Bengals offense vs. Dolphins defense
Andy Dalton & Co. probably won’t hang five easy touchdowns on this defense. The Dolphins, unlike the Jets, have decent enough pass-rushers to deny Dalton the time for deep routes to unfold. The Dolphins secondary is also coming off one of its best performances of the season. Cornerbacks Brent Grimes, Dmitri Patterson and Jimmy Wilson were fantastic in off-man assignment pickups last week, taking away the Patriots’ quick-striking underneath passing game.
Of course, the Bengals are more vertical in their route designs than the Patriots, especially now that wideouts Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are showing rapid improvement. And just because the Dolphins have better pass-rushers than the Jets doesn’t mean the Bengals will completely eschew the deep ball. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden may believe that his big, fundamentally sound front five can handle this pass rush. Especially given that the most dangerous rusher, Cameron Wake, is still working his way back from a knee injury. Wake has lately been a shell of his usual self.
For the past several weeks, Miami’s front seven has been stingy against the run for three quarters, only to wear down late in the fourth. (This was a problem down the stretch last season, as well.) Given that it’s a short week, don’t be surprised if the Bengals stubbornly commit to the ground game early on in hopes of reaping rewards later.
Dolphins offense vs. Bengals defense
The loss of slot man Brandon Gibson really hurts Miami. This is an offense that prefers to spread out and, aside from Brian Hartline, is now devoid of any viable inside receiving threats. When things usually get this tough, a team would typically lean on the wide receiver it just signed for $30 million guaranteed. However, Mike Wallace has been nothing close to a true No. 1 this year. He doesn’t make contested catches, his route tree is limited and his rapport with Ryan Tannehill is undeveloped. Last week, based on matchup assignments, Hartline seemed to be the guy whom New England considered Miami’s top receiver.
Tannehill may not have time to even throw incompletions to Wallace, given his offensive line’s protection woes. Aside from a costly blown assignment on a slot blitz, Bryant McKinnie was actually solid in his Dolphins debut at left tackle last week. And Jonathan Martin looked a little better playing on the other side. But neither was competing against veteran dynamos like Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. And if New England’s blitzes were hard for McKinnie and some of his teammates to figure out, then Cincy’s, with limited prep time, will be impossible.
On the inside, look for the Bengals to do whatever they can to get Geno Atkins one-on-one against right guard John Jerry. Run or pass, that matchup will be a one-sided bloodbath favoring the man in stripes.