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AFC North-leading Bengals look to spook the 3-4 Dolphins in a Halloween showdown
Andy Dalton and the 6-2 Cincinnati Bengals travel to Sun Life Stadium to take on Ryan Tannehill and the 3-4 Miami Dolphins on "Thursday Night Football" on the NFL Network at 8:25 pm ET. This is a perfect example of how quickly things can change in the NFL. The first month saw the Dolphins take off to a 3-0 record, while the Bengals were stuck at 2-2 after a loss to the Cleveland Browns. Since that early portion of the season these teams have moved in opposite directions. The Bengals have won four straight games since the loss to Cleveland, beating two playoff-caliber teams in New England and Detroit.
Miami, on the other hand, has dropped four consecutive games. While the Dolphins did fall to two good teams in New England and New Orleans, two losses to Baltimore and Buffalo by a combined five points really sting. An 0-2 start in AFC East divisional play isn't how the Dolphins pictured the season going. However, they will look to get back to their winning ways tonight against perhaps second-best team in the AFC.
3 Things to Watch
Andy Dalton is officially on fire. The third-year pro has thrown eight passing touchdown in the last two weeks, which is most among all quarterbacks.This year, he has thrown for 2,249 passing yards, which ranks fourth in the NFL. Dalton has thrown for three or more scores in each of his last three games. In fact, Dalton has thrown for at least 300 yards, thrown three touchdowns and registered a QB rating over 100.0 for three straight weeks. He is the first quarterback to do this since Hall of Famer Steve Young did so in 1998. Dalton hasn't just been getting the ball to A.J. Green, who is second in the NFL in receiving yards with 734. He has successfully spread the ball around to guys like running back Giovani Bernard, wide receiver Marvin Jones and tight ends Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham. Jones had a franchise-record four receiving touchdowns last week, while Bernard has the most receptions of any rookie back. Six players on the Bengals have more than 20 receptions. Not even Peyton Manning's Broncos or Drew Brees' Saints have as many players with at least 20 receptions. Dalton has been pushing the ball down field more aggressively as he has completed 25 passes of over 25 yards this year. Dalton has been on fire since Week 5 and don't expect that to stop against a Dolphins' defense that is 20th in the NFL in passing defense.
Cincinnati Sack Attack
Guess who leads the NFL in sacks allowed? That's right, it's the Miami Dolphins. Ryan Tannehill has been sacked a league-leading 32 times in just seven games. That's an average of 4.5 sacks allowed per game. He's on pace to be sacked 73 times, which would shatter the team record of 53 sacks allowed in a season set in 1969. In an attempt to upgrade the line, Miami traded for former Ravens offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, who made his first start in a Dolphins uniform on Sunday. By trading for him, they were able to move former left tackle Jonathan Martin back to the right side. This didn't work. Because of the pressure Tannehill is struggling to push the ball down field as he has just 11 completions over 25 yards in 2013. Martin is doubtful to play tonight due to an emotional breakdown at the team facility earlier this week, so things could get even uglier. Miami's offensive line doesn't have an easy matchup this week as it is tasked with slowing down a very tough, athletic Bengals defensive line. Cincinnati had 51 sacks a season ago and are on pace for a very impressive 44 this year, with four last week against the Jets. With Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry up front expect Tannehill to be running for his life.
Where is Mike Wallace?
Could this be the biggest free agent bust since the Redskins made the infamous Albert Haynesworth a $100 million man? It sure deserves to be in the conversation. Wallace has zero receiving touchdowns in the last five games. He has fewer than 80 receiving yards in four of his last five games. The good news for Wallace is that the Bengals have lost their top cornerback Leon Hall for the year and Cincinnati has allowed at least two passing touchdowns in four straight road games. On the season, the former Steeler has just 30 receptions for 398 yards and one lone touchdown.
Key Player for Cincinnati: Giovani Bernard, RB
Bernard is an x-factor for the Bengals. He is an excellent receiving option out of the backfield and appears to have a nose for the end zone. He will still be deployed as the backup to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, yet he continues to get a healthy amount of touches with 72 rushes and 26 receptions. It is interesting to note that, after getting double-digit carries for four straight weeks, Bernard has gotten just 12 combined carries the last two weeks. He touched the ball just six times last week, but I think things return to normal tonight as I see Bernard getting into the end zone.
Key Player for Miami: Lamar Miller, RB
The Dolphins have been struggling on offense, averaging just 311 yards per game. That's 27th in the NFL. They have found some success when giving the ball to Miller. A fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft, Miller got a season-high 18 carries against New England last week and turned those into 89 yards, including an 18-yard burst up the middle. Miller is an explosive option, offering elite speed and averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Miller will have to earn his keep against a Cincinnati rush defense that allows just 97.3 yards per game, which is good for eighth-best in the league.
A short week benefits the team that is playing the best football at the moment. That's the Bengals. Cincinnati has a quarterback that is on fire, a plethora of receiving options, and an extremely talented front seven on defense. The Miami offense has looked terrible over the past month and this isn't the week that changes.
Cincinnati 27, Miami 13