It’s the battle of the AFC this week for Thursday Night Football, as the Cincinnati Bengals face-off against the Miami Dolphins. Coming into this game, the Bengals are on a four-game winning streak with a current record of 6-2 with 2.5-game lead in the AFC North. While the 3-4 Dolphins are looking to end their current four-game losing streak and try to get back in the AFC East race.
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In the past, the Dolphins have had the upper hand against the Bengals but I think that’s a trend that’s about to change and while both teams have a chance to win tonight, there are certain steps both teams must follow, if they plan to come out victorious.
Bengals Steps to Victory
Offensively the Bengals have really stepped up the last couple games and it all starts with quarterback Andy Dalton. While Dalton is still doubted at times, no one can deny he has played very well the last couple of games. What I love most is that he is getting other receivers beside wide receiver AJ Green involved and he needs to continue to do that. Going into this game, Dolphins will do their best to bracket AJ Green and Dalton must be able to spread the ball around to his other weapons such as wide receiver Marvin Jones and tight ends Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham. Dalton must also continue to limit his turnovers and take what the defense gives him.
The Bengals offense also needs to get the run game going, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis really hasn’t shown up this season, so I look to see if rookie running back Giovani Bernard can get the running game going. He was very impressive at the beginning of the year and they need him to get back to that. One of the great things about Bernard is that he can be used in so many different ways both is the running and passing game and it’s time for Bengals to take advantage of it.
Defensively, it all starts with the defensive line, despite some costly injuries, they still have remained a force which is mainly due to their talented depth. Going into this game, that defensive line will need to create pressure, especially since Dolphins offensive line has been horrible this season, allowing quarterback Ryan Tannehill to be sacked 32 times so far this season. Plus when pressured, Tannehill has a bad habit of forcing passes, seeing that he has thrown nine interceptions so far this season but four of those interceptions were thrown in his last two games.
Which leads me to the secondary, while they have suffered some serious injuries, I still think the Bengals secondary is strong enough to compete. The question is, can they contain, I like to think so but only time will tell. Overall, I believe without cornerback Leon Hall there, this will have to be a team effort in the secondary. I won’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer plays around with a couple of different schemes, personally I think he would be smart possibly try to utilize a three safety formation, it’s risky but it could work.
However the real x-factor for the Bengals will be their ability to make the Dolphins a one-dimensional team and to do that, they must contain the run game. Now Dolphins are inconsistently committed to the run game but running back Lamar Miller has shown the ability to get going when give the opportunity. I don’t worry too much about the Bengals run defense seeing that they are ranked 8th in the NFL in opponent rushing yards, limiting teams to under 98 yards rushing per game. However, the Bengals job will be easier if they can contain the run, mainly because it allows the defense to focus on pressuring Tannehill and controlling the passing game.
Dolphins Steps to Victory
When it comes the Dolphins, this offense must step up. To do that, they must get quarterback Ryan Tannehill going in the pocket and to do that, they must first protect him. If the offensive-line is able to step up and contain the great pass rush of the Bengals, Tannehill should be able to make some plays for the Dolphins. However, Tannehill must limit his turnovers in this game, he has thrown nine interceptions so far this season, throwing the last four interceptions in his last two games. While most of his picks are a result of him being pressured, that’s still no excuse to force passes. Plus he can’t afford to turn the ball over against the Bengals because they are truly a team that can make you pay for it.
I also believe the Dolphins must do a better job of staying committed to the run game. Believe it or not, committing to the run game will help Tannehill, because the Dolphins will be forcing the front 7 to respect the run game, limiting the way they will pressure Tannehill and causing them to respect the run game. In the last two games, running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas have shown the ability to average over 100 rushing yards a game when given the chance to run the ball, so Dolphins would be smart to commit more to the run. Plus as I said before, it will make everyone better, from the offensive line all the way to Tannehill.
Defensively, their main goal should be to force the Bengals to become a one-dimensional team. The main time this Bengal offense really struggles and loses is when defenses are able force them to become one-dimensional. If the Dolphins are able to contain the running game of the Bengals, I honestly feel the Dolphins secondary will be able to match-up with Bengals receiving core. I still feel the Dolphins would be smart to bracket wide receiver AJ Green because their main goal should be to force quarterback Andy Dalton to beat them without Green.
However, the linebackers must play their part in this game, when you talk about the Bengals, it’s not just about their receivers but also their tight ends, rookie tight end Tyler Eifert and veteran tight end Jermaine Gresham have been pretty consistent this season and the Dolphins linebackers must be ready to contain them or this game will get out of hand fast.
Overall, I think the main thing the Dolphins must do, is finish, when you talk about the Dolphins, everyone brings up their four-game losing streak but keep in mind, all four of their recent losses have to do with their inability to finish the game. They led the New England Patriots at halftime but ultimately gave up the lead in the second half. Against the Baltimore Ravens and the Buffalo Bills, they allowed fourth quarter comebacks and were beat by late-field goals. That’s just un-acceptable, if they want to win, they have to finish and to finish they must limit turnovers and mental errors and most importantly execute.
No surprise here, I am going with the Bengals, while I have faith in the Dolphins and certainly believe this could be a close game. I honestly don’t trust the Dolphins to close out this game like they need to and the Bengals have shown that they know how to close out games. So again, I am going with the Bengals to beat the Dolphins but at the end of the day, all I want to see is a competitive game.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com