Who: Dolphins (3-1) at Bengals (3-1)
When: October 7, 1:00 East
Where: Paul Brown Stadium – Cincinnati, OH
Weather: 86 degrees, 20% chance of rain
Vegas Slant: Bengals -6.5
Dolphins at Bengals
Despite rushing out to a 3-1 record in the first quarter of the season, leading the AFC East and 13 of their intra-conference foes, the Dolphins are being left for dead – again.
All the goodwill built up through an unbeaten three-game stretch toppled in a matter of 60 minutes of sheer futility. Out-classed, out-coached and out-played, the Dolphins’ ship is taking on water – at least from a national perspective.
Walking wounded into the Jungle is the biggest cause for concern. A poor road team with injuries in key areas, going up against a white-hot offense, it’s understandable why Miami enters this sneaky-important game as touchdown underdogs.
Winning this game, however, strengthens Miami’s sole possession of first place in the division and it would register another crucial head-to-head win against a playoff contender (that victory over Tennessee will prove vital in three months).
The Bengals Scheme:
Dolphins fans will recognize this Bengals attack. Bill Lazor runs a variation of the spread scheme with plenty of zone-read options in the running game.
What makes this entire offense more explosive than it ever has been is the vast options in the passing game. This is not the run-of-the-mill Bengals squad that went as A.J. Green went in year’s past. Lazor utilizes Tyler Boyd as his chain-mover, John Ross as his field-stretcher and a pair of highly skilled backs to stretch defenses extremely thin from a match-up standpoint.
The running game, much like it is in Miami, is predicated on getting preferable number counts in the box. Also similar to Miami, it has a built in adaptability to extend the run into a quick-screen substitution.
The football comes out of Dalton’s hands quickly, relying upon this supremely skilled group of pass catchers to win routes early. Lazor also displays a penchant for masking some of the short comings available to him in pass protection.
What makes this offense unique is its ability to attack vertically from the spread/quick-style that it’s centered around. Switch concepts, stacks, bunches and anyway to create a hesitation step from the secondary and Andy Dalton will put the ball up early, in order to let his guys make a play.
Like the offense, the Bengals defense will look familiar to Dolphins fans. Coming from Detroit, a major influence on the current Miami stop-unit, Teryl Austin brings his aggressive zone-based coverage with an even, attacking front on the line of scrimmage.
At times, Austin will call man-coverage or even combo coverage that utilizes William Jackson as the MEG (man everywhere he goes) principle.
Also like Miami, Austin makes heavy use of his linebacker personnel. Unfortunately for Miami, Vontaze Burfict returns this week to bolster a suspect group. Playing downhill, the best counter for this defense is plenty of misdirection and stretch zone running concepts.
The more Miami can stretch this defense horizontally, the better off the offense will be.
For Miami to sustain drives, they will need to keep the offense on schedule, but also handle a variety of blitz packages and stunts from the Cincinnati front-seven – something of a chore for this team dating a few years back.
Andy Dalton is playing like the 2015-version of the Red Riffle that was in the MVP hunt before an injury cut his season short. He’s playing, fast, with confidence, and terrific downfield touch and accuracy.
Perhaps the biggest pendulum for this game is which Dalton shows up, and will Miami make him pay for his disaster decisions? He’s prone to throwing balls into heavily flooded areas and will give the defense opportunities for takeaways – Miami leads the NFL in interceptions.
If Xavien Howard is going to attempt to keep up with A.J. Green, and Minkah Fitzpatrick follows Tyler Boyd into the slot, that leaves John Ross and a slew of backs and tight ends to contend with.
Joe Mixon’s availability looms large. By mere function of this offense, if Mixon plays, he will get reps against these Miami linebackers that struggle immensely in coverage.
Miami’s advantage on this side of the ball comes in the trenches. Cordy Glenn is a bit of a plodder while the right side of the Cincinnati offensive line is, well, offensive.
Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake have to make an impact on this game for the defense to have any success. So long as the coverage holds up for two seconds, the Miami pass rush could help win this game. Glenn is a great match-up for Quinn and Bobby Hart is favorable for Wake.
Geno Atkins is a wrecker of worlds. He’s strong, laterally dominant and technically sound. Most teams will chip and try to use his leverage against him. If Miami can’t execute that, and has to commit a body inside, that frees up the edges of the Bengals pass rush.
This side of the ball will come down to the match-ups between Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James vs. Carl Lawson, Carlos Dunlap, Jordan Willis and Sam Hubbard. If the bookends can consistently win one-on-one match-ups, Miami has a shot.
Vontaze Burfict returns to a linebacker group that needs a shot in the arm. Because of their over-pursuit and aggressive one-gap style, this is the game that Kenyan Drake needs to be set free. Outside stretch zone with the bend-back lane will be vital to Miami establishing a ground game, but also getting Drake into the flat on swing and screen routes.
The Falcons used this aggressive nature against the Bengals last week with plenty of misdirection, but also variety in the running game (zone, split-zone and even power).
William Jackson isn’t having the year many expected him to, but he will likely stay on the left side of the offensive formation. Dre Kirkpatrick plays the other side with Darqueze Dennard in the slot – these corners are tough, so Miami needs to establish that running game to create the advantage of balance and uncertainty.
Rookie Jesse Bates is having a terrific season on the backend and it’ll be crucial for Ryan Tannehill to displace him with eye manipulation.
Miami is getting Reshad Jones back this week, a massively important addition to the secondary, leadership standpoint and overall tackling on the back-end.
Dolphins (Full participants not listed)
|LB Chase Allen||Foot||Limited|
|RB Brandon Bolden||Hamstring||DNP|
|DE Andre Branch||Foot||DNP||OUT|
|TE A.J. Derby||Foot||DNP||OUT|
|CB Bobby McCain||Knee||DNP||OUT|
|DE Cam Wake||Knee||DNP|
|WR Devante Parker||Quad||Limited|
|RB Giovani Bernard||Knee||DNP|
|TE Tyler Eifert||Ankle||DNP||OUT|
|OC Billy Price||Foot||DNP||OUT|
|LB Preston Brown||Shoulder||Limited|
|DE Michael Johnson||Knee||Limited|
|RB Joe Mixon||Knee||Limited|
|WR John Ross||Groin||Limited|
|OG Alex Redmond||Shoulder||Limited|
Miami’s offensive line was supposed to be a strength of the team. Two season-ending injuries later, it’s a concern – particularly against a team as good in the trenches as Cincinnati. If the interior of the pocket is compromised, Tannehill’s game suffers and Miami’s offense becomes inoperable.
On defense, tackling and handling the multiple looks Bill Lazor is sure to throw at the Dolphins will be paramount.
Under Adam Gase, Miami is an awful road team and a slow-starting squad. Both of those need to be improved if Miami are to stand a chance.
The Falcons offense, with its multiple looks, misdirection and two-man route combinations gave the Bengals’ defense all it could handle. Miami operates on a similar plane (just with less success) but they could copy Steve Sarkisian’s plan and keep pace with the Bengals offense.
Displacing linebackers and flooding the zone with drive concepts could create big run-after-the-catch opportunities. This can’t happen if the back has to stay in and help out with interior pressure, however.
1.) Tunsil and James lock down the edges – Part of the next man up philosophy is having the healthy soldiers elevate their game. They’re going to be on an island as the help will work inside with the new starters – James and Tunsil need to be great.
2.) Winning off the edge on defense – The converse of point one, Miami has to beat the Cincinnati tackles and create pressure on Dalton. If he’s able to scan his array of options, Miami has no chance.
3.) Stay on the damn field – Miami’s offense has been atrocious the last two games at sustaining drives. Giving the Bengals offense 80 plays will lead to a certain lopsided loss.
The Projected Result:
I’m changing my tune and picking a Dolphins win for the following reasons:
– This team plays better when it’s doubted compared to when it’s praised.
– There is typically a progression back up towards the mean after a blowout loss.
– Ryan Tanenhill bounces back, he typically does after stinkers like that one last week.
– Kenyan Drake gets involved in both the pass and running-game.
– Cincinnati, off a thrilling win last week, peeks ahead to Pittsburgh and plays flat.
– Miami gets some takeaways off the turnover-prone quarterback and protects the ball on offense.
I will say, I’m 4-0 picking Dolphins games this year (both straight up and against the spread) and this is my least confident pick. The match-ups lean in favor of Cincinnati, but I expect Gase and company to have this team ready and to hit the Bengals with variety in the play calling.
This game is crucial from a playoff position standpoint. Notching wins against the Titans and Bengals would go a long way towards tie-breaking scenarios.
Miami wins on a buzzer beater field goal with big days from Tannehill, Drake, Wake and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Miami Dolphins Place Jake Brendel on IR; Sign Hroniss Grasu
Their players don’t just go on injured-reserve, they do it twice in the same season.
The Miami Dolphins official social media account announced that the team has placed center Jake Brendel on injured-reserve, ending his 2018 season. To fill the available roster spot, the Dolphins signed offensive guard Hroniss Grasu.
We have signed center/guard Hroniss Grasu and placed center Jake Brendel on injured reserve.
Full Release: https://t.co/hjVo1uaU4I
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) December 12, 2018
Brendel was first placed on injured-reserve with a calf injury prior to the start of the season. He was one of two players that received the IR tag with the ‘ability to return’; this meant that Brendel was eligible to return after Week 8. Since his return, Brendel started 3 games and was active for 4.
Earlier this week in practice, Brendel re-injured the same calf that originally put him on IR. Strategically speaking, we’re at the point in the season where players will be placed on IR simply due to the fact that they’re unable to recover in time to effectively play again this season. Miami has three games remaining and they essentially have to win out (or only lose to the Minnesota Vikings next week) if they want to make the playoffs. The team can’t afford to hold a roster spot hostage for a player who’s less-than 100%.
With Brendel hitting injured-reserve, the Dolphins now have 12 players out for the year. It’s too bad we’re talking about the number of players on injured-reserve and not 12 Angry Men, because the only thing we can speculate at this point is how unlucky the Dolphins’ health has been this season.
The empty roster spot left by Brendel has been filled by former Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens offensive guard Hroniss Grasu.
Grasu was selected by the Bears with the 71st-overall pick (3rd-round) in the 2015 NFL draft. He started 8 games that season for Adam Gase‘s offense, but since then has only started 5. He played for the Bears from 2015-2017, though he missed the 2016 after being placed on injured-reserve. Grasu was signed by the Ravens this past September and was active for 3 games (making 1 start). He was released by the team on November 24th.
From one Hr to another: cheers, mate!
Squeezing Miami’s Tight Ends for Anything They’ve Got
Adam Gase, a hobbled Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Miami Dolphins have been tasked with operating an offense that has received minimal production from its tight ends. As the team is currently constructed, the playbook, in essence, centers around their two starting running backs, the three starting wide receivers that are healthy and that’s it.
That’s all they can scheme around.
As an opposing defense, you’re well aware that the tight end position is effectively eliminated in Miami’s offense – it’s not a personnel group you have to scheme for.
- You have a banged up Kenny Stills you have to watch, though you really only need to keep him in your peripheral vision as Miami isn’t going to maximize Stills’ speed and Tannehill’s deep ball with the quarterback’s injured shoulder.
- You can monitor DeVante Parker, but his lack-of-enthusiasm helps keep his freakish athleticism at bay.
- You can be on the lookout for Danny Amendola, but you’re probably content allowing the underneath reception (though at 9.8 yards per reception, why aren’t we getting Amendola the ball more on those crucial 3rd-down plays?)
All of the injuries aside, it’s hard to discount the voids created by Miami’s nonexistent production from the tight end position. When Laremy Tunsil goes down in the Cincinnati Bengals game, it’s the perfect time to utilize a tight end for quick passes. All those 3rd-and-short situations – where Miami runs a mind-boggling play – could be eliminated if Miami had a legitimate tight end that could box out an opposing defender on a quick hit. At the very least, a tight end that poses even a minuscule threat would make a defense hesitant to send an extra blitzer or blanket a receiver.
Mike Gesicki catches the ball at the 33 facing sideways and winds up at the 31 facing backwards. pic.twitter.com/aGrzIF3jR8
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 26, 2018
Running this offense without your tight ends is like trying to drive your car without power steering. Of course you can do it, but you’re going to have a difficult time driving it.
The fall of this position started back in training camp, when one of the most underrated Dolphins, MarQueis Gray, suffered a torn achilles and was placed on injured-reserve.
Fans initially thought this was an omen for Mike Gesicki, as they clamored for the possibility of having an Olympic-caliber tight end playing with Ryan Tannehill – a quarterback known to utilize the tight end position well.
At a glance, you would think Miami’s tight ends were going to be extremely productive. Up to this point in 2018, Miami rewarded one of their tight ends with a contract extension and spent 2nd and 4th-round assets to bulk up the position. How could this season have gone so poorly for a group that, at the very least, was supposed to be average?
Tight ends predominantly see a spike in production from their rookie years to their sophomore seasons, and this is the one saving grace each of us optimistically have for Gesicki to turn it around. On tape, he doesn’t look the part. But you don’t want to write a player off this quickly. Check out some active tight ends and their growth from Year 1 to Year 2:
When going through the list, the only tight end I came across that saw a dip in production from Year 1 to Year 2 was Jordan Reed of the Washington Redskins. His stats were: 45/499/3 in 2017 and 50/465/0 in 2018…really not the biggest dropoff (I’m sure there are other tight ends who saw a drop in production, but after going through half the league, Reed was the only one that applied).
Problem is, are we confident Mike Gesicki is going to be a tight end that makes this jump? Look at where Gesicki (and Durham Smythe) stack up with other rookie tight ends:
We all thought Miami was going to have a 1-2 punch with Gesicki as a receiver and Smythe as a blocker; and so far, half of the duo has held their end of the bargain. Smythe has performed very well when asked to block on the line. He’s had some misses this year, but for a rookie tight end being tasked with blocking an elite defensive end at times, we can’t really complain much. What the team is missing is the other half of that duet.
Coming into 2018, we understood that Gesicki would need some seasoning before he could become a legitimate blocker. And to an extent, we were quite content if Gesicki didn’t block too well, just as long as he was making plays on 3rd-down and in the red zone. We all thought he was the missing component this offense needed to finally be effective in the red zone. Instead, we’d probably be better off stacking the line with 6 offensive linemen.
Mike Gesicki’s challenging rookie season continues. He falls down, then all hell breaks loose when Tannehill tries to proceed through his progressions. Lucky not to get picked. pic.twitter.com/6mcfIU9XFD
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) November 27, 2018
The wildcard of the bunch is Nick O’Leary. The Dolphins have played him at both tight end and fullback, giving them flexibility and the ability to maximize his roster spot. But going into 2019, does anyone think any of these tight ends are safe? Check out the disparity in snap counts from the first week of the season until Week 14:
— Tom Kislingbury (@TomDegenerate) December 11, 2018
It’s evident which player this team trusts. Or, at the very least, which player they believe they can get any kind of production out of. He’s also the only player that wasn’t on the roster at the beginning of the season – telling you just how far the other players have fallen.
This team might need to fire Matt Burke. It might need to overhaul the defensive line or even the linebacking unit. The Dolphins might even need a new starting quarterback in 2019. But one thing we can certainly say is that Miami definitely needs a productive tight end; otherwise, this offense is about as stagnant, stale and unsuccessful as you’ve seen it this season.
— Barstool Penn State (@PSUBarstool) October 14, 2018
Ryan Tannehill’s Late Season Surge is Nothing New
Adversity is the Dolphins QB’s Biggest Weapon
The divisive topic of tanking filters its way through the fan bases of all mediocre franchises. The discussion about whether it’s healthier to lose and climb the draft board, or to establish a winning culture, reverberates for the perpetual .500 purgatory of the NFL.
Every time Dolphins fans are ready to prepare for what’s next at quarterback, Ryan Tannehill rises from the ashes and plays at an elite level.
The statistics are there. After a 1-4 start and a sub-90 passer rating in 2016, fans turned to Notre Dame tape to scout DeShone Kizer. They peeped the ultra-exciting Patrick Mahomes making jaw-dropping off-script plays at Texas Tech.
All those discussions became moot when Tannehill ripped off a stretch of eight games in which Miami went 7-1. During that time, Tannehill posted a 101.5 passer rating and fell back into the good graces of Dolphins fans.
Bruce Arians’ famous quote preaches patience while installing a new scheme. “It takes about eight weeks before things start to become second nature.”
If that’s true, Tannehill has been ahead of that curve.
Two games ahead of the pace, Tannehill finds his groove in the sixth game. In a 2016 win over Pittsburgh, Tannehill posted his highest single game passer rating of the year, and would top that high-water mark four times in the next seven games.
The 2018 season is shaping up very similarly. After a strong start, then stumbling in games four and five, Tannehill is back with a vengeance.
The Dolphins are 2-1 since Tannehill’s return and the veteran, held together by duct tape and Band-Aids, is posting career highs. His passer rating post-return is a ridiculous 129.9. He’s averaging a smidge under 9 yards-per-pass. He’s completing a fraction under 70% of his passes and throwing touchdowns at clip of 11.7%.
The numbers. The wins. The quantifiable metrics are all fun and an easy shortcut to display Tannehill’s recent success, but the it’s the complete control of the offense that best showcases Tannehill’s growth.
Watch this video with the audio on to see an example of Tannehill’s command at the line-of-scrimmage.
Alpha Louis. Alpha poker. Some new cadences and the quick count. Whatever it takes to play Sunday, Tannehill’s gotta do it. He is feeling it right now. 🔈 on. pic.twitter.com/09gyN9mKQJ
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) December 12, 2018
Perhaps the time away from the game, and the return from a reconstructed knee, was a detriment to his development within this offense.
Tannehill is dealing with yet another injury, but if he wants to prove this theory, he has every opportunity. Miami can run the table and jump back into the post-season under Ryan Tannehill’s guidance.
After all, last time, he wasn’t healthy enough to finish what he started.