The numbers coming into Sunday’s game at Cincinnati weren’t promising for the Dolphins. The pass defense was giving up nearly 300 yards a game, while the Bengals with quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green were ranked in the top 10 of the NFL’s passing offenses.
Past numbers meant nothing on Sunday as the Dolphins, playing without starting cornerback Richard Marshall, kept Dalton, Green and the Cincinnati aerial attack under wraps all game in a 17-13 victory at Paul Brown Stadium. Reshad Jones’ interception of a Dalton pass with one minute, 22 seconds remaining sealed the victory but a defense — more specifically, its secondary — that was ranked 30th in the league turned in arguably its best overall performance of the season.
Dalton had thrown for 300 yards in two of his previous three games as the Bengals ran off three consecutive victories, but the Dolphins limited him to 26-of-43 passing, 234 yards and one touchdown and intercepted him twice while sacking him three times.
Marshall did not play because of a back injury. Nolan Carroll got the start in his place. Carroll was credited with four tackles and one of six pass breakups the Dolphins had as a team.
“We had a difficult challenge without Richard being there,” Carroll said. “It came down to me, Sean [Smith], Jimmy [Wilson], Reshad and Chris [Clemons], all of us back there having to make plays because we knew this is one of most talented groups, one of the best groups in the NFL. It was a big test for us and we came out on top today.”
The Dolphins had allowed nine pass plays of 25 yards or more yards in the first four games, including gains of 46 and 33 yards last week in a 24-21 overtime loss at Arizona.
Cincinnati’s longest pass play was for 24 yards from Dalton to wide receiver Andrew Hawkins in the fourth quarter. Green did catch nine passes, including a 2-yard touchdown against tight coverage from Smith early in the fourth quarter, but he gained just 65 yards from those receptions.
Smith drew the assignment against Green for most of the game.
“It was good team defense,” coach Joe Philbin said. “We talked [Saturday] night about being disciplined. It appears [Smith] had a good game.”
Defensive tackle Randy Starks had the other interception of Dalton, picking off a pass at the line of scrimmage on the opening drive of the third quarter and setting up the Miami offense at the Cincinnati 36. Three plays later the Dolphins converted the turnover into seven points on a 13-yard touchdown run by Reggie Bush and Dan Carpenter’s extra point.
That extended a one-point halftime lead to eight points, 14-6.
“We had a stunt going on and got the middle clogged up. I read the quarterback’s eyes and I was fortunate enough to make the play,” Starks said.
Starks had three tackles, half a sack, a quarterback hit and a second pass breakup to go along with the interception.
“We knew they had a good receiver and a good quarterback, but we had to take away the deep ball,” Starks said. “Play your technique and don’t give up the big play. That was the difference in the ball game.”
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle spent the previous 11 seasons as Cincinnati’s defensive backs coach. His knowledge of the Bengals’ attack under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden helped in the shutdown of the Cincinnati offense.
“[Cincinnati] is like his first home, really,” Carroll said. “This is where he bred a lot of the guys that are in the NFL right now, guys like Leon Hall, Johnathan Joseph, Nate Clements and a lot of those guys. He knows a lot of those guys in the organization so it was very special for him to come in here and get the win.”