When the Dolphins pass the ball
Ryan Tannehill needs a rebound game because the past three weeks, he has been a 52 percent passer and has as many turnovers as touchdowns to his credit, or discredit. The Dolphins seem to do a decent job of protecting Tannehill until the opponent knows the Dolphins are abandoning the run. So it would be wise for the Dolphins to strike a balance between run and pass that has eluded them recently. This game might be the greatest test for the interior of the Dolphins offensive line in protecting against sacks. And Mike Wallace has been generally contained so far this season, a deep threat turned into a possession receiver. The Bengals did a good job against Wallace last season, but the receiver had two touchdowns in two 2010 meetings and one touchdown in two 2011 meetings.
When the Dolphins run the ball
The game plan last week was to run the ball against a weak run defense, and the plan worked well until offensive coordinator Mike Sherman abandoned it in the third quarter. Guess what? The plan this week is to try and run it again, except the Bengals are a much better team against the run. They rank eighth in the NFL against the rush. Their front seven, although lessened by the loss of linebacker Rey Maualuga, is still among the best in the NFL. Dolphins running back Lamar Miller found it easy to get to the edge last week. The Bengals are harder to run wide against.
When the Bengals run the ball
The Bengals are far from a dynamic running team. They average only 3.6 yards per run. Former Patriots running back Benjarvus Green-Ellis is a hardnosed player who doesn’t fumble, but he’s neither imposing nor fast nor quick. Giovani Bernard has the ability to break runs with his speed and quickness, but so far he’s more about potential than production. The Dolphins are healthy in the front seven — perhaps as healthy as they’ve been since the season opener. Jared Odrick is coming off his best game as a Dolphins player, having manhandled New England’s Logan Mankins. Let’s see if he can keep it up.
When the Bengals pass the ball
Andy Dalton, who so far has played as well on the road as at home, is statistically the best passer the Dolphins have faced the past three games. That’s not good for them because the Dolphins have lost the past three games against quarterbacks not producing at Dalton’s level, and they’ve done so even when returning an interception for a touchdown against Baltimore and intercepting Tom Brady and setting up the offense for a touchdown. Receiver A.J. Green is a mismatch nightmare, but the Dolphins faced a similar mismatch in Atlanta’s Julio Jones and limited his production with bracket coverage and rolling coverages to his side.
That confidence the Dolphins had in rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis earlier this season when he connected on his first 10 field goals in a row? That has been tarnished lately as he has missed on three of four and had another blocked. Bengals kicker Mike Nugent is inconsistent, with misses from 52, 34 and 47 yards among his 13 attempts. Like Miami’s Marcus Thigpen, Cincinnati’s Brandon Tate is a threat as a kick returner but has struggled doing much damage with his punt returns. Thigpen is down to only 5.2 yards per punt return — not good considering the Dolphins are ranked 27th in the NFL in the category.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle runs a similar defense to Cincinnati because he learned the system under Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, so in some regard it’s a professor-student thing. Sherman is increasingly under fire for his curious inability to recognize situations and call the game accordingly. None of it suggests the Dolphins have an advantage.