A look at some key matchups in Sunday’s game between the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals:
WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN THE BALL
Ironically, even though the Dolphins run the ball better than they pass, they really want to be a passing team. Last week, they passed 41 times. And it was necessary because Reggie Bush was still nursing a knee injury and was sore despite the fact he was playing. But the truth is the Dolphins make fewer mistakes when they run more. They don’t throw interceptions when they run. They don’t get sacked and the football doesn’t pop out when they run. And the difference between winning and losing for the Dolphins this season has been turnovers. The club is minus-5 in the turnover margin. It needs to cut that down by running more and passing less. Yes, that sounds boring to the average fan. But that’s the same fan who complains when the team loses. By the way, the Dolphins continue to hold a competition for carries behind Bush. Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller are fighting for carries. Expect Thomas to continue getting the extra work early on when Bush isn’t in the game. The hotter back will get the carries later. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS THE BALL
One week after facing the defense with the second-most sacks in the NFL, the Dolphins now face the team that leads the NFL in sacks. Cincinnati has collected six sacks in each of the past two games and, unlike many teams including Arizona, the Bengals do it without much blitzing. That means the Dolphins either have to win their one-on-one matchups or bring help and double-multiple Cincinnati’s rushers. That, of course, decreases the number of potential receivers. The encouraging thing is that last week, while under much duress, quarterback Ryan Tannehill made significant strides in improving his accuracy. His 63.4 percent completion rate was impressive in that it was the highest he has posted but also in that he did it while completing passes of 80, 57, 30, and 21 yards. It should encourage the Dolphins to see former Dolphins safety Chris Crocker playing safety for the Bengals. He showed himself a poor last line of defense against long passes during his short time in Miami. ADVANTAGE: Even.
WHEN THE BENGALS RUN THE BALL
Cedric Benson is gone because the Bengals believed BenJarvus Green-Ellis would be an upgrade. Not so much. BJG-E is averaging a pedestrian 3.5 yards per rush and has only two touchdowns. As a former member of the Patriots, he did enjoy success against Miami in that he scored three touchdowns in the past four games. So he is familiar with Miami’s personnel. Last week, the Dolphins again shut down an opposing running game and run-stopping continues to be Miami’s defensive strength. The only concern in this regard is the health of linebacker Kevin Burnett, who has been slowed by a foot injury in recent weeks. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
WHEN THE BENGALS PASS THE BALL
Andy Dalton is statistically the best quarterback the Dolphins have faced since the season opener against Houston and Matt Schaub. Dalton has a season QB rating of 103, which is fifth in the NFL behind Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Schaub and Robert Griffin III. Dalton is the NFL’s highest-rated fourth-quarter passer with a 151.7 rating. He has four TDs and no interceptions and is completing 74 percent of his passes in that quarter. A.J. Green leads the AFC with 27 catches and will pose a problem for reserve cornerback Nolan Carroll, who is starting in place of Richard Marshall. Marshall is out with a back injury. Look for the Dolphins to match Sean Smith on Green. Last week, Smith had a good game in his matchup against Larry Fitzgerald. Cameron Wake helped cover a ton of issues in the secondary by posting 4.5 sacks. The Dolphins need a repeat, but he’s facing Andre Smith instead of a rookie this week. ADVANTAGE: Cincinnati.
Brandon Fields is a better punter than Kevin Huber, averaging 6 yards more per kick than his counterpart. But everything else becomes a question mark. Dan Carpenter has had two disastrous games in a row, missing three key field-goal attempts in those two games. Yes, they were all long kicks. But he has connected on such kicks in the past, so the pressure is now mounting on him to stem that tide before it washes him off the roster. Bengals kicker Mike Nugent cannot relate. He’s 7 for 7 on field-goal attempts and hasn’t missed an extra point, either. Cincinnati kick returner Brandon Tate should be of concern to the Dolphins. Last time he played against Miami — in October 2010 while still with the Patriots — he returned a kick 103 yards for a touchdown. ADVANTAGE: Even.
The previous Miami coaching staff had trouble winning at home. This staff has yet to win on the road. And winning anywhere is a struggle when offensive coordinator Mike Sherman refuses to dial back on his aggressive play-calling in late-game situations that call for exactly that. He arguably hurt his team the past two weeks by calling passes where more conservative run calls might have been better and might have helped his team win. There is a place and time for dialing up aggressive calls. It is entertaining. But in the final three minutes, nursing a touchdown lead isn’t one of those. ADVANTAGE: Cincinnati.