3TFO: Bengals @ Dolphins, Week 9
The Bengals flew their battered bunch to Miami yesterday, where the Dolphins await their Thursday night opponent. Reports suggest that both teams will be missing starters due to injuries or illness, somewhat muddying the matchup waters. Still, this game features teams trending in opposite direction, with the Dolphins losing their last four while the Bengals are on a four-game winning streak.
Miami will try to get back to winning ways while Jonathan Martin sits out due to illness, and with emerging receiver Brandon Gibson sidelined for the rest of the year after reeling off four straight positive performances. The Bengals, meanwhile, lost Taylor Mays (shoulder) for the season last week and Rey Maualuga for an extended period with a knee injury and concussion. With Michael Boley questionable with a hamstring injury, they’re looking toward the back end of their roster for a starting linebacker just a week after losing cornerback Leon Hall for the season.
Despite the injuries piling up for both sides, the walking wounded have a football game to play. That means there will be three matchups to focus on as the orange-and-black Bengals appropriately take on the Dolphins on Halloween.
Can the Dolphins Hold the Edge?
With Jonathan Martin not expected to be available here, Tyson Clabo will likely reprise his starting role along with newly acquired Bryant McKinnie. At right tackle before he was benched, Clabo was ranked among the worst tackles in the league. McKinnie was adequate in his first game for the Dolphins last week, but his time with Baltimore this year saw him graded just barely better than Clabo prior to the trade. Clabo allowed eight sacks in his six games, a worse per-game rate than any other tackle with at least three games played. McKinnie’s damage has come in the hit and hurry columns, where he’s allowed 6 hits and 16 hurries on 277 pass blocking snaps, but just two sacks. Both tackles are in the red for run blocking thus far, too.
They’ll face off against Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. First and third respectively in the run defense rankings for defensive ends, this Bengals tandem has made running outside a nightmare for opposing offenses. While Dunlap has fallen off as a pass rusher so far this year, where he used to be extremely productive for the Bengals, Johnson is our second overall defensive end. What Johnson lacks in sacks, he makes up for with 29 combined hits and hurries on 269 pass rushing snaps. After dealing with Rob Ninkovich, Mario Williams, and Elvis Dumervil in consecutive weeks, the Dolphins tackles will again be tested by a pair of pass rushers who have had their share of success against weak tackle play in the past.
Whether or not Clabo and McKinnie hold up could be the difference for Ryan Tannehill, who has been excellent when he’s not pressured while struggling under pressure. In the face of pressure on 35.2% of his dropbacks, Tannehill is taking a sack on 30.5% of those snaps and has completed fewer passes (31) under pressure than he’s taken sacks (32). With a 4.7% interception rate under pressure compared to a 2% clip in a clean pocket, Tannehill is making mistakes when his line is faulty. That might include taking unwanted sacks, as Tannehill’s 30.5% sack rate under pressure is the worst in the league by 6%.
Miami in Coverage
Last week against the Jets, Andy Dalton spread the ball around to the plethora of weapons among the Bengals’ skill player ranks. Seven different players caught a pass with the Bengals’ 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE) creating issues for the Jets’ base defense. Marvin Jones is coming off his career-best game, with eight catches on eight targets for four touchdowns, and seems to be a real weapon as a second receiver to take some pressure off A.J. Green. He’s efficient, too, and is one of eight qualified receivers without a drop this year. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert will command safety and linebacker attention, and have combined for 29.5% of Dalton’s completed passes. Miami’s defense will also need to account for Giovani Bernard, who is currently fourth in the Race for Rookie of the Year and sixth in our overall running back rankings due to his excellent work as a receiver.
Miami’s Brent Grimes and Dmitri Patterson, along with safety Chris Clemons, are all enjoying strong years in coverage. Miami’s secondary is now at full strength since Patterson has returned from a groin injury that kept him out for five weeks. With Patterson and Grimes outside, the Dolphins typically play sides, with Jimmy Wilson coming in to play the slot. Tasked with containing the talented Green and emerging Jones, the Dolphins secondary has been solid against the deep ball this year, something that Dalton and the Bengals have been successful with the last two weeks. On deep passes, they have allowed just 8 of 24 passes to be completed, and have three interceptions on those throws. They’ve feasted on out routes as well, intercepting three such passes and allowing just 54.8% of those attempts to be completed. Dalton will need to be sharp on his deep passes to come close to the success he’s had downfield the last two weeks.
As a team, the Dolphins have been most vulnerable in the intermediate middle part of the field, yielding nearly a 70% completion rate for 445 yards and a touchdown. This has been compounded by linebackers Philip Wheeler and Koa Misi having been something of a liability in coverage. Both have allowed over 70% of passes thrown their way to be completed, and Wheeler has the additional benefit of four drops in his coverage. Defending the pass perhaps more than he should be, Wheeler has missed eight tackles in coverage and allowed 8.4 yards after catch per reception. As such, the Dolphins could look for safety help with the Bengals’ tight end duo, especially from Clemons, who is the top-graded Dolphins cover man, allowing only 6 of 12 passes in his coverage to be completed. Reshad Jones, on the other hand, has been victimized for 22-of-26 passing for 296 yards and 187 after the catch, a matchup Dalton and the Bengals will try to exploit if he’s one-on-one with a tight end on Thursday.
Miami’s Defensive Tackle Rotation
Miami might have the most underrated defensive tackle rotation in the league with Randy Starks, Jared Odrick, and Paul Soliai anchoring the middle of their four-man front. Starks and Odrick are ranked first and fifth in Pass Rushing Productivity for defensive tackles, while Soliai is the run-stuffer with an 8.9% Run Stop Percentage, good for eighth among tackles. If not for Soliai’s disastrous -5.0 performance against New England last week, Miami would have three defensive tackles with an overall grade of +10.0 or higher. As it stands, Starks and Odrick have been winning in the trenches in different ways. Starks has 10 successful bullrushes to his name, while 19 of Odrick’s pressures have come with inside or outside moves, typically more finesse. Interestingly, despite the talent on the interior, the Dolphins have been relatively susceptible to rushes between the tackles. On 104 such carries, they’ve allowed 435 yards, whereas they’ve only allowed 268 yards on 78 carries outside the tackles.
The Bengals will counter with Clint Boling, Kyle Cook, and Kevin Zeitler inside. Cook and Zeitler are the worst individually graded pass blockers along the Bengals offensive line, and while they struggled to move the Jets in the running game, both showed solidly against Detroit and New York as pass blockers as Dalton typically gets rid of the ball on time. As a unit, the Bengals offensive line sports the second-best Pass Blocking Efficiency in football, and it’s worth noting that the offensive line has help from positively graded pass blocking efforts by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard, Eifert, and Gresham. Still, it’s a matchup to watch for the Bengals, who face stiff competition in the trenches for the third straight week.
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