehill looked flustered and frustrated for nearly the entire game, as if he was questioning himself and every single one of his decisions. He threw an interception on the first drive of the game, a momentum altering pick-six, and fumbled the ball as well. With Tannehill’s added responsibility, he can’t afford to be making these types of mistakes. Winning the turnover battle would be a huge advantage for Miami on Thursday.
Defending Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill:
Thus far in 2016, the Dolphins rank 31st in run defense. Despite all of the issues in the defensive backfield, Miami is actually on track to modestly improve upon their 2015 finish in pass defense. For this reason, their execution against the ground game is what is truly worrisome at this point.
Cincinnati has a dangerous and versatile rushing attack, much like that of the Brown’s. Cleveland’s head coach Hue Jackson was likely attracted to the opportunity in Cleveland partially because of the duo of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr., who combined for 148 rushing yards on only 25 carries against Miami. Their skillsets closely mirror that of Hill and Bernard, respectively.
Joseph’s emphasis on the pass rush and Wide-9 has created a ton of holes in the defensive line, and the linebacker corps seems incapable of plugging them. They’re diagnosing abilities are subpar and it shows on tape every time they are a step late to fill the gaps. Considering the short week, Cincinnati will likely lean on Hill and Bernard with an emphasis on time of possession. Their success could decide the game.
With the way Week 3 played out, it would be shocking to see Miami remain competitive in this matchup. Outside of the wide receivers and defensive line, the Dolphins looked lifeless against the Browns. Now Gase is tasked with getting them confident and ready to execute for a Thursday night game in an AFC North venue. Simply put, I don’t like his chances.
The Dolphins barely squeaked by the hapless Browns last week in one of the worst winning efforts I’ve ever seen. Outside of the receiver corps, the defensive line, and whatever machine Reshad Jones is, I don’t think that there is an above average unit on this team. In contrast, the Bengals are objectively above average across the board. Though the Bengals haven’t been as capable with their numerous coaching losses like Hue Jackson and Vance Joseph, they’re still capable enough to beat the Dolphins on a short week.
For a team trying to learn on the fly under a new coaching staff, a Thursday Night Football matchup this early in the season is a tough task. I don’t expect the Dolphins to give the Bengals much of a fight, even though the Bengals have underachieved at times this season. Miami’s only chance is if Andy Dalton comes out flat on Thursday, and by flat I mean really bad.