Thursday, October 31, 2013

Four Point Stance: Bengals at Dolphins


A cloud of desperation hovers over the 3-4 Miami Dolphins, who host the 6-2 Cincinnati Bengals in a Halloween primetime tilt. Reports of player dissent and an emotional breakdown by an offensive starter have marred a short week of preparation ahead of a critical game, as Miami looks to avoid adding to its four-game losing streak.

The Bengals, meanwhile, are headed in the opposite direction, having won each of their last four including a 49-9 blowout of the New York Jets a week ago. A win over Miami would complete a season sweep of the AFC East for the Bengals.

Both teams have been afflicted by a rash of injuries recently, with Dolphins receiver Brandon Gibson (knee), Bengals cornerback Leon Hall (Achilles) and Bengals safety Taylor Mays (shoulder) all suffering season-ending injuries in recent weeks. Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin (illness), whose short and long-term future has been pulled into question after a bizarre incident this week, also will not play Thursday night.

When the Bengals have the ball:
As the Jets discovered last week, it's nearly impossible to matchup with all of Cincinnati's offensive weapons. Embattled third-year quarterback Andy Dalton has struggled with accuracy and overall consistency this season, but having A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Jermaine Gresham and Gio Bernard among others (Marvin Jones?) at your disposal allows for a much greater margin of error. To stop this offense, Miami will need to force Dalton to make quick decisions while mixing up coverages, putting the onus on him to make plays, hoping to force mistakes. Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle worked in Cincinnati in 2011, Dalton's rookie season, and should have a decent idea how to attack the young quarterback.

When the Dolphins have the ball:
For this game, it's going to be about how well Miami manages Cincinnati's defensive line. It's been demonstrated that the Dolphins don't have the talent in their front five to match up with the likes of Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson, so it'll have to be done through scheme, misdirection and a productive rushing performance. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman's play calling will be under heavy scrutiny after reports that players were frustrated with the lack of balance surfaced this week. Running the ball successfully on the eight-ranked Bengals defense will require patience and persistence, but the down-and-distance and play-action advantages created by a respectable run game production will be key to a Dolphins win.

Mike Pouncey. Whether the Dolphins' offense is running or throwing the ball, it's crucial that they establish some measure of control of the line of scrimmage. No player has more of a role in accomplishing that than Pouncey. He'll need to do an exceptional job of peeling off to the second level in the run game and reading blitzes in pass protection if Miami is to pull off the upset.

In November 1977, the Bengals' Ken Anderson threw a late touchdown pass to defeat Bob Greise's Dolphins by a score of 23-17. Cincinnati didn't beat Miami again until 2004, a drought that spanned nearly 27 years. Last season, the Dolphins beat the playoff-bound Bengals 17-13 for their second straight win in the matchup, the first of which came on Halloween of 2010.

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